Can Judaism save the planet?

By Rhea Yablon Kennedy I think it was the title that got me. “What would Moses drive?” is how the … Continued

By Rhea Yablon Kennedy

I think it was the title that got me. “What would Moses drive?” is how the session appeared on the conference schedule. I was at the Hazon Food Conference, held Dec. 24-27 in Pacific Grove, Calif., on the heels of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

The human imperative to fight climate change is no different than the Jewish imperative, was the message of the session’s leader, Adam Berman, former director of Connecticut’s Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and founding director of ADAMAH: The Jewish Environmental Fellowship.

The sessions at Hazon’s seaside gathering brought together 630 members of the contemporary Jewish food movement. Like the talk on faith and climate change, each session linked contemporary issues of sustainability to Jewish practice, beliefs, and culture. I joined fellow food writers, as well as chefs, farmers, rabbis, policy watchdogs, and urban gardeners in poring over pages of offerings. We could choose from a panel on media and the food movement with San Francisco Chronicle food editor Miriam Morgan, a talk on making sustainable agriculture profitable with farmers who have made it happen, tours of the Jewish climate change bus that had traversed the country on used vegetable oil, and presentations on Israeli foodways with Jewish food authority Joan Nathan. You could even learn to make sourdough bagels.

Those who attended “What would Moses drive?” found themselves right at the intersection of Judaism and environmentalism. Berman ran quickly through the disturbing statistics and trends–the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere and projections of what our land masses will look like as the rising sea eats away at their edges.

Then Berman brought us the good news: Jewish practices make perfect tools to stave off a global travesty. He pointed to Shabbat (the Sabbath), Tzekakah (literally “righteousness,” and often translated as “charity,”), kashrut (kosher laws), and brachot (blessings).

What would happen if one day a week we didn’t emit carbon? Berman asked, referring to the practice of refraining from driving or using electricity on Shabbat. What if we expanded our idea of kashrut to expand our awareness of the foods we consume? How might our consumption change if we stopped and blessed each meal?

Here we had built-in models for using less energy, giving away some of our earnings to better the world, thinking carefully about our foods’ origins, and being thankful for what we already have. Dropping into only that session, one would think that Jews had been preparing to confront this crisis all along.

Yet Berman’s take on climate change at the food conference, we all knew, was just an interpretation. The commandment about keeping Shabbat simply says “you shall do no work,” not “you shall emit no greenhouse gases.” In fact, many Jews keeping Shabbat leave a few lights on the entire day, because turning them off is also considered work. As for blessings, one could say shehecheyanu–the prayer for a new and wondrous experience–during a first jaunt in a three-ton Hummer just as well as the inaugural bite of homegrown organic lettuce.

Should this worry us? I wondered. But I immediately knew the answer: Absolutely not. I have always learned that Jewish practice encourages scrutinizing, arguing over, and testing our texts and customs. Even the descendants of Rashi, the greatest commentator on the Talmud, questioned his interpretations.

You can find Jewish individuals everywhere who embrace this idea, but I think it’s especially easy for Washingtonians to grasp. We live a stone’s throw from the U.S. Supreme Court, where the most highly-respected judges in the country question the meaning of our sacred Constitution every day. Imagining what Moses would drive is like asking whether Alexander Hamilton would support stem-cell research. It’s a funny riddle and an enlightening debate.

The Hazon Food Conference reminded me that all of our practices are open to interpretation. No commandment demands fighting against climate change–nor, for that matter, supporting sustainable agriculture, working to make good food affordable to all, or baking great bagels. But if we look at such issues in a Jewish context, our traditions offer rich inspiration for the most enormous and urgent tasks of our time.

Rhea Yablon Kennedy lives in Washington, D.C. and writes about sustainable food for Examiner.com and The Jew and the Carrot.

Read more about religion and the environment at Patheos.com

  • PSolus

    “What would happen if one day a week we didn’t emit carbon?”Everyone who stopped breathing that day would die.

  • RheaK

    Thanks for your comments! CCNL1 – Interesting how someone we don’t even know existed can inspired such a discussion. PSOLUS – Good point. Keep breathing!

  • ccnl1

    See Professor Crossan’s reviews of the existence of Jesus in his other books especially, The Historical Jesus and also Excavating Jesus (with Professor Jonathan Reed doing the archeology discussion) . Other NT exegetes to include members of the Jesus Seminar have published similar books with appropriate supporting references.Part of Crossan’s The Historical Jesus has been published online at There is also a search engine for this book on the right hand side of the opening page. e.g. Search Josephus (Warning, the online book is not complete).See also Wikipedia’s review on the historical Jesus to include the Tacitus’ reference to the crucifixion of Jesus.From ask.com,”One of the greatest historians of ancient Rome, Cornelius Tacitus is a primary source for much of what is known about life the first and second centuries after the life of Jesus. His most famous works, Histories and Annals, exist in fragmentary form, though many of his earlier writings were lost to time. Tacitus is known for being generally reliable (if somewhat biased toward what he saw as Roman immorality) and for having a uniquely direct (if not blunt) writing style.”Then there are these scriptural references:

  • ccnl1

    From Professors Crossan and Watts’ book, Who is Jesus.”That Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as the Creed states, is as certain as anything historical can ever be.“ The Jewish historian, Josephus and the pagan historian Tacitus both agree that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea. And is very hard to imagine that Jesus’ followers would have invented such a story unless it indeed happened. “While the brute fact that of Jesus’ death by crucifixion is historically certain, however, those detailed narratives in our present gospels are much more problematic. ““My best historical reconstruction would be something like this. Jesus was arrested during the Passover festival, most likely in response to his action in the Temple. Those who were closest to him ran away for their own safety. I do not presume that there were any high-level confrontations between Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod Antipas either about Jesus or with Jesus. No doubt they would have agreed before the festival that fast action was to be taken against any disturbance and that a few examples by crucifixion might be especially useful at the outset. And I doubt very much if Jewish police or Roman soldiers needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine the casual brutality with which Jesus was probably taken and executed. All those “last week” details in our gospels, as distinct from the brute facts just mentioned, are prophecy turned into history, rather than history remembered.”Continued below:

  • coloradodog

    Although Judaism, like the other Abrahamic religions, does many good things in the world to save the poor and downcast, their non-compromising my-way-or-the-highway idea of world salvation is generally limited to their own and their American Christian colonists of Israel who give them $1.5 billion per year but can’t afford a health care system similar to that offered Israelis. Palestinians also need not apply.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Coloradodog:Although Judaism, like the other Abrahamic religions, does many good things in the world to save the poor and downcast, their non-compromising my-way-or-the-highway idea of world salvation is generally limited to their own and their American Christian colonists of Israel who give them $1.5 billion per year but can’t afford a health care system similar to that offered Israelis. Palestinians also need not apply.Unlike his Christian religion, Judaism holds that the deity has a covenant with all peoples and it is one that Jews are not to question.Further, unlike the organizations of his Christian co-religionists, Jewish philanthropic organizations are nonsectarian, giving to peoples of all faiths and of no faith. It is also worth noting the number of such philanthropic Jewish organizations compared to their Christian counterparts, in light of how much, much more the Christians have. Moreover, Jewish philantropic organizations help without trying to “convert” needy recipients. So, for example, during the Yugoslavian horror, Israeli JEWISH doctors went en masse to help the desperate Muslims in Kosovo. Funny, how there suddenly seemed to be no Christian doctors on the planet. As for what the United States “gives” Israel, in return for its “gift,” a fraction of the Israeli GNP, Israeli Jews, primarily, but also Christians and Muslims, thousands, have died and been maimed.This “gift” pays for intelligence that keeps Colordodog’s arse safe in Mexico, as well as the US. Intelligence that could and should be gathered by the US.This “gift” also strengthens our economy since much of it is spent in this country.ON the other hand, EGYPT, the second largest beneficiary of US aid, has taken what we give them for other purposes. First and foremost, our money lines the pockets of the dictator Mubarek who deposits huge sums in his Swiss bank accounts.Mubarek also donates our money to the ruling Egyptian families, co-corrupt politicians, generals, and terrorists.Hence, Mubarek used our money to steal the property of Egyptian Jews, brutalize them, and exile them. He uses the money to foment racism against the Christian Egyptians as we have just seen. He uses the money to persecute Palestinian Egyptians, who may not attend public schools in Egypt.NOne of this is of interest to the bigot Coloradodog, whose psychotic Jew hatred grows more and more evident.The very sad thing is that this poisonous racism eats away at him. For the rest of us, he is just another bigot.

  • ccnl1

    And of course we have the good Buddha and his special powers:Buddhism- “Buddhism began in India about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The people living at that time had become disillusioned with certain beliefs of Hinduism including the caste system, which had grown extremely complex. The number of outcasts (those who did not belong to any particular caste) was continuing to grow.”Archaeological discoveries have proved, beyond a doubt, his historical character, but apart from the legends we know very little about the circumstances of his life. e.g. Buddha by one legend was supposedly talking when he came out of his mother’s womb. And then there are all those Muslim terrorists who were once very bad Buddhists!!!

  • ccnl1

    Hmmm, “not to mention bloodshed, engendered by jesus christ”???As shown by the “good” example shown by the followers of Judaism:Biblical AtrocitiesExodus 32: 3,000 Israelites killed by Moses for worshipping the golden calf. Numbers 31: After killing all men, boys and married women among the Midianites, 32,000 virgins remain as booty for the Israelites. (If unmarried girls are a quarter of the population, then 96,000 people were killed.) Joshua: Judges 1: 10,000 Canaanites k. at Battle of Bezek. Jerusalem and Zephath destroyed. 1 Kings 20: 100,000 Arameans killed by Israelites at Battle of Aphek. Another 27,000 killed by collapsing wall. 2 Chron 13: Judah beat Israel and inflicted 500,000 casualties. TOTAL: That comes to about 1,283,000 mass killings specifically enumerated in the Bible. Of course, these atrocities may not be listed in Farnaz’s copy of the Torah??

  • ccnl1

    “Its sequel, Jesus and the Lost Goddess, has been included by Dan Brown in a list of books relating to The Da Vinci Code.”Chris Forbes, an ancient historian and senior lecturer at Macquarie University has criticised the work noting that Freke and Gandy are “not real scholars, they are popularisers.” He notes that their arguments about Jesus are “grossly misconceived, and their attempt to draw links between Jesus and various pagan god-men is completely muddled. It looks impressive because of the sheer mass of the material, but when you break it down and look at it point by point, it really comes to pieces.”[2]Paul Barnett, a New Testament scholar who has authored several books on the historical Jesus, argues that a good proportion of the citations are out of date. “Like the Gnostics, Freke and Gandy have a mystical mindset and therefore oppose Christianity as grounded in history,” he wrote. “They hate the idea that the incarnation of the Son of God and his resurrection could have been a matter of actual flesh and blood and time and place.”[3]David Allan Dodson, a reviewer for CNN, found the book to be interesting, he stated that “while the authors discuss many examples of elements of Osiris/Dionysus in the Jesus story, they virtually ignore the more direct ties to Jewish tradition and prophecy. This oversight undermines the credibility of many of their arguments, and could have the tendency to mislead the novice reader in this subject”.[4] However, while Dodson wasn’t fully convinced by the authors that Jesus was completely fictional, he did end his review with the following supportive remarks: “The Jesus Mysteries left this reviewer more convinced than ever that the life of Jesus as we know it is filled with mythological, political, and even polemical elements. (just like Professor Crossan has done- added)Freke and Gandy succeed in bringing some important points about Christianity to the public in a readable, compelling book. Perhaps their willingness to state ‘the unthinkable thought’ will lead to more objective thinking about religion and tolerance. If so, The Jesus Mysteries is a worthy effort indeed”.

  • ccnl1

    Then there are these scriptural references:from answers.com”Although Doherty’s treatment of the issue has made no impact on scholarly debate, his views have received considerable attention on the internet. Among authors sympathetic to the view that Jesus never existed, Doherty’s work has received mixed reactions. He has received favorable reviews of the book by skeptics Robert M. Price and Richard Carrier.[8] Frank R. Zindler, editor of American Atheist, described The Jesus Puzzle in a review as “the most compelling argument against the historical Jesus published in my life-time”.[9] However, George Albert Wells, who has also argued against the existence of a historical Jesus, rejects Doherty’s view that the earliest Christians did not believe Jesus was a historical man who had lived on Earth.[10] R. Joseph Hoffmann considers that there are “reasons for scholars to hold” the view that Jesus never existed, but considers Doherty’s book “qualitatively and academically far inferior to anything so far written on the subject”.[11]From Wikipedia and supporting references therein:The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? is a 1999 book by the British mystical writers Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy that claims to reconstruct the true origins of Christianity. It relies heavily on the Gnostic gospels of the Nag Hammadi library. Prior to publishing Jesus Mysteries, Freke and Gandy had collaborated in writing books on mysticism and paganism. The authors suggest that a number of pagan mystery religions, such as those of Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, and Mithras, were all manifestations of a single cult of a dying and rising “godman” myth, whom they call Osiris-Dionysus. The authors propose that Jesus did not really exist, but was instead a syncretic re-interpretation of the fundamental pagan “godman” by the Gnostics, who were the original sect of Christianity. Orthodox Christianity, according to them, was not the predecessor to Gnosticism, but a later outgrowth that rewrote history in order to make literal Christianity appear to predate the Gnostics. They describe their theory as the “Jesus Mysteries thesis.”Continued below:

  • ccnl1

    Once again: (to rebut Farnaz who references the publications of those having no background or education in the Torah, NT, and/or historic Jesus studies)From: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_myth_theory”The Christ-Myth theory is essentially without supporters in modern academic circles, biblical scholars and classical historians being highly dismissive of it,[47] viewing it as pseudo-scholarship,[39] and some comparing the theory’s methodological basis with that of flat-earthism, Holocaust denial and moon landing skepticism.[50]“From Professors Crossan (an On Faith panelist) and Watts’ book, Who is Jesus.“While the brute fact that of Jesus’ death by crucifixion is historically certain, however, those detailed narratives in our present gospels are much more problematic. ““My best historical reconstruction would be something like this. Jesus was arrested during the Passover festival, most likely in response to his action in the Temple. Those who were closest to him ran away for their own safety.I do not presume that there were any high-level confrontations between Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod Antipas either about Jesus or with Jesus. No doubt they would have agreed before the festival that fast action was to be taken against any disturbance and that a few examples by crucifixion might be especially useful at the outset. And I doubt very much if Jewish police or Roman soldiers needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine the casual brutality with which Jesus was probably taken and executed. All those “last week” details in our gospels, as distinct from the brute facts just mentioned, are prophecy turned into history, rather than history remembered.”continued below:

  • ccnl1

    Hmmm, Farnaz finally found a historical Jesus exegete worth referencing.To wit:”Jesus As a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Paperback)~ Mark Allan Powellfrom amazon.com’s reviews:”Dr. Powell is head of the Historical Jesus section of the SBL. He not only is a New Testament scholar in his own right, he is also a respected colleague and friend of the Jesus Scholars he discusses. He not only has read their works, but he understands their positions from the inside. In my experience, the study of the Historical Jesus is sometimes characterized by rhetoric, special pleading, and an unfruitful “us” vs. “them” attitude. While Powell is forthright about his own views when this is appropriate, he comes across as Powell’s writing style is refreshingly informal at times, and he obviously strives for clarity over the “scholar-speak” so often encountered. At the same time, he is obviously familiar with the technical concepts and not only throws the jargon around but often explains it.The book shows unusual restraint – Powell gives the reader room to formulate his/her own conclusions, while providing insight into both the issues and the scholars themselves. I understand that this book is used in college courses as an introduction to the subject, and I can see why. “continued below:

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