עברית    Español    Русский  

Ethics Basics

We are God’s caretakers for the earth. Our job is to cultivate the natural world and enhance its capacity to support life. God created Adam and placed him in the garden of Eden “to work it and conserve it.” (Genesis 2:15.) A famous midrash says: When God created Adam, God led him around all of the trees in the Garden of Eden. God told him, ‘See how beautiful and praiseworthy are all of my works. Everything I have created has been created for your sake. Think of this and do not corrupt the world; for if you corrupt it, there will be no one to set it right after you.‘ (Ecclesiates Rabbah 7:13.) Destroying the conditions for much life on earth violates this duty of stewardship.

Saving life is a basic Jewish value. Climate change is a serious threat to human life. Through the archetypal commandment to build a protective parapet around your house, the Torah commands us to take careful precautions to save life. (Deuteronomy 22:8)

We’re halakhically responsible for pollution damage we cause. There is no presumptive right to cause pollution that damages another’s health, however long we’ve been doing it. (Bava Batra 23a)

Ba’al Tashchit: Wasteful misuse of the world’s resources. The prohibition is found in Deuteronomy (20:19-20)When in your war against a city you have to besiege it for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy (bal tashchit) its fruit trees. . . You may eat of them but you must not destroy the fruit trees. Later Jewish thinkers explained that baal tashchit applies to any pointless destruction of resources.

Tzar Ba’alei Hayim: Inflicting emotional or physical pain on animals: – If, on your way, you happen upon a bird’s nest in a tree or on the ground, with baby birds or eggs in it, do not take the mother with her young. Drive away the mother and take only the young. This way you will live a long life . (Deuteronomy 22, 6-7). Nachmanides explains that the crime here is taking a step towards the animal’s extinction. Up to 30% of the world’s species may be extinguished because of climate change.

Our Children: Judaism is a multi-generational project.The Talmud teaches, “Whoever teaches their children Torah, it is as if he had taught his children and children’s children until the end of all the generations.” (Kiddushin 30a) We are each a link in a chain that stretches from Sinai to the end of time.

Hillul Hashem: According to many sages, it is a hillul hashem, a desecration of God’s name, for the Jewish people to be indifferent to a moral issue that the rest of humanity holds to be an ethical imperative.