The Sacred Earth: Jew­ish Per­spec­tives on Our Planet

Andrue J. Kahn, ed.

  • Review
By – September 6, 2023

Cli­mate change has clear­ly emerged in the cur­rent cen­tu­ry as one of the exis­ten­tial threats to our plan­et. While sev­er­al books have explored the top­ic through a Jew­ish lens, The Sacred Earth is notable for its excel­lent the­mat­ic approach and its holis­tic cov­er­age of major issues.

Rab­bi Andrue J. Kahn has orga­nized this anthol­o­gy into five parts: The­ol­o­gy,” Jew­ish Texts,” Encoun­ter­ing the Divine,” Sacred Time,” and Con­tem­po­rary Respons­es.” The voic­es of dif­fer­ent schol­ars, rab­bis, and activists offer var­ied per­spec­tives and insights. 

The The­ol­o­gy” sec­tion, appro­pri­ate­ly the first sec­tion, con­tains short essays that take basic Jew­ish the­o­log­i­cal prin­ci­ples and reframe them through the Anthro­pocene, the con­cept that humans have begun a new age on the plan­et in which sus­tain­abil­i­ty is endan­gered. The qual­i­ty of the essays is uni­form­ly high; par­tic­u­lar­ly pow­er­ful is Jere­my Benstein’s read­ing of the book of Gen­e­sis, which weighs domin­ion with stewardship. 

In Jew­ish Texts,” Mir­ile Gold­smith and Adri­ana Lev­een use the book of Jon­ah and the book of Job, respec­tive­ly, as test cas­es for social change, while Rab­bi Devo­rah Diana Lynn offers a new way to read the third para­graph of the Sh’ma through an eco­log­i­cal lens. With these pow­er­ful inno­va­tions, each writer reclaims ancient texts for a con­tem­po­rary audience.

Encoun­ter­ing the Divine” is the most per­son­al sec­tion of the anthol­o­gy. Mov­ing out­side of shuls and school, the authors in this sec­tion relate moments of spir­i­tu­al con­tact in nature — small acts of eco­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance that reach sur­pris­ing depths. Mean­while, the Sacred Time” sec­tion fea­tures some won­der­ful voic­es from the Jew­ish Youth Cli­mate Movement.

The final sec­tion, Con­tem­po­rary Respons­es,” moves from the the­o­ret­i­cal to the prac­ti­cal, with top­ics that range from cre­at­ing a new halacha of envi­ron­men­tal­ism to find­ing ways for syn­a­gogues to mod­el sus­tain­abil­i­ty. The final essay in the col­lec­tion is by Rab­bi Jen­ny Rosenn, the founder of Dayenu, a Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tion for cli­mate jus­tice. She makes clear that the time for activism is now — that our plan­et is hurtling toward destruc­tion, and that we as Jews must act. It is a pow­er­ful close to an out­stand­ing col­lec­tion of essays.

Josh Han­ft holds Advanced Degrees in Eng­lish and Com­par­a­tive Lit­er­a­ture from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty and curat­ed the renowned read­ing series, Scrib­blers on the Roof, for over twen­ty years.

Discussion Questions