The Way into Judaism and the Environment

Jere­my Benstein
  • Review
December 19, 2011

Toward the end of his book, author Jere­my Ben­stein makes a state­ment that defines the moti­va­tion for his work: To the long list of val­ues and com­mit­ments that define the ide­al Jew, we need to add being envi­ron­men­tal­ly aware and active — for our own and our children’s sakes, and for the sake of the olam (world) des­per­ate­ly in need of tikkun (heal­ing).”

The book pro­vides a com­plete sur­vey of the rela­tion­ships between Jews, Judaism, and the envi­ron­ment. Ben­stein explores Jew­ish texts and con­cepts, such as the sto­ry of cre­ation and Jew­ish hol­i­days, with an envi­ron­men­tal eye. He also dis­cuss­es fun­da­men­tal envi­ron­men­tal top­ics such as pop­u­la­tion growth, agri­cul­ture, pol­lu­tion, bio­di­ver­si­ty, and sus­tain­abil­i­ty with a Jew­ish per­spec­tive. He describes how Jews’ rela­tion­ship to the envi­ron­ment, or lack there­of, has been impact­ed by the Dias­po­ra and the land of Israel. 

One of the more com­pelling dis­cus­sions con­fronts the notion of mitzvot. Most are famil­iar with mitzvot between a per­son and G‑d (bein adam la-makom) and those between peo­ple (bein adam le’chavero). In addi­tion, Ben­stein sees a moral oblig­a­tion to regroup and refo­cus exist­ing mitzvot to address those between peo­ple and the world (bein adam le-olam).

Benstein’s research is so detailed; his knowl­edge of both Judaism and envi­ron­men­tal­ism so deep; and his teas­ing apart of details so exact­ing that at times it feels as if he is sit­ting in yeshi­va, mak­ing Tal­mu­dic argu­ments to an esteemed rebbe. This is not the kind of book to be read in bed at night; rather it com­mands an active read, with pen in hand. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes.

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