Why Isn’t Climate Change a Bigger Issue for the Orthodox?

August 7, 2020

By Haggai Resnikoff for The Jewish Forward

Why have Orthodox Jews been so slow to commit to the struggle against climate change? The Pope and the Islamic Society of North America have spoken up about it. In January, Renewal Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Shalom Center issued a statement with more than 500 rabbinic signees, and this spring, Reform Rabbi Jennie Rosenn launched Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, a new Jewish non-profit devoted solely to mobilizing the American Jewish community to confront the climate crisis. In the legal arena, the Conservative Movement Committee on Jewish Law and Standards recently accepted a teshuva (responsum) calling for education and engagement with the crisis. Amidst all this religious activity, high profile Orthodox voices are conspicuously absent.

What holds us back? Does anyone doubt the Torah mandate le-ovdah ule-shomra, to protect and labor for the earth? Or its declaration, ki li kol ha-aretz, the whole world belongs to God? Jewish environmentalists have been trumpeting these texts for years, as well as the midrashic message, ten da’atcha she-lo tekalkel ve-tachriv et olami be vigilant not to destroy God’s world. The Torah clearly values God’s creations and warns humanity not to wantonly damage the world.

So why haven’t the Orthodox flocked to join the fight against climate change?

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