Arts & Culture

10 Books on the Intersection of Judaism and the Environment

Earth Day is a Jewish holiday. Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but from the quantity of books that have been written on the intersecting subjects of Judaism and the environment, you'd think that Earth Day—coming up on April 22—appears on … Read More

By / April 21, 2008

Earth Day is a Jewish holiday. Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but from the quantity of books that have been written on the intersecting subjects of Judaism and the environment, you'd think that Earth Day—coming up on April 22—appears on the Jewish calendar between Passover and Yom HaShoah. There are a lot of paths leading from Judaism to environmentalism and vice versa, and the following ten books offer gateways and guidance. Hopefully they're printed on recycled paper, too.

God in the Wilderness: Rediscovering the Spirituality of the Great Outdoors, by Rabbi Jamie Korngold: "Balancing an in-depth knowledge of scripture with a wry sense of humor and a compassion for nature, Korngold reminds us of the nooks and crannies of the natural world and says that we must seek them out, soak them in and care for them. The variety of personal stories, tales of travel with various Adventure Rabbi groups and contemporary alternative biblical outcomes—what if Moses had been too busy texting to notice the burning bush?—make for a book that is easily digestible but at the same time worth savoring. Purposely sized to fit easily into a backpack or pocket, the call to return to the wild—or at least your local city park—is ever present."
A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism, by Rabbi Mike Comins: "As the subtitle indicates, Comins asserts that the relationship between Torah and nature is a two-way trail: wilderness is the best place to work out a personal, unscripted, fresh relationship with divinity, and Judaism offers a vocabulary and practice to translate the experience of wilderness into a life of purpose and meaning. For those who love nature and know little about Judaism, and those who love Judaism but know little about wilderness, Comins's message is clear: one need not choose between the two to find potential, promise and fulfillment."
The Way into Judaism and the Environment, by Dr. Jeremy Benstein: "For everyone who wants to understand how Jews view the natural world and the responsibilities of environmental stewardship, this book provides the way into an essential aspect of Judaism and allows you to interact directly with the sacred texts of the Jewish tradition. At a time of growing concern about environmental issues, Jeremy Benstein, PhD–a founder and associate director of the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership–explores the relationship Jews have with the natural world and the ways in which Judaism contributes to contemporary social-environmental issues. He also shows us the extent to which Judaism is part of the problem and how it can be part of the solution."
Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the Sacred Meet, by Ellen Bernstein: "In today's modern culture, we've become separated from the spiritual possibilities of the natural world. "Modern" religion often overlooks nature, focusing instead on history and human drama. This book offers an alternative…a different, eye-and-soul-opening way of viewing religion: a perspective grounded in nature, and rich in insights for people of all faiths. Here, innovators in Judaism and ecology lead us on an exploration of the concepts of sacred space, sacred time, and community."
Trees, Earth, and Torah, edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman, Arthur Waskow: "This exhaustive and exhausting collection of essays, biblical passages, poems, songs and recipes scrutinizes Tu B'Shvat, a minor Jewish festival that occurs on the 15th day (tu Equals number 15 in Hebrew) of Shvat, the fifth month of the Jewish year (it usually falls between mid-January and mid-February). Known as the New Year of the Tree, Jewish Arbor Day or Tree-Planting Day, Tu B'Shvat began as a tax day for calculating which fruit would be included in the tithe brought to the Temple. More recently, Tu B'Shvat has become a day for planting trees in Israel and for celebrating ecological concerns."
Spirit in Nature: Teaching Judaism and Ecology on the Trail, by Matt Biers-Ariel, Deborah Newbrun, Michal Fox Smart: "This pioneering guide book awakens hikers of all ages to the miracles of God's creations along the trail. Each discovery revealed through the book's 27 engaging activities becomes an adventure of the senses and the spirit as hikers recite blessings over natural phenomena, "build a tree" with their bodies, and recreate the rainbow of colors that adorn fields and trees and stones. A special index highlights the connection between key Jewish values and the wonder of nature. Spirit in Nature will guide camp directors, counselors, teachers, religious leaders, parents, and youth group leaders in nourishing the spiritual lives of hikers exploring the natural world."
Splendor of Creation: A Biblical Ecology, by Ellen Bernstein: "Many people see the environmental crisis as a spiritual one, but author Ellen Bernstein sees the Book of Genesis as a guide to living peaceably with the Earth. The creation story, according to Bernstein, invites a deep appreciation of nature and may be the perfect muse for a world that is hungry for an integrated ecological vision. This message, however, is a hidden one. Thus the importance of The Splendor of Creation. Written from a Jewish perspective, this book is both accessible and compelling to a broad audience, as it explores Genesis 1, verse by verse, reflecting on the language that contributes to a holistic ecological vision."
Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader, edited by Martin D. Yaffe: "Brought together in one volume for the first time, the most important scholars in the field touch on diverse disciplines including deep ecology, political philosophy, and biblical hermeneutics. This ambitious book illustrates – precisely because of its interdisciplinary focus – how longstanding disagreements and controversies may spark further interchange among ecologists, Jews, and philosophers. Both accessible and thoroughly scholarly, this dialogue will benefit anyone interested in ethical and religious considerations of contemporary ecology."
Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed Word, by Hava Tirosh-Samuelson and twenty others: "This volume intends to contribute to the nascent discourse on Judaism and ecology by clarifying diverse conceptions of nature in Jewish thought and by using the insights of Judaism to formulate a constructive Jewish theology of nature. The twenty-one contributors consider the Bible and rabbinic literature, examine the relationship between the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of revelation in the context of natural law, and wrestle with questions of nature and morality. They look at nature in the Jewish mystical tradition, and they face the challenges to Jewish environmental activism caused by the tension between the secular nature of the environmental discourse and Jewish religious commitments."
Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel, by Alon Tal: Virtually undeveloped one hundred years ago, Israel, the promised "land of milk and honey," is in ecological disarray. In this gripping book, Alon Tal provides – for the first time ever – a history of environmentalism in Israel, interviewing hundreds of experts and activists who have made it their mission to keep the country's remarkable development sustainable amid a century of political and cultural turmoil. The modern Zionist vision began as a quest to redeem a land that bore the cumulative effects of two thousand years of foreign domination and neglect. Since then, Israel has suffered from its success. A tenfold increase in population and standard of living has polluted the air. The deserts have bloomed but groundwater has become contaminated. Urban sprawl threatens to pave over much of the country's breathtaking landscape. Yet there is hope. Tal's account considers the ecological and tactical lessons that emerge from dozens of cases of environmental mishaps, from habitat loss to river reclamation. Pollution in a Promised Land argues that the priorities and strategies of Israeli environmental advocates must address issues beyond traditional green agendas."
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