Is Climate Activism a Jewish Issue?

Sunday, 14 November, 2021 - 5:49 pm

Question of the Week

I am a climate activist trying to galvanise support for sustainable living from the Orthodox Jewish community. My question is, are there any no-go areas, red lines, or issues I should be careful to avoid when approaching religious Jews on the topic of sustainability? I want to be sensitive to people's beliefs while raising awareness about this vital cause.


The Torah observant community should be your easiest customers. Our tradition is clear about the responsibility we have to care for our world.

Every child attending a religious Jewish school knows that the Torah forbids us to waste any useful resources.

The kabbalists taught that every leaf on every tree has a soul, and must be treated with respect. 

And our sages record G-d's words to the first man, Adam: "Look at the beautiful world I have created. I have created it all for you. Take care not to corrupt and spoil My world, for if you do, no one will come after you to fix it."

Nevertheless, some overzealous climate activists do hold positions that clash with Jewish values. If you espouse these extreme positions, you have little chance of success.

Here are some examples: 

"The end of the world is near." Jews are not big fans of apocalyptic prophecies and doomsday predictions. Other religious groups may be getting ready for Armageddon, but we have always believed in a happy, bright and peaceful future. The claim that "we have five years to act or it will be too late" was said five years ago too. People, including scientists, are notoriously bad at predicting the future of a dynamic and ever-changing world. We can still be inspired to live responsibly without being scared into thinking that the world is about to end. 

"This is THE issue of our time." The Torah does not allow us the luxury of being single-issue activists. Caring for our world includes not only preserving the physical environment, but it also includes tending to the spiritual, emotional and moral environment around us. While we all have our passions and topics of particular interest, we cannot focus on material survival and ignore other threats to humanity. We don't really know which issue is the most pressing. Moral depravity may pose a greater risk to human life than carbon emissions. We have to be holistic in our activism. 

"Overpopulation is a ticking time bomb." People may cause problems. But people also find solutions. Those climate activists who portray humans as the enemy, lose the support of we who believe that every person is an irreplaceable gift. The argument that population growth is the greatest threat to our future, does not go down well with proponents of G-d's command to be fruitful and multiply. Every soul that is born is precious. An ideology that wishes to limit human reproduction is anathema to everything Jewish. We can't save the world for our children by not having them. 

So if you want Torah-observant Jews to be on side, you need to present a non-alarmist, balanced and pro-human platform for sustainable living. And one more thing. Don't push the vegan thing. You will get a very parev response. 

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

Rambam Hilchos Melochim 6:8-10
Midrash Koheles 7:13
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