While Judaism teaches that “The Earth is the Lord’s,” (Psalms 24:1) and that we are to be partners with God in preserving the environment, there are daily news reports about climate change, water shortages, air and water pollution, and other environmental problems.
Tu B’Shevat — the New Year for Trees, the date on which the fate of trees is decided for the coming year — is an ideal time to consider current environmental threats, including the rapid destruction of tropical rain forests, and how to effectively respond to them.
Since Tu B’Shevat falls on Shabbat this year (Jan. 25-26), it would be wonderful if congregations treated it as an “Environmental Shabbat,” with observances that would increase the environmental awareness and activism of its members. This would be a great opportunity for education about environmental crises locally, nationally, and internationally, with perhaps a special emphasis on environmental problems in Israel. Increasing awareness of how applying Judaism’s splendid environmental teachings can reduce climate change and other environmental threats would help inspire and energize our congregations, bring many Jews back to Jewish involvement, and, most important, help shift our imperiled planet to a sustainable path.
Richard H. Schwartz, PhD
Professor emeritus, College of Staten Island
President, Jewish Vegetarians of North Americ