Although preserving the environment is a Jewish value, too many are falling down on the job, said Rabbi Lawrence Troster.
“Nature is calling to us,” said Troster, director of the fellowship program at Greenfaith, a New Brunswick based nonprofit that helps foster environmental leadership in the religious community. “But we are not hearing the cries. The tikun olam of the world is literally in our hands, and we need to do something about it.”
Troster spoke April 4 at Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth.
One of the nation’s leading eco-theologians, he showed photos of incinerators in Newark and Camden that spill pollutants into surrounding rivers and air and gave other examples of damage being done to the Earth.
He spoke of his own trip to the South Pacific Island of Tuvalu, which is being swallowed by the surrounding sea and whose aquifers are already tainted by salt water as global warming has made the glaciers and polar caps melt.
“Not only is it harming you, but it harms others as well,” said Troster as he showed photos of animals that have become extinct or are nearing extinction. He noted that kindness to animals was a mitzva and guiding principle in Judaism.
Much of the problem, he said, can be tied to overconsumption, with 20 percent of the world’s population using 80 percent of its resources.
“It’s a very tough and sobering thing,” said Troster. “The rate of consumerism in the United States is unsustainable. If everyone consumed like the people of New Jersey, we would need five earths to sustain us.”
Troster warned that people need to change their thinking habits from “not what I want, but what I need.”
“I love to buy books, but I don’t need to; I want to,” he explained. “But I have a library in town and I’m learning to use it.”
He said he came to his role as an eco-theologian based on his concern about the kind of world he would be leaving to his twin daughters, and now his three small granddaughters.
“I want their lives to be as good as mine,” he said.
And yet if Jews apply their own traditions, they could connect with the importance of conserving the environment, said Troster. The concept of bal tash’hit — do not waste — was originally a prohibition against destroying fruit-bearing trees during war. Rabbis subsequently considered it a ban on “wasting creation.”
He reminded the audience that the world belongs to God and nothing should be considered superfluous.
“Everything has a purpose,” Troster said. “It was looked at by God. We are altering life that has been on this planet billions of years. It will continue if we no longer cease to exist.”