Ecologists always been prophets of doom- world end in smog etc etc. But it's not necessary to be negative. There is hope, choice- much can be done by sensitivity, educated decisions.

We will see how the basis of environmental protection is rooted in Torah- specifically mitszves of Bal Tashchis (do not destroy) & uNishmartam meod al Nafshosechem. (take care of your lives)

Brief look at our problems now.

Bal Tashchis- waste in Israel- 100 million dollars of garbage yearly- could be recycled at profit- gaining after initial capital outlay

Households need to be ready ready to sep. garbage- city to collect etc.

Waste causes problems. Over 50% organic- contributes to nitrate levels- in drinking water over acceptable limits in 30% tested wells.

No room left in Chiriya & other major Israeli dumps- where to put it? " not in my back yard!" - obvious public reaction. Expensive to shlep it to Negev. No alternative- apart from recycling. See sheets.

Energy & goods demands- the more we consume- the more pollution we are causing indirectly-

Energy- pat ourselves on the back- we use only 20% of America per capita- 2x that of India per capita.

For water & other resources- see sheet.

Organic waste can be processed economically into chicken food & fertlizer.

"Unishmartam"- more energy consumption- more pollution- Haifa- extraordinary measures needed to disperse sulphur dioxide- 400 m stacks! ( because of weather conditions) Lower Sulphur content fuel now being used.

In Jerusalem & elsewhere- private cars- photochemical smog- nitrous gases & ozone problem. Lead-( decreased by 75% in last few years in the gasolene- non-leaded fuel being introduced- pilot project) Catalytic converters cut out most of pollution but need non-leaded fuel. As yet also not as efficient as car without converter.

Old buses on roads which should have been scrapped a decade ago! Now engines very inefficient & major polluters.

In home worse! Fumes from polishes, sprays, bleaches, heavy duty cleaners- chemicals guaranteed to kill all known household germs- (according to ads)- canaries & small children- chas ve Shalom.

Before I get really carried away- let's look at the Torah roots of these mitsvos-

Please read Sefer Devorim- parshas Shoftim- (pg 190 Rashi linear) pasuk 19, 20- key phrase "Ki HaAdam Etz HaSadeh"- can be taken as question or statement. Rashi- takes as question- "Ki"- really? Is the tree like the men of the city that they too should be besieged & punished? Don't lose sight of objective! Even in extraodinary circumstance of war- mustn't destroy. (Rashbam qualifies- can cut down trees if enemy can hide in them)

Ibn Ezra takes it as a statement- indicating dependence of man on tree- good things- fruit, wood etc- (and as we also know- role in plants in purifying air- removing carbon dioxide & replacing it with oxygen- dependence on biomass. Ravages of deforestation- causes soil erosion & great loss of benefit.

Sifrei- "Chayav shel Col Adam aino ele min ha-ilan"-

"The life of man is only from the tree!"

Sages enlightened & environmentally friendly view to city planning.

Migrash for amenity- given in Torah for Levite towns- Rambam understands that this was extended to all towns. As well as this- automatic protection of trees- need permit to chop one down. In English law you need special order to keep it there!

Bar Matsra- 1st right of a landowner to buy neighbouring plot of land- But if he wants to build houses and another man wants to plant trees- (fruit trees it seems)- latter gets right to buy land!

So Bal Tashchis started with fruit trees- extended by later authorities to all forms of needless destruction. Though tree conservation & plastic waste seem different- BASED ON HACARAS HATOV-

Sefer HaChinuch- a worthy & pious person can be distressed over loss of so much as a mustard seed- only wicked squander & waste.

The Rambam- Mishneh Torah Melachim 6, 8, 10 - don't cut down fruit trees or ri-direct water from them so that they wither- punishment- lashes. This extends to those who break utensils, tear garments, stop wells, wilfully destroy food & other such mischief.

A person who does these things out of anger, & also squanders money- will come to be oved Avoda zara- Shabbas 105b- (based on lack of sensitivity).

Finally- Yaakov Avinu crossed Yabok to get his Pachim Katanim- (small containers)- he valued everything he had- however trivial & replacable. (In those days not as replacable as today- but Yaakov was wealthy man at the time.

-Now all that is obvious & clear & you're going to go out to buy a "I planted a tree" certificate! We move on to-

uNishmartam meod al nafshosechem- Obviously broad definition from smoking cigarettes to crossing Sderot Hertsl.

Rabbi Yose ben Hanina states in the Talmud (Gemara I assume) A man should not force his wife to move to the city, "Because living in the city is difficult".

Comments Rashi "Many live there in density, houses are close together & there is poor air, but in small settlements there are gardens and orchards close to dwellings & the air is pleasant" (Talmud Ketubos 110b) Of course our cities are not quite like the 11th century mediaeval Wurms where Rashi lived, but much of the comparison is valid today.

Psycholgical overcrowding- many people in close proximity- literally on top of one another- & noise- both causing stress we might not even notice is affecting our health & nerves-

As well as toxic fumes from cars, old buses etc- sewerage disposal problems & leaching of these & other waste effluents into our drinking water.

Time of Gemara- migrash for amenity- "mavoy" concept of housing arrangements- neighbourhoods (just like Kamenitz Bes & Gimmel)- A culdesac with service roads at back- houses clustered around small courtyards- no doors & windows directly facing so privacy maintained.

Placement of tanneries & graveyards east of city so most of time downwind. (prevailing winds mainly from west) - Provision in halacha for noise, smalls, smoke & other nuisances.

1st volume kitsur Shulchan Aruch chapter 32- excellent for diet & health- well worth reading all of it. As pertains to environment- para. 25 tells us we should try to live where the air is pure & clear, on elevated ground- (such as Jerusalem) in a house of ample proportions (or at least psych. effect- light & spacious)- if possible not with eastern or northern exposure. Keep fragrant plants & such around. The paragraph refers to fumigation- (I don't know what kind in day of Rav Yosef Karo- much more innocuous than fumes used today!)- shouldn't live in vicinity of rotting matter- (who has noticed open sewer draining into wadi at the end of road here?)

Interestingly in the next chapter- para 11- says not to cut down olive trees & date palms over a certain productivity- because it is dangerous!

So we see that protection of the environment is as much a mitsva & obligation as, say, loshon hara, chinuch yeladim & other subjects frum women usually learn about. We see sensitivity of Sages to environmental issues in city planning & for individual. We can all be involved to some degree. there is much we can do in our home- a little consciousness in lifestyles- (The hand-out gives aitsas for things you can do in the home-) anyone with time & inclination can get involved in public & national envir protection - by writing letters & calling Members of Knesset etc. Much that we can do is very easy & straight forward. Also it is part of the intrinsic nature of the Jew, and esp. the housewife & mother- to be sensitive & caring about such issues. It's easy to feel impotent, discouraged and overwhelmed by negative projections- needn't be the case. We can all contribute greatly in a positive way & gradually change the face of our land.

I have a resource library for those interested including:

Unpublished manuscrpit of a doctoral thesis is Town planning & Talmudic Law.

"The Environment in Israel"- a Governmnent publication- 1988- Quarterly bulletins from the Ministry of the Environment.

Numerous pertinent from the Scientific American.

Newspaper clippings- incl. recent Tel Aviv water pollution story.

See also "Challenge"- article by Aryeh Carmell- "Judaism and the Quality of the Environment"

Copyright © 1999 Gila Atwood

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