A pair of eco-rabbis in Jerusalem have taken the Bible, also known as the Torah in Hebrew, and found hundreds of passages in it relating to ecology, animal rights, regenerative agriculture, the 3Rs and more, and have found a way to make old ideas relevant to us all in modern times.
They call it the Eco Bible. You can buy it here.
It is a green compass helping us navigate some of the ethical challenges that align with environmentalism.
Since converting to Judaism I always found it eerie how similar modern law practiced in Canada where I am from (but also the US and Europe) is very similar to ancient Talmudic Law. A pair of American lawyers compared the systems here in this PDF.
Ancient Jewish scholars in the Sanhedrin would define ethics from Biblical sources and form judgements in their courts of law. I find the whole process of ancient problems and how to solve them both fascinating and exhilarating because most of them are the same problems we have today 2000 years later.
This is the basis of being human and one of our “defects” or gifts is that we have to see the world as being built for us. We need to discover things as though we are pioneers. So I guess we have to make mistakes and if you look at the planet we have some major mistakes to fix.
I often look to examples of stories I see in the Talmud (the Jewish oral laws and stories written down) to how I relate to myself and the world around me. Why invent the wheel when people before us had the same questions and possibly came up with creative and successful solutions long before us?
Yonatan Neril and Leo Dee his partner have done just that. They have collected wisdom from dozens of scholars and hundreds of sources to stitch them together to make an Eco Bible. This I can only guess is to inspire and illuminate the path forward out of climate change –- using faith as our guide. The Eco Bible book can be appreciated by everyone of any faith, I can imagine.
Covid-19 has created a spiritual awakening in us all and this new book might help you justify and share the challenges of being ecologically awoke. Buddhism is great for helping us feel the here and now, but an Eco Bible could help us in Phase II – springing into action.
“Applying Hebrew Bible teachings to stewardship of our global environment is not just an idea for today—but essential for a future in which we achieve a balanced, worldwide ecosystem and thrive on a planet viable for all life,” says co-author Rabbi Yonatan Neril, coauthor and founding director of the international Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD), which is publishing the book.
“At a time of both ecological and spiritual crisis, understanding the Hebrew Bible can have profound impact on human behavior towards God’s creation, since billions of people worldwide consider it a holy book.”
Indeed if you read a bit of the Bible here and there you will find extremely important teachings that can help guide your eco-ethical compass. There are passages about how to set up cities and factories around the perimeter so that “emissions” don’t pollute the residents, there are extensive laws and thoughts on the public versus private space, and there are very clear examples of damages –- and how people should be compensated when harm is done to them.
Recently there is a big debate as to whether or not a former American Ambassador house built in Israel near the sea with a pool now on public land should be put back in the hands of the public. (The house was recently sold to billionaire Sheldon Adelson). I have visited the house and it is spectacular with the best part of it being the cliff-view (public space) fenced off from the public for security concerns to the ambassador. Can the public reclaim this land set aside for diplomatic purposes which are now over? I’d ask the eco rabbis and the Eco Bible about that.
Currently it seems like the world is mostly “winging” it or looking to other faiths for guidance when clear ecological ethics is spelled out in the Bible and is quite applicable to modern times and to all of the three monotheistic faiths that are based on the Biblical laws: Judaism, Christians and Muslims.
The book connects the Five Books of Moses (Pentateuch), and Jewish rabbis’ biblical teachings past and present, with contemporary scientists’ understanding of human health, biodiversity, and environmental protection of air, land and water.
Bill Brown, Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia, calls Eco Bible, “a rich repository of insights . . . for people of faith to move forward with wisdom, inspiration, and hope, all for the sake of God’s good creation.”
I haven’t read an advance copy it but I have known Rabbi Neril for about 10 years since he started his center for faith-based education in Jerusalem. He is a humble man who walks the walk -–– on a journey of finding God along the path of environmentalism.
Raised in California, Neril has a BA and MA from Stanford with a focus on global environmental issues. He lives with his wife, Shana and their two children in Jerusalem. Neril’s center publishes materials on religion and ecology, including Eco Bible and Report on Faith and Ecology in North American Seminaries, and organizes interfaith environmental conferences.