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300+ Rabbis Sign Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis

05/15/2015 03:35 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2016

Encouraged by Pope Francis' work, they Call for Vigorous Action

More than 300 rabbis have signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption, to seek eco-social justice, and to shape a world of shared sustainable abundance..

We are delighted to share the news of this major and unprecedented statement during the week when we read the Torah portion (Lev 25-27) about the Earth's need for a restful Sabbatical/ Shmita Year.

The Rabbinic Letter was initiated by seven leading rabbis from a broad spectrum of American Jewish life: Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the American Jewish University; Rabbi Arthur Green, rector of the Hebrew College rabbinical school; Rabbi Peter Knobel, former president, Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.; Rabbi Susan Talve, spiritual leader of Central Reform Congregation, St. Louis; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center; and Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

The seven wrote:

"Our decision to do this arose out of our learning that Pope Francis will this summer issue an encyclical to the Church and the World that will address the climate crisis in the context of worsening concentrations of wealth and power and worsening degradations of poverty.

"We believe it is important for the spiritual leadership of the Jewish people to speak to the Jewish people as a whole and to the world on this deep crisis in the history of the human species and of many other life-forms on our planet."
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Salient passages from the Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis are below. The full text of the Rabbinic Letter and the present (and still growing) list of more than 300 signers are at <https://theshalomcenter.org/250-rabbis-sign-rabbinic-letter-climate-crisis>

If you are a rabbi and wish to sign, please click to <http://tinyurl.com/RabbinicLetterClimate>. (Soon we will be asking other Jewish spiritual and communal leaders to join in this effort, but for now we want to highlight the rabbinic commitment.)
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To the Jewish People, to all Communities of Spirit,
and to the World:

A Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis

We come as Jews and rabbis with great respect for what scientists teach us - for as we understand their teaching, it is about the unfolding mystery of God's Presence in the unfolding universe, and especially in the history and future of our planet. Although we accept scientific accounts of earth's history, we continue to see it as God's creation, and we celebrate the presence of the divine hand in every earthly creature.

Yet in our generation, this wonder and this beauty have been desecrated -- not in one land alone but 'round all the Earth.

We are especially moved when the deepest, most ancient insights of Torah about healing the relationships of Earth and human earthlings, adamah and adam, are echoed in the findings of modern science.

The texts of Torah that perhaps most directly address our present crisis ar Leviticus 25-26 and Deuteronomy 15. They call for one year of every seven to be Shabbat Shabbaton - a Sabbatical Year - and Shmittah - a Year of restful Release for the Earth and its workers from being made to work, and of Release for debtors from their debts.

In Leviticus 26, the Torah warns us that if we refuse to let the Earth rest, it will "rest" anyway, despite us and upon us - through drought and famine and exile that turn an entire people into refugees.

This ancient warning heard by one indigenous people in one slender land has now become a crisis of our planet as a whole and of the entire human species. Human behavior that overworks the Earth - especially the overburning of fossil fuels --- crests in a systemic planetary response that endangers human communities and many other life-forms as well.

The unity of justice and Earth-healing is taught by our ancient texts and by our experience today: The worsening inequality of wealth, income, and political power has two direct impacts on the climate crisis. On the one hand, great Carbon Corporations not only make their enormous profits from wounding the Earth, but then use these profits to purchase elections and to fund fake science to prevent the public from acting to heal the wounds. On the other hand, the poor in America and around the globe are the first and the worst to suffer from the typhoons, floods, droughts, and diseases brought on by climate chaos.

So we call for a new sense of eco-social justice - a tikkun olam that includes tikkun tevel, the healing of our planet. We urge those who have been focusing on social justice to address the climate crisis, and those who have been focusing on the climate crisis to address social justice.

The crisis is worsened by the spread of extreme extraction of fossil fuels that not only heats the planet as a whole but damages the regions directly affected. Extreme extraction includes fracking shale rock for oil and "unnatural gas," destroying the mountains of West Virginia for coal, extracting and pipe-lining Tar Sands oil, and drilling for oil deep into the Gulf, the Arctic, and the Atlantic.

All of this is overworking Earth -- precisely what our Torah teaches we must not do. So now we must let our planet rest from overwork. For Biblical Israel, this was a central question in our relationship to the Holy One. And for us and for our children and their children, this is once again the central question of our lives and of our God.

One way of addressing our own responsibility would be for households, congregations, denominations, federations, political action --- to Move Our Money from spending that helps these modern pharaohs burn our planet to spending that helps to heal it. For example, these actions might be both practical and effective:

  • § Purchasing wind-born rather than coal-fired electricity to light our homes and synagogues and community centers;
  • § Organizing our great Federations to offer grants and loans to every Jewish organization in their regions to solarize their buildings;
  • § Moving our endowment funds from supporting deadly Carbon to supporting stable, profitable, life-giving enterprises;
  • § Insisting that our tax money go no longer to subsidizing enormously profitable Big Oil but instead to subsidizing the swift deployment of renewable energy

The United States is one of the most intense contributors to the climate crisis, and must therefore take special responsibility to act. Though we in America are already vulnerable to climate chaos, other countries are even more so --- and Jewish caring must take that truth seriously. Israeli scientists, for example, report that if the world keeps doing carbon business as usual, the Negev desert will come to swallow up half the state of Israel, and sea-level rises will put much of Tel Aviv under water

As we live through this Shmittah Year, we are especially aware that Torah calls for Hak'heyl -- assembling the whole community of the People Israel during the Sukkot after the Shmittah year, to hear and recommit ourselves to the Torah's central teachings.

So we encourage Jews in all our communities to gather on the Sunday of Sukkot this year, October 4, 2015, to explore together our responsibilities toward the Earth and all humankind, in this generation.

We call upon the Jewish people to meet God's challenge once again.