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Rabbis urge PM to make Israel full partner in global climate battle

21 rabbis sign letter saying climate crisis now an issue of ‘pikuach nefesh’ — the Jewish law that puts preserving life above most other religious rules

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative: A firefighter is silhouetted against a fire burning outside the village of Roqueiro, near Oleiros, Portugal, September 14, 2020 (AP Photo/Sergio Azenha, File)
Illustrative: A firefighter is silhouetted against a fire burning outside the village of Roqueiro, near Oleiros, Portugal, September 14, 2020 (AP Photo/Sergio Azenha, File)

A group of Israeli rabbis drawn mainly from the national religious camp has called on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to demonstrate that Israel is a full partner in global efforts to stem climate change, saying that the crisis is already here and action is imperative on the basis of pikuach nefesh, the Jewish law that puts preserving life above most other religious rules

“The issue of sustainability is no longer one that deals with bal tashchit (a biblical law that forbids the cutting down of fruit trees during a siege but is more broadly interpreted to prohibit unnecessary waste),” a letter signed by 21 rabbis said.

The climate crisis is no longer just about “protecting the Holy One’s world,” the letter went on.

“This issue relates today to the global preservation of life in the full sense of the words.”

The approach was coordinated by Teva Ivri (Israel Nature), a non-profit organization promoting Jewish environmental responsibility in Israel.

Included among the signatories are Rabbi David Stav, head of the religious Zionist Tzohar movement, Rabbi Sharon Shalom, a Tzohar official, and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of Jerusalem’s Ateret Yerushalim Yeshiva.

Several of the rabbis also signed a letter two years ago citing the dangers of plastic waste to health and the environment.

One of the signatories, Rabbi  Avraham Mordechai Gottlieb, is a spiritual leader of a Hassidic community living in Kiryat Yearim (Telz Stone) near Jerusalem.

The climate crisis, wrote the rabbis, “is about a dramatic influence on the lives of humanity in ways that are much greater than appear: starvation, thirst, the human and security significance of migration, the huge implications for quality of life and our very existence.”

“We are no longer talking about an issue in the future, it is already present now.”

Illustrative: Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at moshav Givat Ye’arim outside Jerusalem on August 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“All of this is being revealed in a world where many species are going extinct, opening a window through which we can peek at the reality towards which we might be approaching.”

The letter went on to say that even if some of the science was mistaken, or if interested parties were involved, the many world scientists warning about what was happening needed to be listened to and it was essential to act.

The rabbis began their letter by saying that concerns about climate change had nothing to do with party affiliation, religious orientation, ethnicity or national identity.

“Even though our country is small and its influence (on climate change) is minor, our involvement can be very significant. Do it, of course, with open eyes, and take care not to be manipulated, but at the same time do it with readiness and devotion to this critical issue, upon which the whole world’s fate depends, and to which the eyes of many on earth are turned….’For Torah will go forth from Zion, and the word of The Lord from Jerusalem’ (Micah 4:2),” the rabbis wrote.

They concluded the letter to the prime minister by saying, “We call on you to represent the full partnership of the State of Israel in the global effort.”

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