Today, September 11, 2020, is the 19th anniversary of the attack on America on September 11, 2001. The tragedy of that day and the loss of thousands of Americans changed the way we Americans see the world and strive to protect ourselves against the evil intentions of others. As a nation, we mourn our losses then and the losses of all the men and women in uniform suffered in the wars that came in 9/11’s wake as well as the innocent in Afghanistan and Iraq who were caught up in the fighting.
Now, we are experiencing yet another tragedy of far greater scale. Approaching 200,000 deaths from the virus in this country alone, so many tens of thousands of whom need not have died had the United States been led by a competent, honest, compassionate, and worthy President.
I turn now in this 4th blog in a series examining Jewish values on the Environment and Climate Change, the greatest single existential threat to the planet, with the policies of the Biden-Harris ticket.
From the Biblical era to the present, Jewish tradition is clear that we are stewards of the environment and that it is our religious and moral obligation to protect and preserve the natural world. These Jewish values comport fully with the Biden-Harris policy goals as opposed to those of the Trump administration that has undone so much of the progress of earlier administrations to assure a healthy and sustainable America.
The following texts span Jewish attitudes and date from the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C.E.:
“God took and placed the human being in the Garden of Eden to work and protect it.” –Genesis 2:15, Mesopotamia, middle of the 2nd millennium B.C.E.
“Should you besiege a town many days to do battle against it, you shall not destroy its trees to swing an axe against them, for from them you shall eat, and you shall not cut them down. For is the tree of the field a human, to come away from you in the siege? Only a tree that you know is not a tree for eating, it you may destroy and cut down and build a siege-work against the town that does battle against you, until its fall.” –Deuteronomy 20:19-20, Israel, 7th century B.C.E.
“In the hour when the Holy One, blessed be God, created the first human being, God took the human and let him/her pass before all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to the human: See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I have created, for you have I created it. Think upon this, and do not corrupt and desolate my world; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you.” –Kohelet Rabbah 8:28 – Israel/Babylon, 600-950 C.E.
“One day, as Honi the Circle-Drawer was walking along the road, he saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked, “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” The man replied, “Seventy years.” Honi asked, “Do you expect to live another seventy years to eat its fruit?” The man replied, “I did not find the world without carob trees when I entered it. As my forebears planted for me, so I am planting for those who come after me.” –Babylonian Talmud, Ta-anit 23a – Babylon, 500 C.E.
“Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai said: If you are holding a sapling in your hand and they tell you the messiah has come, first plant the sapling, then go welcome the messiah.” –Avot d’Rabbi Natan B 31 – Israel/Babylon, 8th–9th century C.E.
“The lights (i.e. sun, moon and stars) of the world suffer when a beneficial tree is harmed.” –Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 29a – Babylon, 500 C.E.
“When a fruit-bearing tree is chopped down, a crying voice is heard from one end of the world to the other, but it is not audible to the human ear.” –Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 34 – Italy, 8th–9th century C.E.
“Ba’al tash’chit – ‘Do not destroy’ – was understood by our sages very broadly as including any act of needless destruction. ‘Not only does this apply to trees, but also whoever breaks vessels or tears garments, destroys a building, blocks a wellspring of water, or destructively wastes food transgresses the command ba’al tash’chit.’” –Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon (aka RAMBAM, Maimonides), Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melachim 6:10 – Spain and Egypt, 12th century C.E.
“It is the way of the righteous and of people of action who love peace and are happy in the good of their fellows and who bring them close to Torah, that they should never waste even the seed of the mustard plant. And if they are able to save, they save everything from destruction with all their willpower. This is not the way of … the evildoers who do damage. They are happy with the destruction of the world, and they destroy it.” –Sefer HaChinukh 529 – Spain, 13th century C.E.
[The statutes relating to environmental protection represent the principle that] “the same regard that you show to humankind you must also demonstrate to every lower creature, to the earth which bears and sustains all, and to the world of plants and animals…They ask you to regard all living things as God’s property. Destroy none; abuse none; waste nothing; employ all things wisely….Look upon all creatures as servants in the household of creation.” –Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, The Nineteen Letters, Letter 11 – Germany, 1808-1888
BIDEN-HARRIS POLICY PLATFORM TO BATTLE CLIMATE CHANGE
“From coastal towns to rural farms to urban centers, climate change poses an existential threat – not just to our environment, but to our health, our communities, our national security, and our economic well-being. It also damages our communities with storms that wreak havoc on our towns and cities and our homes and schools. It puts our national security at risk by leading to regional instability that will require U.S military-supported relief activities and could make areas more vulnerable to terrorist activities.
Vice President Biden knows there is no greater challenge facing our country and our world. The following is his outline for a bold plan – a Clean Energy Revolution – to address this grave threat and lead the world in addressing the climate emergency.
Joe Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face. It powerfully captures two basic truths, which are at the core of his plan: (1) the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge, and (2) our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.
In 1986, Joe Biden introduced one of the first-ever climate bills in Congress. PolitiFact called him a “climate change pioneer” and dubbed his early leadership “a watershed moment.” Biden will lead the world in addressing the climate emergency by:
- Ensuring the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050.
- Rebuilding the nation and ensuring that our buildings, water, transportation, and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change.
- Recommitting the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change and lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets.
- Standing up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities.
- Fulfilling our obligation to workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and subsequent decades of economic growth.”
See https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/# for The Biden Climate Plan
Note: In the weeks leading up to the November election, I am posting relevant Jewish texts articulating Jewish values and principles as applied to the significant challenges facing America along with the policies of the Biden-Harris ticket that comport with those Jewish values. I do so as one of hundreds of “Rabbis for Biden” who believe that the Trump-Pence Administration is threatening our democratic system of government and democratic norms, the U.S. Constitution, Jewish moral values and ethical principles, and America’s preeminent standing as a respected world leader.
I ask you to consider distributing these blogs to anyone who is interested in what the vast majority of liberal American Jews believe (according to all polls) to Democrats, Independents, lapsed Republicans, Never Trump Republicans, and people who do not like Trump but are not yet convinced to support the Biden-Harris ticket, especially those living in the states identified by the Democratic presidential campaign where the closest results will likely occur: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
I ask that you especially distribute these blogs to young potential voters who historically turn out in smaller numbers relative to their percentage of the population. Ask them to vote not only for the Biden-Harris ticket but for Democratic Senate, House, state, and local candidates.
Nothing is more important than getting out the vote and winning the above states and the Electoral College. Though Joe Biden will likely win the popular vote by millions of votes, he may yet lose the Electoral College and the election. Therefore, he must win by huge numbers in the above states. Everyone should be encouraged to vote early unless you are willing to stand in line at polling places despite the health risks.