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Environmentally Protective Torah

02/13/2020 11:58:25 AM


Among the many things I love about Judaism is that nothing human is alien to it.

Here's how the Torah treats human waste disposal: even in wartime, designate a place outside of the camp to relieve yourself and "when you have squatted you shall dig a hole with a spade and cover up your excrement" (Dt. 23:14). Don't leave your waste lying around for someone else to step in.

The Talmud, predictably and gloriously, takes non-human waste disposal into the realm of torts. Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel says: "Whoever leaves things that are injurious in the public domain, and these cause damage, they must make restitution" (Mishnah, Baba Kamma 3:3).

I spent this Tu b'Shvat with a group of young Jews in their twenties and thirties. My generation, and the ones who came before, have left dangerous things in the public domain. I was ashamed to acknowledge that I am part of a generation that is bequeathing to them and to their children my generation's mess. We have befouled our environment and neglected to take responsibility. It is unconscionable that we are refusing to make restitution.  

One of Robert Fulghum's lessons in his All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was: "Clean up your own mess." How can we teach that lesson to our kids if we're too hypocritical to clean up our own messes? The Talmud and our kindergarten education demand no less.

Rav Shai

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784