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What Is the Jewish Approach to Conservation and the Environment?

What Is the Jewish Approach to Conservation and the Environment?


Concerning sustainability of natural environments: this is an issue addressed by the Torah—but it is not just a Jewish issue, but an issue for all of humanity. The Torah teaches that the human being is meant to be a steward of planet Earth, “to work it and to protect it.”1 We are told that everything G‑d created, “He saw that it was good.” “The world and all that is in it is G‑d’s.” You can't get a clearer message than that.

Both the Bible and the Mishnah provide environmental legislation. The Jewish nation in Israel felt an eternal bond to the Land of Israel, and therefore a responsibility to protect their environment. This serves as a precedent for humanity today, as we begin to realize that humanity as a whole has an eternal bond to the most beautiful planet we have yet to discover, planet Earth.

Some of the environmental legislation of the Torah:

  1. A city must have a greenbelt surrounding it, thus limiting urban sprawl.
  2. A fruit tree cannot be destroyed when setting siege to a city. Our tradition extended this to include any wanton destruction of nature that could be avoided.
  3. The rabbis severely limited the grazing of goats and sheep in parts of Israel where they caused environmental damage. It is well known today that much of the desert in the Middle and Near East was caused by the grazing of these animals.
  4. King Solomon appointed a minister to limit the harvesting of wood in the forests of Israel.
  5. The Mishnah deals with laws of water and air pollution, limiting the rights of both rural and civic residents.

There are many more such examples. Thankfully, there are many Jewish organizations that are working today to build awareness of the Torah’s message concerning our responsibility to the environment.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman for

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Jesse Toronto January 27, 2016

There should have been a comment on vegetarianism in this article. There is no where near enough attention given to the consumption and treatment of animals within the orthodox community from an environmental, social justice, and health perspective. This is a sad reality in 2016 where there is so much awareness and available information. Just because it's kosher does not mean it's environmentally kosher.

Rabbi, please feel free to email me back your thoughts and further info. Reply

Marty Denver January 29, 2013

ZPG and veg There are two best things we can do to protect the environment. First, limit our family size to no more than two children, or Zero Population Growth. That fulfills the commandment to be fruitful and multiply and it will help reduce the destruction of wildlife habitat. That is the single greatest threat to other species. As stewards of the planet, we are obligated to protect them.
The second thing is to eat lower on the food chain, preferably a vegetarian diet. It's for the same reason as ZPG, to reduce our impact on this fragile world. Being vegetarian would also be in accord with God's original intent as specified in Gen 1:29 and His wish that we return to it, Isaiah 11: 6 - 9. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA U.S.A. January 25, 2013

THANK G-D FOR Judaism being strict on conservation issues! I fail to see, however, how any Orthodox Jewish person can fall into the American Republican ideology of money being more important than keeping our earth clean! Yet, there are some who believe in both orthodox laws AND anti-conservation. This is a total INIGMA to me! Reply

Steven Sacks-Wilner USA January 24, 2013

Midrash Genesis 2:15: The Eternal placed the human being in the garden of Eden to till and tend it.
"In the hour when the Holy One, blessed be He created the first human being,
He took him and let him pass before all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him:
'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 destroy and desolate My World, For if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you.'"

Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28 Reply

Anonymous USA January 24, 2013

Grazing goats------ Will enjoy a greenbelt near my neighborhood, venturing beyond the Eruv. Reply

Samson Zimbabwe January 24, 2013

Concern for others Mine is a question arising from the discussion above. It has helped me to ask the question; how about the passages for the concern for others in the Torah or talmud? Does lead to the bith of organizations like Jewish care? Reply

Anonymous USA January 20, 2013

Recycling My father OB"M would always refer back to the fact that the wicks for the Menorah were made from the no-longer wearable clothing of the Kohanim. This mindset of not being wasteful has been around for a long time.

Also the commandment of bal tashchis, not wasting, may be extendable beyond food but not being willfully wasteful in general...Just a thought. Reply

itche April 28, 2010

Re: Daniel Sorry, but I could not find the source for number 4.
The source for number 5 is Bava Basra 17a-19b, 24b-26a, Rambam Kinyan Hilchos Shcheinim Chapters 9-11 Reply

itche April 18, 2010

Re: Daniel Here are sources:
1. Bamidbor (Numbers) 35, 2-5. Erchin 33b. Rambam Z'roim, Hil' Shmita 13, 4-5.
2. Dvorim (Deu.) 20, 19. Rambam Shoftim Hil' Mlochim 6, 8-10. See also Shabbos 105b, 129a, 140b.
3. Bava Kama 79b-81b. Rambam Nzikin, Hil' Nizkei Mamon 5, 2-10.
G-d willing I will find the sources for 4 and 5 Reply

Daniel Louisville, KY May 27, 2009

Are there sources? Where are the sources in Tanach/Talmud/Other Classical Texts to support these 5 statements? Reply

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