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.” 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:
- A city must have a greenbelt surrounding it, thus limiting urban sprawl.
- 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.
- 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.
- King Solomon appointed a minister to limit the harvesting of wood in the forests of Israel.
- 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 Chabad.org