A Moral for our Time

Tikkun ha’olam, perfection of the world, is one of the mandates of the halachah. Maimonides repeatedly insists that we cannot pursue spiritual ideals without first ensuring our physical survival. That has always needed long-term planning and the decision to limit consumption in the present for the sake of the viability of the future.”

“Judaism categorically rejects two attitudes to the environment. One, associated with the Stoic-Christian tradition, is that we have no moral duties towards nature. The other, drawn from some Eastern religions, is that nature is holy and to interfere with it is sacrilegious. The first allows technology to run rampant, while the second turns its back on it altogether. Neither extreme, we believe, does justice to the challenge of human civilisation.”

“God, said Isaiah, did not create the world to be desolate: He formed it to be inhabited. He gave man the intelligence to control nature. Therein lies his dignity. But He charged him with the duty of preserving nature. Therein lies his responsibility.”

“The Rabbis put it simply. They said when God made the first man, He took him to see all the trees of the garden of Eden. He said to him: “See how beautiful are My works. All that I have created I have made for you. But be careful that you do not ruin My world, for if you do there is no one else to put right what you have destroyed.” Surely a moral for our time.”

Our Duty to Preserve Nature, originally published in the JC newspaper in October 1990