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Is the Environment a "Jewish" Issue
Is the Environment a "Jewish" Issue

Volume 3 , Issue 1

The quality of urban air compared to the air in the deserts and forests is like thick and turbulent water compared to pure and light water. And this is because in the cities with their tall buildings and narrow roads, the pollution that comes from their residents, their waste, their cadavers, and offal from the cattle, and the stench of their adulterated food, makes their entire air malodorous, turbulent, reeking and thick, and the winds become accordingly so, although no one is aware of it.?

The words of the Rambam, written in 1198 in a work entitled,
The Preservation of Youth (A Guide to Good Health).

As early as pre‑rabbinic times, we learn of laws, prohibiting cemeteries and tanneries anywhere within fifty cubits of town (Baba Batra 2:9), which were promuglated to prevent the pollution of the air. Indeed, the Babylonian Talmud records that among ten special regulations that applied to the city of Jerusalem, three were designed to protect the Jerusalem environment (Baba Kamma 82b).

One does not ordinarily think of the environment as a Jewish issue, and in this election year in which, in particular,? mayoral candidates in New York are courting the Jewish vote with their yarmulkas, Talmudic erudition, love for Israel, and memorials for kristallnacht, one would hardly suspect that down to earth issues like landfills (no pun intended) recyclables and sanitation would make a critical difference to the Jewish voter. Yet for all its power and prestige, the office of mayor of New York has really little impact on U.S. policy in the Middle East as compared to its enormous impact on issues like crime and the New York City environment. Perhaps the mayoral candidates and we should think better.

A story is told in the Midrash about an old man planting fig trees along the road near iberias in the Galilee. The emperor Hadrian admonished the man by saying: ?A hundred years old, and you still stand there breaking up the soil to plant trees. Do you expect to eat the fruit of these trees?? ?If I am worthy, I will eat,? replied the old man, ?but if not, as my father worked for me, I work for my children.? (Leviticus Rabbah 25:5)

Would that we had such a person to run our government.



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