When buying a new car, I know it is the right thing to do to think of environmental concerns - miles per gallon of gas, CO2, etc...But are there any Jewish directives here? A What Would Moses Do kind of thing?
Caring for our environment is most certainly a Jewish value and I believe strongly that while there are many factors to consider when purchasing (or leasing) a new car, Jewish values should be one of them.
Cars today are manufactured much differently than they once were. Likewise, in the 21st century there are many opportunities to select cars that are better for the environment. We can find cars that are luxurious and look nice, but also are safe and efficient. More efficient engines, transmissions, and better aerodynamics dramatically increase the fuel economy of our cars. Considering these environmental concerns (gas mileage, CO2 emissions, etc.) is definitely a Jewish value if we are to care about our planet.
The top Jewish environmental organization is COEJL, which seeks to protect the environment as a Jewish concern. COEJL has a Clean Car Campaign whose motto is "Driven by Values."
On the Clean Car Campaign website, COEJL explains:
America burns 8 million barrels of oil every day just to fuel our cars, SUVs, and trucks. Where this oil comes from and where it goes are both major problems. Much of our oil comes from the Middle East – even from such nations as Iraq – and our dependence on this oil helps to fuel the causes of war and terrorism. Our dependence on imported oil also results in pressure to drill for oil in environmentally threatened places.
Where does the oil go after it is burned? Into the atmosphere – where it is causing global warming and other air pollution problems. In fact, every gallon of gas burned releases twenty pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere!
This problem is getting worse. The average fuel economy of American vehicles is now at its lowest level since 1980! However, raising fuel economy standards for new cars, SUVs and other light trucks to an average of 40 miles per gallon (mpg) over the next 10 years would save nearly 2 million barrels per day (mbd) in 2012 and nearly 4 mbd by 2020 -- more oil per day than we now import from the Persian Gulf. This responsible step would save consumers billions of dollars at the gas pump and slash heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.
When we decide which car we will drive, we must consider the Jewish value of stewardship. We believe that we were partners with God in the creation of the world; and, we therefore must also do our part to protect the environment that we will bequeath to our children and grandchildren. If we drive cars (or SUVs) that are gas guzzlers and have high CO2 emission levels, we will not be good stewards. Rather, we will be contributing to global warming, which threatens to harm the planet’s poor and vulnerable. To do this is to be irresponsible.
We might not all choose to drive hybrid vehicles (full disclosure: I don't drive a hybrid), but that doesn't mean we can't do our part to help protect our fragile environment when we travel. If you're not traveling far and it's nice out, ride a bike or walk. Carpool with others to save gas. And certainly look for cars that get good gas mileage. Most important, we must remember the moral directive of bal tashchit and not waste resources. Letting our car idle is in violation of bal tashchit because it is wasting gas and it is destructive to the environment. (With gas prices currently so high, I'm not sure who would want to let their car idle anyway.)
I'm not sure what kind of car Moses would drive, but I'm certain that we can all consider the Jewish value of being good stewards to our Earth when we buy a new car.
1. Jewish law requires that humankind preserve nature and the natural world. Deuteronomy 20:19. But humankind is authorized to exploit nature. Genesis 1:26 finds humankind, created in the Divine image, may rule/exploit the fish of the sea.
2. There are in real life very few if any absolutes. We also require a measure of humility in order to judge between competing and worthy truth claims without using ideology to blindly reach an extreme position by ignoring contrary views.
3. Judaism in practice is one of dialectic,
a. of taking all the facts that can be garnered,
b. accessing the relevant Jewish value norms,
c. considering alternatives respectfully while thinking independently, and coming to a reasoned conclusion.
4. It is improper to make a moral decision by imposing a strong Left—nature must be preserved even if there is suffering==or Right—we want profit now and we do not want to wait, bias, because this mindset is not consistent with Judaism. This mindset is called Dualism or Gnosticism, pitting Right/light against Wrong/dark and confuses the individual by impairing the propensity to examine all points of view. Judaism rejects this mindset.
5. It seems to me that
a. We restrict ourselves to what is legal
b. We then consider legitimate self-interest
c. We finally make the most ecologically correct decision within the limits of legitimate and legal self-interest.
This question deserves an answer first in terms of a Judaic environmental ideal. In its content and tone the question also requires a “directive,” an actual serious Jewish religious obligation in practice regarding a consumer choice which would reduce one’s own part in environmental damage due to global warming. This is important because an overwhelming scientific concerns tells us that climate change causes widespread destruction of species and the collapse of ecological systems. A two-fold response about outlook and practice corresponds to the environmentalist motto: “Think globally and act locally.”
A traditional Jewish text speaks to the Judaic environmental ideal: “God says to Adam (Humankind), ‘I have made other worlds before this one, but this, the earth is especially dear and beautiful. I put it in your hands. Think on this and do not hurt or desolate My world, for if you do, there will be no one to set it right after you; and further, you will be responsible for the destruction of myriads of my creatures (Kohelet Rabbah 7.28). One might be surprised to learn that this message was not communicated within the last century but no later than 1,000 years ago. It was preached on the biblical texts as read by the preacher “the crooked will not be able to be straightened [or fixed]) (Eccles. 1.15) and on the verse “Who can fix what has been twisted (or made crooked) (7.15)”
It is significant that the root of the indicating word ‘fixing’ or ‘straightening out is’ T-K-N, the letters of the now well known Jewish concept Tikkun Olam, meaning “the repair, harmonization, sustaining of the world.” This implies the Judaic ideal: As we humans are created in the image of God, so, according to a rabbinic conceptualization of the Covenant (B’rit) with God, we are supposed to be “partners with God in the work of creation.” God renews the Creation continuously; we must participate in this sustaining creative process.
Furthermore, this ideal is in accord with the first of the Ten Commandments, against idolatry. For when we search out the causes of environmental destruction and the motive of those who oppose environmental regulation of fossil fuels, we eventually find the motive of greed, the bottom-line profit margin which trumps every other consideration; the worship of the “Golden Calf.”
This brings us to the Jewish directive, the actual religious obligation in practice called, in the Jewish tradition, Bal Tashchit, or “do not waste or destroy.” It is based on the biblical verses (Deuteronomy 20.19-20). “When in your war against a city, you have to besiege it for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the axe against them. You may eat them, but you must not cut them down. Are the trees of the field human to be able to withdraw before you into the besieged city?
During Talmudic times our ancient rabbis greatly widened the scope of this commandment to far more kinds of damage to the environment such as diverting water from trees or deliberate desiccation for human purposes. Our ancient sages reasoned that if the principle of not harming aspects of nature applies even under the severe pressure of war, how much more so does it apply at other times (e.g. Sifrei on Parashat Shofetim). Not only trees but all natural species All God’s Creation were included, and even the killing of animals for our convenience or whim (Hullin 76) and such waste as the wasting of fuel - think miles per gallon! (Shabbat 67b) and even, a minority opinion, the eating of extravagant foods when a simpler meal is available ( Shabbat149b).
Rambam (Maimonides) sets this all in order (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot M’Lachim) including rather severe punishments for Bal Tashchit, and adding the note that the practice of Bal Tashchit is also intended religiously to refine human beings. This idea is elaborated in a later work called Sefer Ha-Chinuch, an authoritative 13th century Jewish text: “….that not even a grain of mustard should be lost to this word, that truly righteous people should regret any loss or destruction that they see, and if possible they would prevent any destruction that they can. Not so are the wicked, they are like demons, who rejoice in destruction of the world, and at the same time are destroying themselves.” (#529) It is important to mention the words on this subject of one of the great orthodox German rabbis of the 19th century Samson Raphael Hirsch. “Do not destroy anything (Bal Tashchit) is the general call of God. If you should destroy that which should be put to good use, not perceiving God who created….instead of using them only in wise human activity, then God’s call proclaims to you ‘Do not destroy anything! Be a Mentsh! (a decent human being)…. If you destroy, if you ruin, at that moment you are not a human being but an animal, you have no right to the things around you. All of this, the resources of the world, I lent to you for wise use only; never forget it was I who lent them you. As soon as you use them unwisely, the greatest or the smallest of God’s creatures, you commit treachery against My will, commit robbery against My property, and sin against me.!’ In truth there is no one nearer to idolatry than the one who can disregard the fact that all these creatures are God’s and he presumes to also have the right, to do as he wishes.” (Horeb #56). The point of this strong language is that we restore our harmony not only with the world around us but with the Divine will when refraining from participating in environmental destruction.
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