To stem the growing dangers of today's environmental crisis there is a need to develop a cultural consciousness that stresses the value of the roots of life and defines a path of action for sustainable living for individuals, families and communities. There is ripeness in Israel today to bring about a sea-change in attitudes and in practice in these areas. Judaism as a value system that links the spiritual and the material and belief with applied practice can provide a powerful basis for deepening consciousness and inspiring positive action in the interests of life.

In many religious communities, charedi and modern orthodox, there is a growing awareness that indiferrence in the face of the environmental challenges that face human society today will only worsen the situation for generations to come. However a serious commitment to change in attitude and practice regarding the environment in these communities can evolve only on the basis of proven Torah scholarship.

As in many areas of contemporary concern and social need, with regard to environmental issues as well there is a dire lack of Torah research that can bridge the gap between the rich sources of traditional Judaism and the realities of modern society. There is a critical need for a clearly formulated Torah based environmental ethic to move religious communities in Israel from interested bystanders to active participants in the creation of a "green reality" for modern Israel.

Bet Av – Creativity and Renewal in Torah in partnership with Shomera – Jerusalem Environmental Action has created a research team comprised of Torah scholars with experience in environmental studies and experts in ecology open to traditional Jewish sources. Our mission is to create an authoritative and lucid body of Torah knowledge that will empower that leadership to create a strong environmental consciousness and a more committed and aware practice in communities across the country.

Methods and Goals

The success of the team's mission is based on four critical steps:

- Mapping the key environmental issues in the global crisis that action items for individuals, families and communities can impact on. The environmental issues the team has identified are: energy and water use in the home appropriate for Israel's needs and for a safer human future, an environmentally aware consumerism an a healthy family diet.

- Systematic research on those issues that engages modern theory and the basic principles of Jewish thought and law. Formulation of an environmental ethic that clearly defines action items for individuals, families and communities.

- Dissemination of the team's research and conclusions in public seminars, publication and educational materials.

- Seminars for rabbis and other community activists and leaders to empower them with the theoretical base and the action items for community change.

A critical part of the team's work is the involvement of a group of rabbinic authorities. Their decisions regarding the practical issues of environmental wellbeing will be a key tool in gaining the support of community leadership and in creating a body of material that will impact on educational institutions.

The team began meeting weekly in late August 2007. Each member of the team is committed to 10 hours weekly in group meetings and study and in specific research tasks.

The community action stage of the project is a critical piece that will turn the work of the research team into a practical living reality. The time line we envision calls for the beginning of that stage in the fall of 2008. The public seminars to be held in the first half of 2008 will create a grass roots following and the initial involvement of community and rabbinic leadership.

For the effective realization of the community empowerment stage of the project the experience gained over the years by the Shomera organization will be essential. Bet Av also has working relationships with important community figures and organizations in Israel who are committed to bring the action items to be proposed by the team to a broad public. They include “Tzohar" - Forum for Young Community Rabbis, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, Rabbi Binyamin Lau and Rabbi Avraham Gisser .

Participants in the Research Team

  1. Rabbi Dov Berkovits (co-ordinator of the project) - Director of Bet Av; educator, lecturer and author. Rabbi Berkovits has been an important figure for thirty years in the creation of original educational programming for religious and secular young people and adults that links Torah study to personal life and to issues of community concern. He has done extensive research in the area of Judaism and the environment and has published and lectured in this area. He has lectured at conferences of the Heschel Institute.

  2. Itai Lachman - fellow in Beit Midrash "Ra’ava" for the renewal of Talmud study. He studied Jewish and general philosophy at Hebrew University, is co-founder of P’nei Adama – Institute for Torah Environmental Education, and is director of a business venture that offers ecological solutions for the use of human waste.

  3. Ariel Lavi – environmental activist. He pursues advanced studies in ecology and economics at Hebrew University. Lavie writes in the local media, including a monthly feature dealing with ecology and Judaism, and is editing a book on economics and Judaism.

  4. David Smith - studied literature at Bar Ilan University University, is co-founder of P’nei Adama – Institute for Torah Environmental Education, and is director of a business venture that offers ecological solutions for the use of human waste.

  5. Shaul Yudelman – environmental educator. He recieved a rabbinic ordination from the Bat Ayin Academy. Yudelman co-ordinates and teaches in a program in Judaism and ecology for college graduates in Jerusalem.

A professional advisory committee has been set up for regular consultation. Members of the committee will share their expertise with the team. They are:

- Jeremy Benstein – the Heschel Institute

- Shmuel Chen – environmental activist and research fellow

- Talya Schneider – expert in permuculture

- Rabbi Yuval Sherlo – "Tzohar", Head of Yeshivat Petach Tikvah