At an event held last week at Jerusalem’s Interfaith Center, a group of 37 Orthodox Jewish rabbis called upon Israel’s government to take a more aggressive stance against climate change, issuing a public letter that was circulated to the media and to Israeli authorities that said: “Jewish teachings mandate that we do everything possible to help avert a climate catastrophe and other environmental disasters and to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.”
According to the Israeli national newspaper Haaretz, the letter is particularly significant to the Orthodox community. Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz of the more progressively oriented Open Orthodox movement explained that in the United States “No Orthodox community rabbi would dare speak out against Trump or anything he does—he would be worried about losing his congregation, or his job.”
But participants noted that religious leaders need to step up to the plate.
“Religions are the biggest, richest NGOs in the world. Studies have shown that 85 percent of the people in the world identify with religion. They have huge resources, land holdings, media networks. They must be involved,” said Rabbi Yonatan Neril during a panel discussion at the Interfaith Center. “Global climate change is not a crisis of nature; it is a crisis of religion.”
Or, as Rabbi Yanklowitz put it more succinctly: “Orthodox community rabbis should grow a spine and show true moral leadership… If not, then we, the Jewish people, should just pack it up and say, ‘We had a good run for a few thousand years, but it’s over now.’ ”
Christian and Muslim leaders at the event reiterated this view, if less colorfully. Father Francesco Patton, guardian of the Holy Land, explained that “Saint Francis said that we must care for our brothers and teachers, our sisters and mothers. We are part of creation, so we have to take responsibility for creation.” Similarly—and citing the Koran—Kadi Iyad Zahalha, judge of the Muslim Sharia Courts in Israel, said: “Allah has made human beings above all other creations, but this is a responsibility to care for all of creation.”