How Pope Francis Inspired Hundreds of Rabbis to Call for Climate Action
Pope Francis’s promised environmental encyclical is already having a positive affect. It has inspired hundreds of rabbis — mostly in the United States, but also in Israel and Sweden — to sign a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption and to seek eco-social justice.
“In Leviticus 26, the Torah warns us that if we refuse to let the Earth rest, it will ‘rest’ anyway, despite us and upon us — through drought and famine and exile that turn an entire people into refugees,” write the rabbis. “This ancient warning heard by one indigenous people in one slender land has now become a crisis of our planet as a whole and of the entire human species. Human behavior that overworks the Earth — especially the overburning of fossil fuels — crests in a systemic planetary response that endangers human communities and many other life-forms as well.”
The letter notes that according to ancient texts, this is the Shmittah Year during which the Torah commands Jews to let the Earth rest. It is a vital time for Jews to make the connection between the environment and social justice because, when the land rests, those with resources must share with those in need.
To help the Earth and those who are vulnerable to environmental pollution and climate change, the letter urges readers, especially Americans, to move their money “from spending that helps these modern pharaohs burn our planet to spending that helps to heal it.” As an example, the letter encourages divesting from “deadly carbon-burning” companies and investing in local neighborhoods, especially those of poor, Black, and Hispanic communities. The letter also promotes going renewable and working with legislators to take climate action.
This is not the first time rabbis have come together for climate change. Last November, Shomrei Breishit, an international, multi-denominational network of rabbis and cantors, issued a statement calling on the Jewish community to act on climate change. And leaders such as Rabbi Ellen Bernstein and Rabbi Katy Allen have made environmentalism a fundamental part of their faith.
But the letter makes a specific call to Jews in all communities to gather on the Sunday of Sukkot, October 4, 2015 “to explore together our responsibilities toward the Earth and all humankind, in this generation.” Perhaps Pope Francis’s promised trip to the United States in September to personally lobby political and faith leaders to address climate change will serve to further inspire the Jews who gather on Sukkot to take specific action.
Image available on Flickr.
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