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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3

Jerusalem

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GENESIS — 1:20 living

“G-d said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of nefesh chayah [living creatures]’” [this verse]. From the very beginning, our tradition teaches that G-d created animals as nefesh chayah, as living creatures, or more literally “living souls.” This phrase is also used to describe the creation of humankind; “[G-d] breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, so that man became a nefesh chayahGenesis 2:7.  The use of the same phrase to describe humans and animals sends a clear message of the commonality that exists between all of G-d’s creatures, human and nonhuman alike. SACTAB 216
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GENESIS — 1:28 rule

Are GMOs (generically modified organisms) a Jewish issue? The steadily increasing presence of genetically modified foodstuffs on our supermarket shelves raises a number of important and difficult questions … most definitely worth asking because they touch upon some of the most central elements of our relationship as religious Jews to our tradition and to the natural world around us.  1. Are We Playing G-d?  Does genetic modification of existing species of plants and animals constitute an improper interference with the order of the universe (sidrei b’reishit)?  By engaging in these procedures, do we usurp the authority of G-d or of nature, arrogating too much power to ourselves? This is the sort of question that any religious tradition might ask, and ours is no exception.  We find a classic expression of this view in the commentary of Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, or Ramban) on the Torah’s prohibition of kilayim: “You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind [kilayim]; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seeds” Leviticus 19:19.  This commandment teaches us, he writes, that G-d’s creation is perfect and that we deny this perfection when we engage in the mixing of the distinct animal and plant species. One could rely upon this insight concerning our relationship to the natural world in order to prohibit the new technologies of genetic engineering that blur the lines between existing species and that create new ones.  Yet Jewish tradition, in the main, does not take that step.  Most contemporary rabbinic authorities read the kilyaim texts strictly.  In their view, the mitzvah forbids only the actual physical mating of animals and the sowing of seeds, and it does not cover the sort of “mixing” that takes place in a laboratory and that we call genetic engineering or genetic modification. [Rashi, in his commentary to Leviticus 19:19, writes that the prohibition of kilayim has no discernible rationale (Taam).  Thus, not everyone agrees with Ramban that the prohibition has a specific “purpose” that we might use as a basis to oppose the genetic modification of species.]  This more restrictive reading of the text coheres with another traditional Jewish understanding of our relationship to nature.  That understanding is classically exemplified by none other than Nachmanides himself, in his commentary to [this verse], a verse in which G-d grants dominion over the earth to humans.  Nachmanides explains this “dominion” as the right of humans to “do as they wish” with the animals, “to build up, to tear down,” and to exploit the resources of the physical world.  His comment reflects an instrumental conception of the world-that is, that we are entitled to make use of nature and bend it to our purposes.  Such a conception is of pivotal importance in the history of our culture for if we did not view the world in an instrumental manner, we humans might never have felt entitled to pursue science and technology, activities that suggest a sense of mastery over nature.  With respect to our particular concern here, we should note that some contemporary authorities cite this latter comment of Nachmanides as evidence that Jewish tradition would permit us to engage in the processes of genetic modification. These two conflicting viewpoints present us with an interpretive dilemma.  Does Nachmanides to Leviticus 19:19 contradict Nachmanides to Genesis 1:28? Is there a way to accommodate both points of view in our Judaism, or does consistency demand that we choose one approach and reject the other? However we resolve this conflict, its existence indicates at the very least that Jewish thought does not obviously prohibit genetic engineering. There may be other reasons to worry about these technologies. … Perhaps even if we are entitled to manipulate the natural world for our own purposes, it is a good thing to do so in a spirit of humility, remembering at all times that it is G-d’s universe that we are manipulating.  Nonetheless, there is no convincing proof that our tradition rejects the genetic modification of existing species as an unwarranted transgression of the line that separates human action and divine prerogative. SACTAB 183-4
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GENESIS — 1:29 food

Surrounded by an endless variety of edible plant life [this verse], Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden by G-d, to till and to tend Genesis 2:15, to work in the Garden, and to be shomrei adadah, “guardians of the earth.”  Life was easy in Eden, for everywhere they looked food was readily at hand, every tree pleasing to the sight and good for food Genesis 2:9.  Today, however, how ironic it is that we too are surrounded by food, but we have lost our sense of kesher, our connection to the food, to the land, and to our Creator. … Even when we think about healthy eating, we reduce food to proteins and carbohydrates, vitamins and mineral fiber and fat.  We label our food as good or bad.  Food is more than a combination of chemicals that taken in the right doses keeps us alive.  Food, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. The food we eat sustains us, nourishes us, and connects us to each other to the earth, and to the Creator of the earth.  Food is to be enjoyed and savored.  If we have no kesher to our food, we are even farther from a sense of kesher to the land. We do not know the sources of our food, how our food is grown, where it is grown, how it is harvested or the ramifications of those choices.  We do not understand that the cultivation of what we eat can actually be destructive to the fertility and the sustainability of the land.  This destruction of essential resources is an unnecessary waste that the biblical and rabbinical literature would call bal tashchit.  SACTAB 173-4
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GENESIS — 1:29 food

The Torah pictures Adam and Eve’s Edenic diet as consisting of [this verse].  According to our people’s sacred myth, animal flesh was not permitted to humans by G-d until after the Flood; and then, apparently, only as a concession to human frailty Genesis 9:3.  Vegetarianism is the Torah’s ideal. If meat is later allowed, the principle of tzaar baalei chayim, of not causing needless suffering to an animal, is yet upheld.  Passages in the Torah such as those that require the working animal to rest along with its owner on the Shabbat Exodus 20:10, prohibit the slaughter of an animal and its young on the same day Leviticus 22:28, forbid one to eat before one’s domestic animals have been fed Deuteronomy 11:15, prohibit yoking together the larger ox with the smaller donkey Deuteronomy 22:10, and prohibit the muzzling of one’s ox when it is treading grain Deuteronomy 25:4, all serve to establish tzaar baalei chaim as an ikar g’dolah, as a major guiding principle.  Now consider: in creating the rules of sh’chitah, of “compassionate slaughter,” the Rabbis of the Talmud were more stringent about the taking of certain animals’ lives than about the taking of others (e.g., fish are not subject to the rules of sh’chitah).  Why? I am going to guess because of the Rabbis’ intuitive understanding that the more developed an animal’s consciousness, the more susceptible it is not only to physical but also to psychological suffering. When Jews consider their diet today, I would argue, it would be reasonable likewise to give added consideration to the effect diet has on the suffering most especially of animals of more highly evolved consciousness, to give the highest consideration to those animals that stand to suffer the most.  From this perspective, there is no question that a diet that includes meat means suffering for the one animal on this planet most susceptible to suffering.  That animal is the human animal. And that’s the bottom line of this argument: a meatless diet is the most ethical for a human being to follow because it is the diet that causes the least amount of suffering in other human beings. …  Over one billion people on the planet are either starving or are chronically undernourished.  That’s about one-sixth of the entire world’s’ population.  Indeed twenty million people—twenty million! – die each year due to hunger. Three out of four of those are children.  With the effects of climate change already upon us (unprecedented droughts, the disappearance of lakes and rivers, vast stretches of formerly fertile farmland turning to desert), those already staggering numbers are sure to go up, and dramatically.  Right now in the United States alone, more than half of all water consumed goes to support animal agriculture.  Given what climatologists tell us is coming, we will very shortly simply not have enough water to sustain that anymore.  Animal agriculture is inefficient in the extreme. Ever been on a farm? Animals eat a lot. You’ve got to invest eight to twelve pounds of grain for every one pound of edible beef you get back. Unbelievably inefficient.  If we gave up our meat-based diets, simply stopped raising animals for food, all of those crops we are now raising to feed those animals would be sufficient to feed every starving man, woman, and child on the planet.  Judaism obligates us to address this issue.  And with respect to those who are starving to the point of death, our moral obligation to act is, of course, an even higher one; the issue rises to the level of pikuach nefesh, the obligation to save human life. SACTAB 230-2
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GENESIS — 1:31 very

… in the Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin 48b, we are given two important Jewish reasons to eat locally: the preservation of green spaces in towns and cities for the health of the residents, and the enjoyment of eating food. Eating locally grown food preserves farms in and around cities and towns.  Without a viable market for the food that is produced, it is difficult for farmers to keep farmland for agricultural use and not turn it over to residential or commercial use.  Agricultural land use is more easily sustainable than homes or businesses, depending on how the land is farmed. … Another reason to eat locally is that it preserves the diversity of what is grown: “The Rabbis said: Even though you may think them superfluous in this world, creatures such as flies, bugs, and gnats have their allotted tasks in the scheme of creation, as it says, “And G-d saw everything that G-d had made, and behold it was good” [this verse].  B’reshit Rabbah 10:7  This midrash reinforces how everything has a purpose in creation, even the things that we might think we would be better off without.  When we require our food to be shipped long distances, we reduce the number of varieties that are grown, thereby reducing the biodiversity.  The varieties of tomato that “travel well” – in other words, the tomatoes that can be shipped with minimal loss—become the predominant varieties of tomato that are grown.  When the characteristics of disease and pest resistance or adaptability to climate are added in, the number of choices represented in the supermarket can become even fewer.  Eventually this push to market eliminates the varieties of tomato that are available.  We lose more than taste as we limit the number of varieties of tomato or strawberry or corn or anything else that is grown for our consumption.  When we diminish biodiversity, our agricultural industry becomes vulnerable to one disease or pest that can threaten an entire crop.  The gains that we achieve in developing a tomato that is more marketable makes the tomato plant more vulnerable.  As Wendell Berry writes in his essay “The Pleasure of Eating,” “But as scale increases, diversity declines; as diversity declines, so does health; as health declines, the dependence on drugs and chemicals necessarily increases.” With the increasing demand for locally grown food, there is an increasing interest in “heirloom” varieties of tomatoes, as well as other types of produce.  These older varieties are more fragile and less disease resistant, but have amazing colors, flavors, and tastes.  SACTAB 175-6
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GENESIS — 2:15 tend

When the Holy Blessed One created the first human, G-d took Adam and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden. And G-d said to Adam, “See My works how good and praiseworthy they are! And all I have created, I made for you. [But,] be mindful then that you do not spoil and destroy My world. For if you spoil it, there is no one after you to repair it.  Kohelet Rabbah 7:13. Modern Jewish environmental teachings use the term shomrei adamah, “guardians of the earth,” to emphasize our responsibility as the earth’s caretakers.  This phrase comes from the Hebrew in [this verse] in which G-d commands human beings to “work [l’ovdah]” the earth and “keep [ul’shomrah]” the earth.  SACTAB 171 (ft. 1).
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GENESIS — 2:15 tend

Let Your Table Be to You a Temple. …. Bananas—those ordinary staples of the American breakfast table---don’t come cheap.  [They are] a natural wonder, scarcely found in the wild.  To get those sugary, golden-hued fruit to our supermarkets, the U.S.-based companies that control banana cultivation the world over employ a cocktail of toxic fertilizers and pesticides known to harm human beings and animals.  They clear acres of virgin forest and replace vibrant tropical ecosystems with banana monocultures.  They burn remarkable amounts of fossil fuel to transport their product over vast distances—far more than producers of other crops.  They drive down wages by snuffing out competition; they deny their workers health care and education, and they prohibit unionization.  [Organic bananas are certainly an all-around better choice than conventional bananas.  Grown without pesticides, they are safer for the agricultural laborers and for surrounding ecosystems.  However growing them in quantity is difficult and requires the deforestation of virgin forests at high altitudes (where banana-living diseases are scarce).  Moreover, they do little to increase the quality of life of the laborers who grow and harvest them or to decrease quantities of fossil fuel burned in transportation to our markets.] The bottom line: transforming this wondrous and rare plant into an everyday breakfast item takes a tremendous ethical and ecological toll. I love bananas as much as anyone, but the ubiquity of this fruit is an example of a larger trend in American life-the desecration of the nourishing plants and animals G-d commanded us to “protect and nurture” in the Book of Genesis [this verse]. Banana producers have transformed a rare and fragile fruit into an utterly ordinary breakfast staple.  They have accomplished this feat through various nefarious technological, political, and economic practices—along the way damaging the earth and the lives of its inhabitants.  By contrast, we Jews have an ancient system of mitzvot regulating agriculture, diet, and food preparation.  A striking passage in the Babylonian Talmud encapsulates this system in a single sentence; “Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eliezer taught: As long as the Temple stood, its altar atoned for Israel’s sins, but now a person’s table atones for him” B’rachot 55a.  For the Rabbis of the Talmud, food—the proper foods cultivated and prepared in the proper manner—could be as holy as the sacrifices offered on the altar of the Temple long ago. After my experience in Costa Rica, it was difficult to imagine how bananas could continue to appear on my home’s modern stand-in for the ancient Temple’s altar, the kitchen table.  The ecological and social harm wrought by banana production has besmirched this fruit’s golden reputation; as a consequence, I decided to replace bananas in my diet with other, locally grown, organic fruits.  In other words, there may be no better place to start redressing the errors of agribusiness than with those bananas on the breakfast table.  SACTAB 207-9
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GENESIS — 2:15 tend

Partnership with G-d.  Few things have the ability to bring us closer to G-d than planting and growing food in a garden.  It is the ultimate example of our partnership with G-d and a manifestation of living Judaism.  But in actuality, it is a three-way relationship between humans, the earth, and G-d.  “The Lord G-d took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to till it and tend it” [this verse]. Let us not underestimate the importance of [this] deceptively simple [this verse] … G-d needed human help so that the entire life/growth process might move forward.  The early rabbinic commentators jumped on this thought: “The edible fruits of the earth required not only G-d’s gift of rain but also man’s cultivation.  Man must be a co-worker with G-d in making this earth a garden” (J.H. Hertz, ed., Pentateuch Haforahs). In other words, paradise was perfect—almost.  It was complete—almost. For all its beauty, for all its wonderful design, something was missing.  Us! G-d needed a partner: us.  [citing Balfour Brickner, Finding G-d in the Garden (Boston: Little, Brown, 2002), 15.  SACTAB 199-200
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