8th grade Jewish Environmental Justice text study

 

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:3

Translation Original
You are commanded to provide the needy with whatever they lack. If they lack clothing, you must clothe them. If they lack household goods, you must provide them...You are commanded to fulfill all of their needs, though not required to make them wealthy. [AJWS translation]
לפי מה שחסר העני אתה מצווה ליתן לו, אם אין לו כסות מכסים אותו, אם אין לו כלי בית קונין לו, אם אין לו אשה משיאין אותו, ואם היתה אשה משיאין אותה לאיש, אפילו היה דרכו של זה העני לרכוב על הסוס ועבד רץ לפניו והעני וירד מנכסיו קונין לו סוס לרכוב עליו ועבד לרוץ לפניו שנאמר די מחסורו אשר יחסר לו, ומצווה אתה להשלים חסרונו ואין אתה מצווה לעשרו.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why is this obligation necessary?
2. How do we determine the limit of "fulfilling all of their needs" without making them wealthy?


Leviticus 19:9-10

Translation Original

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the corners of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am Adonai your God. [JPS translation]

בְקֻצְרְכֶם אֶת קְצִיר אַרְצְכֶם לֹא תְכַלֶּה פְּאַת שָׂדְךָ לִקְצֹר וְלֶקֶט קְצִירְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט: וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל וּפֶרֶט כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם אֲנִי ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How is the system of leaving the corners and the gleanings and the fallen food for the poor different than donating food?
2. What practices or values from these laws could we integrate into our modern lives and societies?


Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 63a

Translation Original
R. Abba said in the name of R. Simeon ben Lakish: the person who lends money [to a poor person] is greater than the person who gives charity; and the one who throws money into a common purse [to form a partnership with the poor person] is greater than both. [translation by AJWS]
(אמר רבי) אבא אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש: גדול המלוה יותר מן העושה צדקה, ומטיל בכיס יותר מכולן.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. According to this text, what is the best way to help a poor person? Why might this be the best way to help?
2. Do you agree or disagree? Why?


Deuteronomy 14:28-29

Translation Original
At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall lay it up inside your gates... and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are inside your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. [Translation by Hillel and Panim]
מִקְצֵה שָׁלֹשׁ שָׁנִים תּוֹצִיא אֶת כָּל מַעְשַׂר תְּבוּאָתְךָ בַּשָּׁנָה הַהִוא וְהִנַּחְתָּ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: וּבָא הַלֵּוִי כִּי אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק וְנַחֲלָה עִמָּךְ וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ וְאָכְלוּ וְשָׂבֵעוּ לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדְךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Do you think that there is a difference between the mitzvah of leaving the corners of your field unharvested and the mitzvah of not returning to pick up what was left or forgotten? If so, what is the difference?

2. According to these verses, how much of any harvest belongs to the “owner?” Why? What does this tell us about who really “owns” the land? the trees? the labor? the produce?

3. What is the value of having the needy come to harvest their own portion?

4. We do not live in an agricultural society today. Do you think this text has contemporary relevance? How might we apply this sense of mandatory sharing of our earnings to the world we live in?


-------- ON THE ENVIRONMENT, ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL, "GOD IN SEARCH OF MAN," (FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX , 1976) ---------------------------------- Original There are three ways in which we may relate ourselves to the world: we may exploit it, we may enjoy it, we may accept it in awe .... Suggested Discussion Questions What actions do we take towards the environment that represent these three options of how to relate to the world?


Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Translation Original
[God] upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him/her with food and clothing. -- You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. [JPS translation edited for gender-neutrality]

עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפַּט יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה וְאֹהֵב גֵּר לָתֶת לוֹ לֶחֶם וְשִׂמְלָה: וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In what ways does this text suggest that we mimic God?
2. What is God's responsibility to us and what is our responsibility to others? What are the different sources of these responsibilities?
3. This text reminds the reader of Israelite slavery. In what ways is a history of slavery connected to doing justice and loving the stranger?


-------- HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT ---------------------------- -------- MIDRASH ECCLESIASTES RABBAH 7:13 ------------------------------------ Translation Original When the Holy One created the human being, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: Behold my works, how beautiful they are. All that I have created is within your domain. Take care, therefore, that you do not destroy My world, for if you do, there will be no one else to set it right after you. ראה את מעשה האלהים כי מי יוכל לתקן את אשר עותו, בשעה שברא הקב"ה את אדם הראשון נטלו והחזירו על כל אילני גן עדן ואמר לו ראה מעשי כמה נאים ומשובחין הן וכל מה שבראתי בשבילך בראתי, תן דעתך שלא תקלקל ותחריב את עולמי, שאם קלקלת אין מי שיתקן אחריך, ולא עוד שאת גורם מיתה לאותו צדיק, משל משה רבינו למה"ד, לאשה עוברה שהיתה חבושה בבית האסורים, ילדה שם בן גדלה שם ומתה שם, לימים עבר המלך על פתח האסורים כשהמלך עובר התחיל אותו הבן צווח, ואומר אדני המלך כאן נולדתי כאן גדלתי באיזה חטא אני נתון כאן איני יודע, אמר לו בחטא של אמך, כך במשה כמו שכתוב הן האדם היה כאחד כתיב הן קרבו ימיך למות. .... Suggested Discussion Questions Describe ways humanity “works” the earth. Are these good or bad or neutral? Describe ways humanity “protects” the earth. Are these good or bad or neutral? Do these two concepts (of “working” and “protecting”) contradict or complement each other? How? Pursue the meaning of “working” the earth. This could include exploring it, using it, developing it, changing it. It could include building upon it, damming the waters, harnessing its renewable energy, inventing materials, medicines, fabrics, farming, etc., to increase the quality of human (and animal) life. Does this midrash endorse such uses or not? It seems to do so when it says, “All I have created is within your domain.” Humans have been given the world, according to the biblical story, and are instructed by the word “l’ovdah” (work it) to make it a better place. The question is: what is permissible in the arena of “working the earth” and what is not? When is it necessary and good to “protect and preserve” the world. L’shomrah has both meanings: as if the best way to protect something is to preserve it. Is that always the case? Do you find it compelling that a contemporary environmental ethic is reflected in this classical text? What differences do you notice between contemporary environmentalism and the perspective reflected in this text? What do you think about the idea that each individual has a personal obligation to protect the environment? How might that be different from making an individual contribution towards a collective effort?


Amos 5:10-12

Translation Original
They hate the arbiter in the gate, and detest him whose plea is just. Assuredly, because you impose a tax on the poor and exact from him a levy of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone but you shall not live in them; you have planted delightful vineyards, but shall not drink their wine. For I have noted how many are your crimes, and how countless your sins -- you enemies of the righteous, you takers of bribes, you who subvert in the gate the cause of the needy! [JPS translation]
שָׂנְאוּ בַשַּׁעַר מוֹכִיחַ וְדֹבֵר תָּמִים יְתָעֵבוּ: לָכֵן יַעַן בּוֹשַׁסְכֶם עַל דָּל וּמַשְׂאַת בַּר תִּקְחוּ מִמֶּנּוּ בָּתֵּי גָזִית בְּנִיתֶם וְלֹא תֵשְׁבוּ בָם כַּרְמֵי חֶמֶד נְטַעְתֶּם וְלֹא תִשְׁתּוּ אֶת יֵינָם: כִּי יָדַעְתִּי רַבִּים פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם וַעֲצֻמִים חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם צֹרְרֵי צַדִּיק לֹקְחֵי כֹפֶר וְאֶבְיוֹנִים בַּשַּׁעַר הִטּוּ:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What are the people being accused of in this text? What are the connections between the various accusations?
2. How are the dynamics between rich and poor portrayed here?
3. In what ways do the punishments listed here match the crimes that brought them?


Deuteronomy 24:14-15

Translation Original
You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers, or one of the strangers who are in your land inside your gates; At his day you shall give him his wages, nor shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and his life depends upon it; lest he cry against you to the Lord and it be a sin for you. [translation by Artscroll, adapted]
לֹא תַעֲשֹׁק שָׂכִיר עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחֶיךָ אוֹ מִגֵּרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּאַרְצְךָ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: בְּיוֹמוֹ תִתֵּן שְׂכָרוֹ וְלֹא תָבוֹא עָלָיו הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ כִּי עָנִי הוּא וְאֵלָיו הוּא נֹשֵׂא אֶת נַפְשׁוֹ וְלֹא יִקְרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל ה' וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. To whom do these rules apply?
2. What assumptions are made about the various players in the text?
3. Why is it so crucial that the worker is paid each day?
3. How does the poor person's crying cause a sin upon the employer? If the poor person does not cry out is the employer free of sin?


BabylonianTalmud, Baba Metzia 83a

Translation Original
Some porters working for Raba bar bar Hanan broke a jug of wine. He seized their clothes. They came before Rav, and Rav said to Raba bar bar Hanan, “Give them their clothing.” Raba bar bar Hanan said to him, “Is this the law?” Rav said, “Yes, because of the principle ‘You should walk in the ways of the good,’ (Proverbs 2:20).” He gave them back their clothes. They said to him, “We are poor, and we troubled ourselves to work all day and we are needy—do we receive nothing?” Immediately Rav said to Raba bar bar Hanan, “Go, give them their wages.” He said to Rav, “Is this the law?” Rav said, “Yes—‘you should keep the ways of the righteous’ (Proverbs 2:20).” [Jill Jacobs translation]
רבה בר בר חנן תברו ליה הנהו שקולאי חביתא דחמרא. שקל לגלימייהו, אתו אמרו לרב. אמר ליה: הב להו גלימייהו. - אמר ליה: דינא הכי? - אמר ליה: אין, (משלי ב') למען תלך בדרך טובים. יהיב להו גלימייהו. אמרו ליה: עניי אנן, וטרחינן כולה יומא, וכפינן, ולית לן מידי. אמר ליה: זיל הב אגרייהו. - אמר ליה: דינא הכי? - אמר ליה: אין, (משלי ב') וארחות צדיקים תשמר.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is Rav's answer to Raba bar bar Hanan's first question of whether he was legally bound to return their clothes? What is his answer to the second question of whether Raba bar bar Hanan was legally bound to pay the workers their wages? How are these two answers different?
2. Why is Raba bar bar Hanan obligated to return the workers' clothes and give them their wages, in spite of the fact that they damaged his property? What does this teach us about how we should relate to poverty? Would Rav have provided the same answer if the workers had not been impoverished?


-------- DEUTERONOMY 20:19-20 ------------------------------------------------ Translation Original When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you may not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siegeworks against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced. [JPS] כִּי תָצוּר אֶל עִיר יָמִים רַבִּים לְהִלָּחֵם עָלֶיהָ לְתָפְשָׂהּ לֹא תַשְׁחִית אֶת עֵצָהּ לִנְדֹּחַ עָלָיו גַּרְזֶן כִּי מִמֶּנּוּ תֹאכֵל וְאֹתוֹ לֹא תִכְרֹת כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה לָבֹא מִפָּנֶיךָ בַּמָּצוֹר: רַק עֵץ אֲשֶׁר תֵּדַע כִּי לֹא עֵץ מַאֲכָל הוּא אֹתוֹ תַשְׁחִית וְכָרָתָּ וּבָנִיתָ מָצוֹר עַל הָעִיר אֲשֶׁר הִוא עֹשָׂה עִמְּךָ מִלְחָמָה עַד רִדְתָּהּ .... Suggested Discussion Questions What is the intention of this law? To what extent is it followed? What does this text imply about environmentalism?


-------- SUSTAINABLE BEHAVIOR ------------------------------------------------ -------- ECCLESIASTES 1:4 ---------------------------------------------------- Translation Original One generation goes, another comes, but the earth remains the same forever. [JPS] דּוֹר הֹלֵךְ וְדוֹר בָּא וְהָאָרֶץ לְעוֹלָם עֹמָדֶת: .... Suggested Discussion Questions 1. What is our responsibility to maintain the earth for future generations? 2. What does it mean that the earth remains the same forever? Is this true? Must we sustain it or can it sustain itself?


Sustainable Behavior

Ecclesiastes 1:4

Translation Original
One generation goes, another comes, but the earth remains the same forever. [JPS]
דּוֹר הֹלֵךְ וְדוֹר בָּא וְהָאָרֶץ לְעוֹלָם עֹמָדֶת:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is our responsibility to maintain the earth for future generations?
2. What does it mean that the earth remains the same forever? Is this true? Must we sustain it or can it sustain itself?


Environmental Practice

Avot d’Rabbi Natan 31b

Translation Original
Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai ... used to say: if you have a sapling in your hand, and someone should say to you that the Messiah has come, stay and complete the planting, and then go to greet the Messiah. [COEJL]
רבן יוחנן בן זכאי... אם היתה נטיעה בתוך ידך ויאמרו לך הרי לך המשיח. בוא ונטע את הנטיעה [ואח"כ צא והקבילו].

Suggested Discussion Questions

What does this text say about the importance of planting trees and commitment to environmental sustainability?