The Environment

Adopted at the 61st General Assembly
November, 1991
Baltimore, MD


The Jewish community's mandate to cultivate, protect, and nurture the environment is deeply rooted in our tradition. The commandment "Bal Taschit" enjoins "Do not destroy things from which humanity may benefit" (Deuteronomy, 20). The warning against idolatry founded in Deuteronomy reminds us that if we abuse the environment, displaying contempt for the integrity of God's creation, purse rain will cease to fall and the ground will cease to yield its produce. Indeed the Jewish obligation to preserve the environment goes back to creation itself. For in the hour when the Holy One created the first human being, God took the person before all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to the person: "See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I created, for you I created. Think upon this, and do not corrupt and desolate my world; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)

We share this planet with perhaps 30 million other species. They produce the oxygen we breathe and remove harmful gasses from the atmosphere. They create the soils in which we grow our food and cleanse our streams and lakes. They moderate the climates that are integral to our livelihood. They provide all our food, most of our medicines, much of our building materials, and energy, without them, we would all be starving, dehydrating, gasping for breath, baking, and drowning in our wastes. Humanity is utterly dependent on the rich diversity of life on earth.

As our population has grown and our technologies have advanced, so have our affects on the earth. Now we number 5.3 billion and are increasing by more than 90 million each year. We dominate the earth. We are changing the very face of the planet, the very composition of the atmosphere and the oceans. We are threatening the climate and destroying the ozone layer that shields us from deadly radiation.

Despite our attempts to supersede nature, despite our use of fossil fuels, our scientific medicine and our industrialized agriculture, we are hardly less reliant on the diversity of life than were our ancestors. By ruining forests and wetlands, producing greenhouse gases and nuclear wastes, fouling lakes and oceans, we are endangering all life on earth.

Each individual has an important role to play in the struggle to clean up the world. We must play our part to integrate personal initiative with local, regional and national efforts. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations called for the conservation of natural resources in 1965. Since then we have spoken out against environmental pollution (1969), called for environmentally sound energy policy (1979), and decried the many dangers of industrial toxins (1983). While our commitment to environmental protection is clear, in the past several years new issues have arisen.

As we continue to better understand environmental issues, it becomes clearer that, while in the long term environmental problems affect us all, in the short term they have a greater adverse impact on minorities and the poor. Three out of five trash incinerators in the United States are located in poor or minority neighborhoods. The daily exposure of migrant farm workers to high levels of strong pesticides is suspected to be the leading cause of the high cancer rate among them. While the infamous Long Island garbage barge eventually ended up back in New York, the United States exports millions of tons of hazardous and non-hazardous waste to third world nations each year.

THEREFORE , the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:

  1. Call upon the federal, provincial, state and local governments of the United States and Canada to protect our current wilderness areas, create new ones, and work to protect ecologically sensitive and endangered bioregions of the world.
  2. Call upon the federal, provincial, state, and local governments of the United States and Canada to ensure the continuation of animal and plant species.
  3. Call upon the federal, provincial, state and local governments of the United States and Canada to ensure the protection of our water and air environments and resources, including the provision of significant resources for the study of mitigation of global warming and destructive environmental change. We call upon the federal governments of the United States and Canada to take a leadership role in international environmental efforts, as for example the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to be held in Brazil in June 1992.
  4. Call upon local governments to institute comprehensive community recycling programs.
  5. Call upon the appropriate commissions and departments within the UAHC and other bodies in Reform Judaism to provide specific environmental guidance to our congregations and to help our congregants consciously modify their behavior in order to preserve our planet.
  6. Promote environmentally sound behavior throughout the UAHC, from office to sanctuary to classroom, including the purchasing of reusable, recycled and recyclable materials fully recognizing the possibility of some increased costs.
  7. Congratulate NFTY for its leadership in these areas and ask them to assist all other UAHC affiliates in instituting similar programs.
  8. Recognize that environmental hazards disproportionately affect poor and minority communities and that insofar as our society continues to bear environmental risks, work to ensure that the economic and health costs of the risks do not disproportionately fall upon these communities.