I recently had been reading a textbook for a class I had taken in college entitled , ‘Environmental Ethics and Policy’ Book – the book is essentially an anthology of many different articles on various aspects of environmental ethics. One of the most interesting entries I have recently discovered is ‘Judaism and the Environment’ . I know that I had stated that I am interested in what Christian ethical standard may exist with regard to the environment- but we shouldn’t supercede our Judaism roots- what sort of precedents for environmental stewardship did YHWH impend upon the ancient Israelites?
Robert Gordis, the author of this section, of course is wise to bring up the issue that many have with ‘Genesis 1:28 – the verse telling mankind to essentially go out and ‘subdue it’ – ‘it’ being the earth. Gordis then states that “it then declared that subduing enemies in war is primarily a male undertaking, the verb ‘subdue’ teaches that the obligation to propagate the human race falls upon the male rather than the female.”
After going through a phew more interpretations as to what the ‘subdue’ might mean from other jewish commentators, Gordis states something quite insightful ‘ These interpretations , however, are phrased in generalities. The true genius of Judaism has always lain in specifics. Thus, there is no passage in the Hebrew Bible ‘ Love your enemies’ – What we do find instead are concrete instructions for dealing with those we dislike. For instance, Proverbs 25:21 commands us: ‘If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink’ – Similarily, Judaism’s teachings about people’s duties and rights vis-a-vis the natural habitat are not to be sought in high-sounding phrases which obligate them to nothing concrete; rather, they will be found in specific areas of Jewish law and practice.”
Two words, he introduces, I think are worth considering- ‘tza’ar ba’alei chayim’ – meaning the ‘pain of living creatures’. The Fourth commandment was to be extended to animals- rest for one’s ox, donkey, and every creature on the Sabbath. The prohibition of a farming having an ox and a donkey yoked together to plow a field- because of the greater strain that would be impounded on the weaker animal- how much more than, could this apply to Tilicom and all the other creatures of SeaWorld…
There were laws against slaughtering an sheep or ox with its offspring on the same day, and not the mention the traditional laws of kosher slaughtering which were designed to generate the reverance for life that YHWH desires.
The second Jewish concept? – ‘bal tashchit’- meaning , ‘do not destroy’ . Mr, Golbis goes on to give specific instances of how this would apply in the lives of the Israelites, but it can be summed up by saying ” This principle derives in part from the recognition that what we are wanting to call ‘our’ property is really not our own, but God’s”.
In capturing Tilikulm, putting him in captivity, torturing him ( literally!) and using him for our own gain, we are clearly in severe violation of ”tza’ar ba’alei chayim'”- what greater pain could you cause to a living creature than to steal it from its family, starve it when it doesn’t perform what you want- ( mind you, it was not permitted to place a muzzle upon an ox, so it could not eat any grain during the threshing period), and allow fellow captives to attack it( YES, this goes on!). We have put a tremendous yolk upon dear Tilikulm and other captives of SeaWorld ( just to name one corner of the animal captivity industry) – more than any of the ox or donkies to roam the earth- we are destroying what YHWH has created- in many ways, we are acknowledging the splendor of the sea by creating a whole theme park based off of this aesthetic, the aesthetic of the big blue yonder- we want it so much that we think through our control, we can create the environment for it without ever having to be vulnerable enough to see it for ourselves in the wild.
Something’s up when we can spill oil in the oceans via oil rigs, overexploit fisheries, yet ‘love’ the ocean so gosh dang much, we create Sea World. This is hypocrisy.. this is double-facedness, this is lukewarm-ness… this is poor stewardship, the minute we cease to respect the natural , cosmic order of life, we cause pain, and interefere with God’s partnership as co-stewards of our big blue gem- Earth.
Bal Tashchit… until next time…