Integrating Environmentalism and Torah

Recently, Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz, director of Project Ya’aleh V’Yavo, (PYVY) was invited by Robert Gough, Esq., secretary of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy (COUP) and a director of NativeWind.org, a city/tribal partnership towards climate protection and energy independence to participate in the Tribal Lands Climate Conference jointly hosted by the Cocopah Nation and the National Wildlife Federation. The conference was held on the Cocopah reservation on the outskirts of Yuma, AZ. Rabbi Simenowitzs’ participation was made possible through a generous grant provided by the Simon Grinspoon Memorial Fund of the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

“I heard him speak at the Vermont Law School as part of an interfaith panel on faith-based solutions to environmental issues.” said Gough “He just knocked me out with his energy and creativity. But what really amazed me was his ability to seamlessly weave disparate elements of his life – music, law, his tradition, farming, working with kids – into this brilliant tapestry. Also, as a fellow attorney, I respect his ability to transcend the “zero sum gain – I win-you lose” headspace and his relentless pursuit of “win-win” solutions to the thorniest problems.

In his opening remarks, Simenowitz pointed out that in his culture there were no coincidences. He noted that it was no coincidence that the conference was being held near Yuma which he explained meant “Judgment day” in his sacred tongue. Similarly, he noted that it was likewise no coincidence that a conference discussing global warming was held on December 5, the one day a year when the lunar calendar is overlooked in favor of the solar calendar and Jews in the diaspora begin saying the prayer for seasonal rains. He explained that his culture told the story of the man drilling a hole under his seat in a crowded boat. The other passengers asked him what he was doing. He replied “don’t worry – it’s just under my seat”. The crowd was quick to appreciate the implications.

Simenowitz said he was amazed at the similarity between the teachings of the Native American tribal elders and much of the Torah wisdom. “They appreciate the sacredness that permeates the natural world and the importance of our stewardship at this critical juncture.” He noted the two cultures shared a veneration of the wisdom of their respective elders and that both had been persecuted and had suffered immensely.

Most of the speakers began their presentations with greetings in their native languages. Rabbi Simenowitz greeted the crowd with a hearty “shalom” which was met with a rousing “shalom” from the 135 attendees.

At one of the breakaway sessions which Simenowitz led with Dr. Steven Smiley, a noted weather scientist and Vernon Masayesva, a Hopi tribal elder, it was suggested that the Native Americans employ a “new paradigm” in addressing climate change issues confronting them. Simenowitz shared the story about a rabbi in Krakow who had a recurring dream that there was a treasure buried underneath a bridge in Prague. Unable to rest, he traveled to Prague only to find the bridge guarded closely by a watchman. After spotting him several times, the watchman finally confronted him and demanded to know what he was up to. The rabbi told him of his dreams. The watchman laughed and told him that he too had had a recurring dream that there was a treasure buried beneath the stove in the house of a rabbi in Krakow. The rabbi returned home only to find the treasure in his own kitchen. Simenowitz went on to explain that we often seek “new paradigms” when in fact the answers are frequently right under our nose buried in our own rich cultures and traditions.

“Unfortunately, native Americans are getting hammered from both sides” said Simenowitz. “They are inextricably linked to the land. Once the salmon die off, so do the salmon people. Once the bear are gone, so are the bear people”. Moreover, they are fighting to survive internal challenges – from crippling poverty, from disease, from rampant alcoholism and a loss of tribal traditions which are not being transmitted to the next generation.” He found the parallels to Judaism’s fight for survival sobering, to say the least.

One of the more moving moments of the trip came when one of the tribal elders presented Simenowitz with a vial of what he called “living waters” from the pristine Navajo aquifer which his tribe safeguards. The aquifer is reputed to be one of the purest water sources in the world. The gift was especially meaningful to Simenowitz who has long been a vocal advocate of what he calls “halachic water conservation”. In 2005 he received a grant from the Simon Grinspoon Memorial Fund of the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Western Massachusetts to present a paper entitled “Water Conservation and Halacha – An Unorthodox Approach” at the COEJL Conference in Washington, D.C. Simenowitz explained that the sacred waters – which he noted were similarly designated in his culture as “mayim chayim – the living waters” safeguarded by the Native Americans, course through the veins of the earth and ascend through the maple trees as sap. Simenowitz duly presented him with a bottle of maple syrup that he had made.

Similarly, at the end of a slide presentation showing the work done by native American youngsters with groups such as Alaskan Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA), several who attended and spoke at the conference, one of the speakers said he’d like to leave the slide up for a while because he got such a kick seeing his young people engaged in preserving the environment and preserving native American culture. Simenowitz noted with a smile that no one had a monopoly on “nachas”.

There were some light moments at the conference as well. When asked on the registration form for his tribal affiliation, Simenowitz penciled in “10 lost tribes – not sure which one”. Similarly, following his presentation, Simenowitz was asked to pose for a photo with Colin Soto, Cocopah tribal elder. Goodnaturedly, Soto recalled when he used to ask for fifty cents to have his photo taken. Simenowitz replied that in these parts a rabbi should get at least a dollar!

Simenowitz noted that the trip broadened his horizons as to the pervasive nature of the climate change threat and how the maples he stewards in Vermont can serve as an antidote, each drinking up nearly 450 pounds per year of carbon dioxide! He is broadening the scope of his educational materials to reflect the maple’s critical role in carbon sequestration.

Gough and Simenowitz are already planning a series of straw bale building workshops involving native American youth and Jewish teens. “The Talmud teaches us an important lesson about tzedaka” said Simenowitz recently. “Aniyei ircha kodmim” – the people of your own village get priority. This is about helping those in our vast, yet intimately interconnected, global village.

41 comments on “Integrating Environmentalism and Torah

  1. David,

    The arrogance was unintended and perhaps more clarity was necessary to make a point.

    I was attempting to present a defense or at least shed light on some issues to counter Steg’s earlier accusation of how the Orthodox community is supposedly indifferent to environmental concerns.

    One intention was to draw a distinction between caring about the environment and jumping on the “Environmentalist” bandwagon through wholesale acceptance of their selling points as being the correct ones without looking deeper into the issues and to see if the selling points stand up to scrutiny. It was meant to give pause to the ideas of “join the club” which sometimes are long on emotion and short on substance.

    You claim all of the above mentioned strategies as “well-reasoned”. If there was evidence to back it up I would not be alone to support them since the effort exerted to place the recyclables into one of those baby-blue receptacles would definitely be worth the effort. However, “well-reasoned” doesn’t always mean “well-researched”

    Regarding your comment

    “Again, the above comment is so misinformed as to be nearly irrelevant. If you want to argue persuasively, you should read up on the issues.”

    OK, so I’m glad the comment was not COMPLETELY irrelevant so therefore perhaps it warrants a response and I’m certainly ready to be persuaded.

    I’m not very emotionally invested in this issue and have no need to erect ideological barriers. However, when points are made that these issues include obvious and perhaps untested and research-challenged panaceas with simple silver-bullet solutions and then used to berate the Orthodox for donning black hats instead of green ones then a response is called for.

    Kol Tuv. If your ideas prove correct and you subsequently invest your resources L’shem Shomayim then may you be matzliach.

  2. Rabbi Simenowitz,

    For those poor who could benefit from home construction with bales, my alternative, “have someone else do so”, obviously includes charitable building work by others. But, for our benefit, why not prove out the concept as cost-effective first? If there is proof now, please link to it here. Pardon me for not knowing information you don’t provide.

    NOT ONE of the items on your long list of youth projects in your last paragraph (19:46 comment)relates building WITH BALES to education about halachic or Jewish-historical matters. I said nothing above about the types of projects you called out in this paragraph. They look pretty good to me.

    I have hay fever, so you’ll need to get plumbas for the bales elsewhere.

  3. “Bales should be used as building materials where cost-effective. Efforts to develop this technology are warranted. “
    Bob – baruch shekivanta! Can we quote your haskama in our literature? Put a plumba with your hechsher on the bales themselves?
    “ Jews who would benefit from building with bales should do so or have someone else do so.”
    Aye – therein lies the rub – ironically those who need straw bale construction the most can least afford it (let alone have someone else do it for them!) Did you ever wonder about the phrase in Nishmas “matzil…v’ani vevyon m’gozlo” why do we thank Hashem for saving the poor from thievery? Shouldn’t their “havelessness” insulate them from theft? Au contraire, mon frere, the poor are more likely to suffer from predatory practices than you or I.
    “Jewish non-farm youth generally have more pressing things to do as part of their education than to build with bales as demonstration projects. Rabbi Simenowitz himself, as a farmer, has good reason to try this method out, but not necessarily as a Jewish youth project.”
    Here’s where we’re gonna go head to head. I realize that my chailek in life is to sling bales (from both ends of the horse) but my lack of pedigree notwithstanding, I am curious at the source and authority for your wooden, ipse dixit assertions as to what Jewish non-farm youth have to do that’s more pressing. Do you think I’m just making sawdust? Did it ever occur to you that the workshops we run are not merely exercises in material moving but that perhaps there’s an educational component involved? That a timber frame sukka we built allows me to demonstrate to hundreds of yeshiva kids the mortise and tenon joinery used in the mishkan, melachos such as kosaiv, which had to do with marking adjacent posts for reassembly? That a trip to the chicken coop allows me to give a shiur on hilchos muktzeh and basis and nolad, that a forestry pruning program we call “The s’chach gemach” allows me to teach hilchos borer, the various shiurim, concepts such as chatzi melacha? That playing in my compost pile, bochurim can learn hilchos hatmana and truly understand what “hatmana b’davar hamosif hevel” means? That when we learn hilchos sh’hiya, learning it in front of a fire fueled with “kash and g’vava” (the dreaded straw to which you have relegated me) brings a chayus and depth of understanding to the learning that kids simply can’t get in a classroom. So yes, I take deep umbrage and exception to your cavalier and uninformed pronouncements about what Jewish non-farm students need. May I assume you’re not vocationally in either chinuch or kiruv?

  4. Mr. Miller writes: There are real experts on both sides of the dispute about the global warming theory, so I would not want our general approach to environmental stewardship to depend on its validity.

    The only major scientific association which disputes global warming is the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Call me cynical, but I have considerable difficulty believing that the AAPG has examined the issue with any objectivity.

  5. Ron – thank you – from you those words truly take on a secondary meaning:) Way back, Marty asked what I think of global warming. The gemara tells us (in the name of R. Chama no less!) that by Avraham avinu, “hotzi HKB”H chama minartiko” – Hashem unsheathed the sun from its pouch.” We see this phenomenon again by acharis hayamim in nach (Malachi) – that the reshaim will get “zapped” and conversely, the shemesh m’rapei (that one’s for you Ron) – the healing sun is reserved for tzadikim. That kind of “global warming” I can live with! What we have now? fuhgeddaboutit! This shabbos I’m home for a s’udas hoda’ah and then next week a packed shul in Reading PA!!

  6. “However, does that mean there’s a “kum v’aseh” (proactive halakhic response) applicable across the board to respond even if it means putting oneself into a situation where one could encounter dicey issues that could be contrary to our Torah? This is meant to be a real question and not (just) a rhetorical one. ”

    Jacob – “hakol, kol Yaakov” you are quite correct that there is not an “across the board” heter to anyone (and I blanch at some of the places that people go to & the things they do in the name of “kiruv”) – that’s why we have rabbanim and mashpi’im to ask shailas to” . As the MB says “Hakol talui lifi hakor ulfi beis hachoref” – it all depends on how cold it is and how well the house is insulated- meaning it is highly subjective and looked at on a case by case determination as is indeed much of halacha – what may work for you might not be right for me and vice versa.

    As I stated above there are times when it’s “da mah l’hashiv” and there are l’da’avoneinu times when it has to be “Vayidom Aharon” – there are some discussions and forums out there that I cannot engage in. L’mashal, I spoke at a food seminar and did a Tisch Shabbos nite (I had done one at an environmental shabbos last fall and everyone enjoyed it) At the last minute the organizers decided to “mix it up” and make it a round table free style thing with a few jewish “hipsters” – editor of too cool jewzines, v’chulei – I told them I’d have to withdraw since I was only doing it so that people could have a taste of a real shabbos table and not a new age hipster one – they backed down and it was a huge success – I’m not there to trade riffs about mitzvos with leitzim. I go under my own terms and conditions.
    A young rav once came to the Chofetz Chaim. It seems he had been offered a position but was afraid that his inexperience would c’v lead to him making an error of halacha. The Chofetz Chaim laughed gently and said ” When Paro told the m’yaldos to kill the jewish boys why didn’t they just quit? He continued “the posuk says “Vateyreyna hamyaldos es ha-elokim” the midwives feared Hashem. They knew if they quit, the next midwife might not be as “proactive” he told the bochur to take the position. I try to work within that mold (obviously within the dalet amos of halacha)
    What does it take to do? A good rav, a good rebbe, a great rebbetzin and a tremendous amount of siyata d’shmaya, a bissele siechel, a lot of mazal and I pray for the best

  7. Jacob: you said, “Also, how “l’maaseh” is one to promote environmental awareness? Do recycling plants use up precious resources? Could “recyclable material” just as well get dumped with the rest of the garbage in the huge landfills so we can save energy by shutting down recycling plants? Not to mention of the extra wear and tear of roadway infrastructure through the proliferation of gargantuan special trucks collecting recyclable items?”

    Your post seems to be trying to mock well-reasoned strategies to reduce the destruction of the dwindling resources on which we depend. I really think you should get your facts straight Jacob. In an effort to trivialize recycling and renewable energy, you’ve declared your own ignorance.

    Yes, recycling consumes energy, but less energy than remanufacturing those products from raw materials. If you also factor in the degradation in air and water quality that comes from manufacture of plastics, the scale of benefit weighs even more heavily toward recycling.

    And yes, we could put all that plastic into a landfill. But where do you suppose you’re going to put all the NYC tristate area’s plastic when we run out of land in New England? You could transport it to Nebraska, but that might cost some energy, don’t you think? The calculus is clear that most recycling saves energy and decreases degradation of the water and air that we depend upon for our survival.

    You also said, “Also, if you ask an environmentalist about how to cut down on foreign oil dependency what’s the aitzah? Nuclear? Dumb question. Coal? Bad for the ecosystem. Drill in Alasaka? Bad for the Caribou. Wood burning stoves? That means mass-murder of trees.”

    Again, the above comment is so misinformed as to be nearly irrelevant. If you want to argue persuasively, you should read up on the issues.

  8. Steg,

    OK, the attempt of humor may have been too unPC for your tastes so if you’re offended I request mechila. Having said that, I’ll say that although I don’t always agree with your ideas they are usually well-reasoned so your emotionally-charged response at my attempt of infusing a dose of comedy relief left me somewhat baffled.

    For the record, I like granola for breakfast with a cup of plain yogurt. Also, my children’s yeshiva/BY is very strict with their “junk free” snack policy. BTW, that policy caused some cynics to mutter about how those “black hat yeshivas always looking for ways to totally control their students”. Can’t win.

    The problem with the not unreasonable association of heterodoxy and health/environmentalism/trendy-issue-of-day is that it’s not unreasonable to speculate that the heterodox see these ideas as ends in itself as opposed to a means of fulfilling our Covenant transmitted at Har Sinai.

    And as far as protecting the environment I’ll submit two theories. UCLA recently released a report of which industries cause the most pollution on the West Coast. To no one’s suprise oil topped the list. But what came in 2nd place? The entertainment industry! So for the record, if the Hollywood enterprise should decide to shut down I’ll breathe a lot easier.

    Also, how “l’maaseh” is one to promote environmental awareness? Do recycling plants use up precious resources? Could “recyclable material” just as well get dumped with the rest of the garbage in the huge landfills so we can save energy by shutting down recycling plants? Not to mention of the extra wear and tear of roadway infrastructure through the proliferation of gargantuan special trucks collecting recyclable items?

    Also, if you ask an environmentalist about how to cut down on foreign oil dependency what’s the aitzah? Nuclear? Dumb question. Coal? Bad for the ecosystem. Drill in Alasaka? Bad for the Caribou. Wood burning stoves? That means mass-murder of trees.

    Don’t mean to get obnoxious and if you respond in kind I might have asked for it. But one point is maybe some of us are not so gung-ho about investing our most precious resource, time, into ideas whose platforms may at best be specious. Kol Tuv.

  9. Ron Coleman:

    i was responding with similar rhetoric to Jacob Haller’s And if there’s one item in this thread that most of us can agree on is the frustration if not complete inner terror experienced when we observe

    It *does* make the associations invalid, especially if it turns people off of caring about serious issues that Yahadut tells us that we should care about. Way too many times i’ve encountered Jews who mock very good Jewish ideals such as caring about the environment because they’ve been conditioned to think that Traditional Judaism aligns with Fundamentalist Christianity and Right-Wing Politics.

    “entire social and political sensibility that is indeed foreign to our values”

    Fairness, as well as caring for human beings, animals, and the planet are not foreign to our values. So sometimes people are a bit too zealous for fairness; that doesn’t disqualify fairness or caring as Jewish values.

  10. Steg, if those things “terrify” you, I can get you a night light. A green one. Come on.

    And the derogatory identification of vegetarianism and environmentalism with heterodoxy and isurey bi’a makes it that much harder to get Jews to care about the quality of our descendents’ lives.

    That doesn’t make the associations invalid, however, or stop them from being amusing parodies of an entire social and political sensibility that is indeed foreign to our values. I think, by the way, that there is no community on God’s green earth that has a more profoundly demonstrated commitment to “the quality of our descendents’ lives.”

  11. The Torah indeed asks us to be good stewards of our environment. In doing so, we will often want to ally with non-Jews moving in the same direction to take practical action, and we will want to explain our own particular approach to them. We will also want to avoid absorbing or encouraging attitudes these allies may hold that are against Torah values.

    Our Jewish youth on and off the farm have many needs today, some more critical than others. When I tried to suggest above that Jews not in farming have priorities other than building with bales, this caused some confusion and bitterness. So here is my attempt at clarification:

    1. Bales should be used as building materials where cost-effective. Efforts to develop this technology are warranted.

    2. Jews who would benefit from building with bales should do so or have someone else do so.

    3. Jewish non-farm youth generally have more pressing things to do as part of their education than to build with bales as demonstration projects. Rabbi Simenowitz himself, as a farmer, has good reason to try this method out, but not necessarily as a Jewish youth project.

    Regarding global warming:

    There are real experts on both sides of the dispute about the global warming theory, so I would not want our general approach to environmental stewardship to depend on its validity.

  12. Jacob:

    It’s not R’ Miller’s attitude to animals or inanimate objects which is distasteful to those who believe in Derekh Eretz, it’s his attitude to Non-Jewish human beings.

    No doubt. And if there’s one item in this thread that most of us can agree on is the frustration if not complete inner terror experienced when we observe major media outlets discussing abortion, alternative marriage initiatives etc and consulting the “Jewish opinion” from the likes of Rabbi Judy Granola and her “partner” Rabbi Emily Tofu of Temple Beth Quiche in SanFran.

    What terrifies me is the opposite, when supposed representatives of the Orthodox “Jewish opinion” promote self-destructive policies such as not recycling, not worrying about our deteriorating/changing climate, “letting the ozone layer take care of itself”, (or identifying with Christian, Non-Jewish attitudes towards abortion and other etc. God put Adam on Earth le‘ovdah uleshomrah, not to destroy it!

    And the derogatory identification of vegetarianism and environmentalism with heterodoxy and isurey bi’a makes it that much harder to get Jews to care about the quality of our descendents’ lives.

  13. Gosh, Rabbi, maybe let’s focus on ushmartem es nafshoseichem on the Rabbi Simenowitz part and let the ozone layer take care of itself a little here! Refuah sh’leimah!

  14. I’m more than aware of my own chesronos and Rabbi Simenowitz’s maalos. But if something like this article is put out for our consideration we’re well within bounds not to accept 100% of it.

  15. Rabbi Simenowitz said

    “The bottom line is that if I wasn’t there my slot would have been filled with yet another kumbaya,crunchy nutty non-frum (or antagonistic) tree hugger”

    No doubt. And if there’s one item in this thread that most of us can agree on is the frustration if not complete inner terror experienced when we observe major media outlets discussing abortion, alternative marriage initiatives etc and consulting the “Jewish opinion” from the likes of Rabbi Judy Granola and her “partner” Rabbi Emily Tofu of Temple Beth Quiche in SanFran.

    However, does that mean there’s a “kum v’aseh” (proactive halakhic response) applicable across the board to respond even if it means putting oneself into a situation where one could encounter dicey issues that could be contrary to our Torah? This is meant to be a real question and not (just) a rhetorical one.

  16. Steg wrote

    “R’ Avigdor Miller’s dismissive attitude of seeing the majority of God’s creations as worthless.”

    Where and when was R’ Miller z’tl “dismissive” of Hashem’s creations? Ron’s opening salvo mentioned the Rav’s negative view of environmental MOVEMENTS.

    Regarding Rav Miller’s “dismissive” attitude it’s quite the contrary. DISCLAIMER: this is not the most “lomdisch” statement but hopefully it will make its point.

    Rav Miller encouraged his talmidim (ie anyone who listened to his droshas) to thank Hashem for every applicable detail and he presented an example of shoelaces. This seemingly insignificant item wraps a thin layer of iron at its edges to prevent fraying. In addition to this nice little comfort item it also serves as a mussar haskel – do the beasts of the field utilize Hashem’s creations such as iron?

    To me this served as a subtle reminder that Man’s place in the world is not necessarily of equal status as of the animals. So in addition to appreciating Hashem’s gifts in nature it also shlugs the idea that Man and animals are equal – a concept often preached by the environmental MOVEMENTS.

  17. “1) I see nothing wrong with inquiring into what is said because the written word often needs clarification. 2) There are a lot of strange things that go on out there, including new age stuff that borders on or is the occult and prohibited. I dont take to much for granted these days.”
    Reb Alter – you hit it spot on – there is much out there that frum yidden need concern themselves with. I once spoke at a conference in DC and the chairperson asked why the environmental message wasn’t getting out to the frum community.I told him there were two reasons firstly the paucity of genuine Torah scholarship – every eco-rabbi has a riveting story about a tree from the gemara Baba Kama 39b but they have no clue what’s on 39a (and perhaps don’t care) More significantly, I told him that I had been to the Holocaust museum that day and that yidden have come to accept their bodies being burnt (Hashem yishmor) b/c we believe that the “os’yos porchos” – that the letters leave the “scroll” and return heavenward. I told him I felt what I heard in the conference – they were burning the letters and from that we would not recover. Similarly, one of the main “rabbis” used to e-mail me to “wrestle” with me – I pointedly told him that for me to wrestle would be a tacit acknowledgement of his position. I told him my response was “Vayidom Aharon”.
    You are correct that terms such as tikkun olam and bal tashchis have become mantras for jewish environmentalism. You are correct that a closer reading really shows that we are enjoined from wanton destruction, but if we need the tree, the fruit, the wood, the tree NOT to be there (hmm, sounds like my muktzeh shiur) we can use it
    That being said before we get all full of ourselves, lets remember Rashi’s comment on “v’yirdu b’dgas hayam” Rashi points out that vyirdu can mean tow opposites – loshon rayda (dominion) or loshson y’rida (desc3nt) he says if we are worthy, we get the enchilada if not, we go lower than the fish – our call

    “This is nice, too, but in what way is this activity a Jewish priority as against our actual learning and chessed obligations?”

    You may be right Bob. This shabbos I spoke to a packed shul in Chestnut Hill, Boston, Thursday night I spoke and did a kumsitz with Rabbi Algaze’s shul in VT, last shabbos I spoke to a packed shul in Skokie (OK so the shabbos before I spent a miserable one in the hospital having had a heart attack the day before waiting for my angiogram and stent) I’d be open to any suggestions you might have how I can do more. The Baal Shem Tov (or do I call him the BST) said “the evil we see in others is usually there to show us our own chesroinos” v’dai l’chakima

    Steg Steg, you couldda been a contender – you’re quite correct in the metzius that most practices of Native Americans are essentially pareve. Their idea of water being holy b/c it is a gift from the Creator is something we all could benefit from.

  18. Mark,
    My intention in comment #16 when I wrote “what’s the kashe”, was “live and let live.” Meaning, I support Rabbi Simenowitz.

  19. I really don’t understand how someone who identifies with R’ Hirsch’s beautiful universalistic philosophy of Torah ‘im Derekh Eretz could possibly also identify with R’ Avigdor Miller’s dismissive attitude of seeing the majority of God’s creations as worthless. Those of us who truly believe in Derekh Eretz (or even just derekh eretz) have no obligation to listen to him.

    That said, aside from the obvious exception of those Central American Native nations that used to practice human sacrifice (Aztecs, Maya, etc.), i’ve generally found what i’ve read about Native American spirituality to be less ‘avoda zara than one supposedly monotheistic faith that appropriated our Scriptures, vehameivin yavin.

    Steve Brizel:

    Of course Chabad shlichim don’t see themselves obligated by the directives of RMF and/or RYBS. They’re Chabad! They come from a different community with its own rules and rule-makers!

  20. “Bob … we are not building straw bales, we are building BUILDINGs out of straw bales…”

    This is nice, too, but in what way is this activity a Jewish priority as against our actual learning and chessed obligations?

    “If my piece (which was not written or intended for this readership) caused anyone discomfort, I sincerely ask your mechila and selicha”

    You have mine. Understand, though, that the questions about these activities were appropriate regardless of whom the piece was written for.

  21. 1) I see nothing wrong with inquiring into what is said because the written word often needs clarification. 2) There are a lot of strange things that go on out there, including new age stuff that borders on or is the occult and prohibited. I dont take to much for granted these days. 3) Hashem gave us this planet to live on as a gift. We have no right to abuse it. By abusing it, we also hurt ourselves physically which is prohibited.( chemical dumping, etc.)

    With that said, we need to rcognize that everything has been created for us to serve Hashem with. So, if animals or plants need to be used for the betterment of mankind, then we use them. We are not environmentalists for the sake of an ism. Keeping the Earth clean and usable is part of be G-d fearing and Torah. By being neat/tidy we also make a kiddush Hashem.

    Disclaimer:In no way am I accusing Rabbi Simenowitz of being into ism’s, not Torah-like, or not being a G-d fearing Jew. This comment is meant about the situation in general.

  22. VERY INTERESTING, and very worthwhile. I haven’t looked at this critically enough to have a detailed opinion; but I will say loudly that Torat Hashem Temimah certainly has what to say about environmental issues of all sorts. As usual in our Torah, halacha and aggada mix richly on the topics of environmental responsibility, preservation of environment, quality of environment, and so on. Furthermore, it would seem to me that under that *broad* heading mitzvot bnei noah, providing our understanding of the issue to interested non-Jewish parties can make very good sense. Exactly how that is to be done, I don’t have an opinion on. There’s also a kiruv issue here, it seems; and I for one can’t comment on what I don’t know the thorough details about (sorry about the grammer there).

    When I lived in BC, I was introduced to a non-Jewish forester named James Rowed. He worked for Sierra Defense Fund, and as a paid consultant for the provincial gov’t, provided consultations and guidance to First Nations (Indian, Native, whatever you understand them by) on how to best manage their lands and natural resources. He had profound respect for Torah, and on a number of occasions came to me to seek the Torah’s insight and guidance on such matters. Since I’m what/who was available, I did my best to think through things with him. The effort certainly made sense, and on one occasion he reported back that the elders he was advising were pleased to have a traditional Jewish input.

    BTW, anyone who would like some introduction to the topic, I would recommend Aryeh Carmell’s article Judaism and the Quality of the Environment in the book Challenge (Assoc. of Orthodox Jewish Scientists/Feldheim), Rav Prof. Nahum Rakover’s ‘Aichut Hasvivah’, and Yisrael Rozenson’s ‘Vhinei Tov Meod’ (Hahevra L’haganat Hateva).

  23. I think the kashe is in how to deal with a rarely discussed subject (environmentalism), expounding on Torah with those of different faiths and off-the-standard-path modes of Kiruv.

    These are probably not things we should all try at home, so I felt it was worthwhile to state Rabbi Simenowitz’ qualifications.

    It should be noted that Rabbi Simenowitz did not send us this as a post, but we asked him whether we could post it on Beyond BT. I’m a firm believer in Expanding the Tent of Torah and I thought this was a good example.

  24. Reb Alter – they are separate workshops on different sides of the country – the jewish teens will be building in VT and MA and the Native Americans in Rosebud, SD. Remeber Dovid hamelech said “bachurim, v’gam b’sulos” As you are undoubtedly aware, “v’gam” is there for a reason.

    Bob – if you weren’t so quick to condemn that which you didn’t understand, you’d realize that we are not building straw bales, we are building BUILDINGs out of straw bales – do you know the meaning of the phrase “a tzaddik in peltz”?

    If my piece (which was not written or intended for this readership) caused anyone discomfort, I sincerely ask your mechila and selicha

  25. Reb Alter,
    If you would have been m’daik correctly, you would have noted that it first says “youth” and then says “teens”. Presumably it is not peers. I have not problem or even need to be m’lamed z’chus on Rabbi Simenowitz. This is his path in avodah. What is the kashe?

  26. Rabbi Simenowitz stayed at my house at the Beyond BT Shabbaton and he is a wonderful man who is extremely learned in many areas of Torah. He asks his Rebbe shailos in difficult situations. He gave up a very successful career to get closer to Hashem and help many others get closer.

    If people knew him and the work he is doing, the average Ayin-Tov (good eye) Jew would have no questions.

    He doesn’t really need my defense, I’m just giving some information to help those who might be having difficulty with situations that are unfamiliar.

  27. “Gough and Simenowitz are already planning a series of straw bale building workshops involving native American youth and Jewish teens.”

    I sincerely hope that they are not talking about doing this where they are together. There is enough assimilation without us helping out.

  28. I don’t mean “pareve” aspects, but aspects that relate in some way to a world view that goes against ours.

  29. When we go out there to do good in the world (and for the world), it’s important to avoid giving the impression that we are also flattering any un-Jewish aspects of other cultures. I can’t really tell from this article that such a thing happened in this gathering, but, anyway, it is something to guard against.

  30. Bravo and tally ho, Rabbi! It took me a while to figure out what went wrong here, but I figured it out: You read sarcasm where none was intended. On the other hand, I read “your article” where in fact the article was someone else’s altogether, for which I apologize quite abashedly.

    But in all seriousness, I meant everything I said: I am reluctant to presume, I am not a rabbi, Rabbi Simenowitz is certainly free to follow and promote his interests — you saw snark in the derech eretz layer, but I did not emit any heat that could have caused it. I did not even mean the remark about honoraria sarcastically, I meant it quite literally. (I would, however, like to know if the lawyer job you left is perhaps still open?)

    What I appreciate most about your comment is that you were able to say many things, including regarding the political component of the environmental movement, that I could not. Now as to Rabbi Miller’s opinion, as you know, he had most definite opinions on just about every topic, and they were indeed informed by his great scholarship, insight into people and daas torah. Many of those opinions are quite hard to understand, and some of them are rather brutal sounding to tender ears. Now, I recall hearing in his name that he was not open minded about global warning and considered it a fraud based on faulty science and driven by politics. Frankly, I share his view, but I would not close my mind to the question merely because he said so, notwithstanding my respect for him. He is not my rebbi, frankly; but the question of who or who is not a gadol for purposes of these broad pronouncements is probably well beyond this thread if not Beyond BT!

    I don’t understand your point about mishnayos baal peh. I’m talking about praising avodah zarah, not erudition on the part of non-Jews, but in all seriousness you were there, not I, you’re the rabbi, not I, and I do indeed give you the benefit of the doubt. I assume you dealt with this problem by either discussing it with a qualified posek or that you are one yourself. I also think it’s fair to raise and discuss these issues here and if the cost my doing so is to be slapped around a tad I can bear that and, I reckon, the blog can too. But I just work here.

    I think it’s tremendous that your involvement in this issue has, as Mark says, given you opportunities for kiruv opportunities you would not otherwise have. I am sure we both agree that the “kiruv heter” is one of the delicate issues in the business, however, as any Disco Rabbi will tell you (Jaded is serving the drinks, by the way). By maintaining an ayin tov you will, I am sure, continue to have success. I am also sure we will continue to talk about it, too.

    P.S. Follow my link and you will have no trouble finding my contact information and I do by all means invite you to send me your work! (Why not make it available online?)

  31. I am not convinced, Mark, that “preserving the environment where possible is a great Torah true ideal.” I don’t know either way, but I don’t see how you can say so confidently that it is.

    It seems clear to me that G-d does not want us to unnecessarily destroy His world.

    Aish’s TuB’Shevat page has a lot of articles on the subject.

  32. Ron – Boker Tov

    Thank you for reading the piece with a critical eye and healthy degree of skepticism. I think your overall tone was a bit more jaundiced than necessary since you obviously are unfamiliar with the work I do year round with Jewish kids ranging from chiloni to charedi and frum kids at risk. Simply stated, because of the work I do with Jewish kids, I was asked to speak at a conference and share Torah insights and solutions into some environmental issues which threaten the very existence of these people. I consider that an honor – not for me (though I caught your flippant and begrudging comments of a rabbi’s right to “perhaps earn honoraria” – trust me – I made much, much more as an attorney!) but a chance to make a kiddush Hashem in the name of Torah and a chance to reaffirm the notion of “Hafoch ba, hafoch ba” that the Torah is the eternal source of all answers.

    “I found his article on the web here and it seems “inoffensive” enough upon a quick scan, if I may presume to say.”

    Here I must thank you for your vote of innocuousness since I did not write the piece that you hyperinked to ( a reference was made to my article in that piece) it must certainly have been a quick scan since you failed to note my non-authorship. (For the record, I personally happen to find the underlying premises of much of that article problematic which is why I in fact wrote a pointed response.)

    “I know certain rabbis such as R’ Avigdor Miller zt’l have had less glowing things to say about the environmental movement, but I am not sure how bound by their opinions we are.”

    we should be very bound by their opinions (I assume you are referring to rabbanim the caliber of R’Avigdor z’tl)that’s why they’re g’dolim and we aren’t – the environmental movement is and should be deeply troubling to the Torah Jew as it incorporates the liberal agenda lock, stock and barrel. I prefer to unbundle the issues. Just because I believe climate change is a genuine threat to humanity and that “hatznai-a leches” is an ideal to strive towards, doesn’t mean that I can for a second accept civil unions. It’s unfortunate that these are bundled together. As I am wont to say “Just because I want the better radio doesn’t mean I have to take the chrome wheels”

    “it’s hard for me not to feel really uncomfortable with a rabbi involving himself in and praising effusively the preservation of a culture that implicates so many problematic theological and social red flags for Jews. ”

    I respect your discomfort. I guess it’s just a question of whether you want to see similarities or differences. Clearly differences, perhaps deep ones exist. But if a person is drowning and asks me for help, I don’t usually test them on mishnayos b’al peh before rendering assistance. Since you have an interest in kiruv you might want to take that to heart.

    “To put it bluntly, and from the perspective of someone interested in kiruv, aren’t there enough Jewish issues to keep Rabbi Simenowitz busy? Or is he putting my own purportedly RSFH Torah im Derekh Eretz sympathies to the test? ”

    “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor” – unfortunately, there are many Jewish issues which keep me more than busy but B”H we find time to meet our challenges. I will agree that it’s unfortunate that when I write grant proposals, the ones most likely to get funded are ones like the one mentioned here. I give a shiur on hilchos shabbos b’iyun to semicha students in the summer. I cannot get that funded. That being said, I was just invited to speak at a joint hillel/chabad college event as one of the board members had heard of my trip to Yuma and the board thought it was “cool”. So I now have an opportunity to get a foot in the door with yidden who might not otherwise give a big guy in a kapote a second look.
    To get up close and personal, I know who I am and I work with my rav on the difficult calls. Many calls are difficult because it might not be a situation which I consider ideal. For example about 3 weeks ago, I taught at a Jewish Food Retreat (I kid you not) entitled “From Latkes to Latte” The bottom line is that if I wasn’t there my slot would have been filled with yet another kumbaya,crunchy nutty non-frum (or antagonistic) tree hugger and those who came to my “maple tisch” may have never experienced sitting around a shabbos table. Shammai was right but Hillel was effective.
    Send your e-mail and snail address to Mark and I’d be glad to send you MY halachic water conservation article. It’ll give you a sense of where I’m coming from hashkafically (or my “weltenschauung” for all you TUM/TIDE guys:)and my thoughts about the halachic imperative towards a softer footstep on the earth.

    Good luck with your kiruv work.
    shmuel

  33. Feverishly fascinating juxtaposition of stuff. Firstly Ron, what part of preserving the enviroment can’t be tweaked and classified as torah true ideals. Basically its the overall global objective focus and all that àdderall related activity that needs to be channeled correctly and for the correct purpose.

    Anything earthy related is gd related and torah true.preserving this stuff will make torah learning and understanding way more user friendly of an activity.and subsequently the understanding of why we are supposed to be making flower gardens out of muddy patches will eventually come clean and comprehensible.

    When I’m done getting my garden together and growing ……. You can come learn with your sons in my English countryside antique rose garden anytime.Thé benches in my zinnia patch are reserved for alei shure readings and the petunias and colorful cactus patch for pirkei àvos versing.floral meets intellectual and torah true for preserving the enviroment and making it florally enchanting and colorful in the process.

    In the winter though you may have to stick with torah true gin and tonics served in torah true shot glasses in torah generating alcohol venues.its basically all in the focus motive and lack of any àlterior ones. And the promoting of one big merry extended family in the name of Gd.

  34. I am not convinced, Mark, that “preserving the environment where possible is a great Torah true ideal.” I don’t know either way, but I don’t see how you can say so confidently that it is.

    Martin, the answer to your question is, “No,” and I don’t see how you could have read my comment, with all due respect, and asked that question. As to whether the Rabbi “takes care of Jewish issues,” I don’t know. I am with you in giving him the benefit of the doubt but I raise the issue nonetheless. It’s a fine thing to discuss here.

  35. I share some of Ron’s concerns as well. I had no idea that Chabad shlichim did not consider themselves bound by well known pronouncements by both RMF and RYBS against interfaith ecumenical statements-which one can argue is what transpired at this conference.

  36. I guess you can call Rabbi Simenowitz an “environmentally-friendly” rabbi! What does he think of the issue of Global-warming?

    Ron: I am sure that the Rabbi takes care of Jewish issues, as well as what he is stating above. Do you mean to say that he should ONLY take care of Jewish issues, and not try to interact with our fellow human beings, even if they are not Jewish?

  37. Ron, I think Rabbi Simenowitz is able to reach people who would never be reached by the Aish, Chabad, NCSY networks. He loves what he’s doing and preserving the environment where possible is a great Torah true ideal.

    Perhaps we sometimes have to separate preserving the environment from the beliefs of the environmentalists just like we sometimes have to separate science from the beliefs of the scientists.

  38. I have a feeling I’m not alone in not knowing what to make of this. Rabbi Simenowitz’s coziness with a culture that is frankly derived from, and may even today include, genuine old-fashioned avodah zarah, gives me (and I am just a guy, I’m not a rabbi and don’t play one on TV) some discomfort. His comparison of what the Indians called sacred waters with the halachic mayim chayim is troubling, too, notwithstanding whatever apparent similarities there may be in their physical constituencies. I found his article on the web here and it seems “inoffensive” enough upon a quick scan, if I may presume to say. Rabbi Simenowitz also seems to have a good sense of humor. I suppose rabbis are entitled to their political and avocational interests as much as anyone, much less the opportunity to develop a professional profile and perhaps earn honoraria. I know certain rabbis such as R’ Avigdor Miller zt’l have had less glowing things to say about the environmental movement, but I am not sure how bound by their opinions we are.

    But the whole Native American thing — well, first of all, I’m a native American, I was born in here, but besides that — it’s hard for me not to feel really uncomfortable with a rabbi involving himself in and praising effusively the preservation of a culture that implicates so many problematic theological and social red flags for Jews.

    To put it bluntly, and from the perspective of someone interested in kiruv, aren’t there enough Jewish issues to keep Rabbi Simenowitz busy? Or is he putting my own purportedly RSFH Torah im Derekh Eretz sympathies to the test?

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