Response to Elliot Klayman’s Article: Jason E. Palmer
“Exploring Our Responsibility for Earth’s Resources: Shaping an Eco-Ethicological Approach for Discussion”
By Jason E. Palmer
With his work, Exploring Our Responsibility For Earth’s Resources: Shaping an Eco-Ethicological Approach For Discussion, Elliot Klayman has initiated a profitable discussion about a subject that is of great personal interest to me. Furthermore, while engaging with the words of the author, it soon became evident that I was going to have a most difficult challenge in providing a thought-provoking response to his work. In sum, I agree with his views; I appreciate his “green” perspective; I wholeheartedly support his conclusion.
Within his initial words, the author indicates that he is operating from the following assumption: The Creator formed humanity in his own divine image in order to partner with him in performing the work of creation. The profound ramifications of this concept upon humanity and our personal responsibility concerning the ecological condition of our world cannot be overstated. Humanity was created with a job to do.
Notably, this concept concerning our divinely appointed task to work and guard the Garden1 provides the very bedrock for the construction of Rabbi Klayman’s metaphorical house of Messianic Jewish eco-ethicology.
The author commences with his discussion by providing brief, yet relevant, descriptions of the particular cosmologies of four major worldviews: Scientific (Atheistic), Ancient Semitic, Christian, and Jewish. Notably, while providing his survey of these particular worldviews, a difficult task considering the enormity of the subject matter surveyed, Rabbi Klayman has identified important subcategories within many of the individual worldviews. For example, while discussing the Jewish worldview, he describes the unique characteristics of the Rabbinic and Kabbalistic/Mystical perspectives. Nevertheless, the author’s purpose in providing this cosmological overview was to establish certain “building blocks,” a conceptual foundation, for constructing a Messianic Jewish theology for human ecology. The goal of the author was to determine certain strengths within each perspective, while identifying weaknesses, which are to be utilized for formulating a Messianic Jewish worldview concerning human stewardship of Creation.
The author begins his discussion concerning the scientific worldview by claiming its foundational premise: God does not exist but is only a rationale for the laws of physics.In summary, the scientific worldview pursues empirical evidence: the universe exists and it demonstrates certain verifiable laws and characteristics. The question concerning the existence of God is outside the realm of scientific inquiry; one cannot discover the Unmoved Mover. Therefore, according to the author’s assessment of the worldview, the central purpose of humanity is to discover the marvels of the universe and to provide an accurate explanation for the existence and function of each particular element. The development of an informed explanation concerning a particular natural phenomenon, or a concise definition, is a great human triumph.
While the author notes that the scientific worldview contains its share of atheists and agnostics, I believe that the Messianic Jewish perspective may benefit from interacting with those found within the scientific community. Furthermore, it should be noted that there are members within this community that effectively contend for the existence of God. For example, Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jewish physicist from MIT, reconciles the Torah’s Creation narrative with the observations of modern science.2 Upon further reflection, while I acknowledge the atheistic perspectives of those cited by Rabbi Klayman, I did become somewhat uncomfortable with the author’s sweeping generalization of the scientific worldview as humanistic and atheistic. While we should be aware of the biases inherent among many proponents of the scientific worldview, as well as its fundamental limitations concerning religious questions, I do not believe that we should ignore the discoveries of modern science. It should be noted, as a point of clarification, that I am certain that Rabbi Klayman is not advocating for a head-in-the-sand reaction to scientific discovery. Yet, there may be certain individuals that do. Nevertheless, I fully agree with the author, who said that we should welcome scientific discovery because it demonstrates the magnificence of the Creator of the All.3
The author moves on from his survey of the scientific worldview in order to discuss the cosmological perspective of the ancient Hebrews. Interestingly, while providing a foil for the ancient Semitic perspective, Rabbi Klayman begins his discussion with a brief description of classical Greek thought and its impact on Maimonides and Islam. While the Hellenistic worldview was governed by abstract philosophical ideas concerning oneself and grand speculation about the ethereal, the Jews of antiquity experienced the world in tangible, earthy terms. Greek thinking was definitional, empiric, compartmentalized, static, individualistic and results-oriented. In contrast, ancient Semitic thought has been portrayed as descriptive, phenomenological/ situational, wholistic, dynamic, communal and concerned with process.4 It has been said, that while the classical Greek was concerned with correct belief (orthodoxy), the ancient Semite was governed by a desire for appropriate behavior (orthopraxy).5 This emphasis upon one’s behavior is a notable characteristic of the ancient Semitic perceptive. Another core aspect of ancient Semitic thought is its communal focus. This communal focus, which is well-known among students of the Bible, provides the foundation of the concept of corporate personality6
Rabbi Klayman suggests that ancient Semitic emphasis upon action and communal well-being provides an inspirational model for Tikkun Olam. The author, while building upon the work of Dr. David Rudolph, points to Abraham and his great hospitality toward others as a vital component of our Messianic Jewish heritage of service, which should stimulate us to work for the causes of eco-ethicology.
Thirdly, Rabbi Klayman provides a brief overview of the Christian worldview, by noting the diversity of ecological perspectives that are found within the Church. In sum, Christian worldviews consist of a broad spectrum, which ranges from the environmentally conscious to the environmentally exploitative. However, while noting the work of R. Kendall Soulen, Rabbi Klayman makes a vital observation: the typical Christian worldview, with its focus upon the universal aspects of redemption through the Messiah, has “misplaced” the literal descendants of Jacob, the Jewish people. Thus, the Christian worldview is faulty; for it fails to recognize Israel’s vital role within the process of redemption. This unfortunate misplacement, as the author rightly points out, is problematic and inconsistent with the wider biblical narrative: Israel is God’s agent, which was elected by the Creator in order to distribute his blessing throughout the nations.
Lastly, with the goal of identifying certain “building blocks” for constructing a Messianic Jewish theology for human ecology, Rabbi Klayman provides a survey of the Jewish worldview. The author identifies two general approaches: the rabbinic and the kabbalistic/mystical. In summary, the rabbinic approach, like the ancient Semitic, is generally concerned with proper behavior, which was shaped and preserved by halakha. The goal of the halakhic approach is to apply the Torah, which is eternal, within Israel’s contemporaneous circumstances. It should be noted that the purpose of the observant life was not to gain God’s favor. Rather, like the function of the Mishkan, which was constructed in order to preserve the profound intimacy of the Sinai experience within Israel, the goal of the observant life is to preserve the already established divine-human relationship. The kabbalistic/mystical perspective, very briefly, states that the Creation exists as a result of God’s7 contraction and concealment (tzimtzum). As a result of the Creator’s initiative to limit himself, which was done in order to provide the space (chalal) for the physical universe to exist, sparks of divine emanations were scattered within the world. Therefore, Israel is called to work towards the liberation of the divine light by performing the mitzvot. Notably, Rabbi Klayman postulates that the mystical perspective empowers its adherents to live holy lives and fosters a sense of human responsibility for working towards healing the world.
While reflecting upon the initial sections of Rabbi Klayman’s work, in which he provided his summaries of Scientific (Atheistic), Ancient Semitic, Christian, and Jewish worldviews, a few thoughts occurred. While the author’s survey of the Scientific (Atheistic) and Christian worldviews proved useful within the confines of the paper, it is my opinion that Rabbi Klayman’s effort would have been better served if his ink was spent in unpacking additional aspects of the particular Jewish worldviews. Clearly, the works of Jewish tradition are abundantly able to provide “building blocks” for constructing a viable Messianic Jewish eco-ethicology. The author’s brevity when providing his surveys of Traditional/Rabbinic Judaism and the Kabbalistic/Mystical worldview were unsatisfying. I hope that future discussions will deeply engage these invaluable Jewish sources. In addition, I believe that it may be helpful to conflate the Ancient Jewish worldview with the Rabbinic perspective, since notable aspects of ancient Semitic thought are preserved, evidenced, and demonstrated within the works of Chazal. Lastly, as a person who is developing a sincere fondness for the Baal Shem Tov and the pious figures and works of early Hasidism, I would have appreciated a more thorough discussion concerning the Kabbalistic/Mystical approach. I believe that certain ideas and concepts, which are found within the literature of the mystics, will prove to be most helpful and inspiring. I do believe that Rabbi Klayman would agree with me, as his work commences with a wonderful quote by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly commend Rabbi Klayman for his willingness to engage with the mystical Jewish approach.
Having established his “building blocks” for constructing a Messianic Jewish eco-ethicology, Rabbi Klayman constructs his metaphorical house, which is based upon his three pillars of Judaism: prayer, study and deeds of loving-kindness.8 Prayer: The sacred words of the Tanakh and Jewish liturgy are replete with praises for the Creator of the All. Study: The Bible speaks of humanity’s responsibility as the divinely appointed stewards of the Creation. Deeds of loving-kindness: The Torah compels us to partner with the Creator by ambitiously working for the benefit of others. In sum, reverence for the Creator, the obligations of Scripture and the call to demonstrate acts of loving-kindness work in concert to stimulate a Messianic Jewish eco-ethicogy.
Having established his rationale, Rabbi Klayman provides a few important guidelines. The author suggests that a Messianic Jewish ecological perspective must be governed by a genuine concern to serve others. The author is surely correct when he notes that one’s service towards others typically provides a mutual benefit. While this idea is true when serving others, the same principle holds true when working for the benefit of the natural world. Nature itself is replete with symbiotic relationships. Furthermore, as God’s partners in the work of Creation, humanity is, at times, called to subdue the chaos, to manage the elements within the world, in order to bless others.
Rabbi Klayman, with his work, has initiated an important discussion. While I may have formulated the discussion a little differently, while I may have established my position more squarely upon certain Jewish sources, I wholeheartedly support the author’s assertion that a Messianic Jewish approach towards ecology should and must be shaped by a concern for the other. This reminder, that we are to produce acts of loving-kindness, and that our lives are to be governed by this principle, is a most valuable contribution.
With the 2010 British Petroleum–Deepwater Horizon spill, many of us who live on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico unexpectedly entered into an impassioned debate concerning the viability of off-shore oil drilling. During the days and weeks that followed the initial explosion, while literally millions of gallons of oil gushed freely into the sea,9 many within our society were appalled at the devastation; many were outraged at the negligence of the drilling operation. However, while a handful of environmental groups expressed their anxiety concerning the harmful ecological impact of the spill, the vast majority of those living near the Gulf were generally focused upon the event’s negative economic ramifications. The principal concern, for many, was the dollar: How much money am I going to lose? How much is this spill going to cost me? In other words, the significance of the spill was evaluated by one’s personal economic impact.
One memorable evening, while standing near a patch of sandy dunes, I was overcome with a profound sense of sadness. For the first time in my life, an authentic, fervent yearning arose within my heart for the appearance of the Messiah. Maybe it was stimulated by something I ate for dinner, or, more likely, the repulsive kerosene-like fumes that sickened the seaside air from a source that was hundreds of miles away. Nevertheless, during that moment, I was overwhelmed with a life-changing thought: The world belongs to God10 and it is his Creation that is being destroyed at the hands of overly ambitious and greedy men. At the moment, I was struck with the possibility that the Creator of the All was saddened as well.
When considering the world’s affairs, I routinely reflect upon a notable idea, which has deeply impacted my personal worldview. Max Brod, a prolific Jewish thinker from the past century,11 proposes that there are three primary types of perspectives, or worldviews, which describe humanity’s approach in viewing the world: The Pagan approach; the Christian approach; and the Jewish approach. Brod postulates that the Pagan approach is self-centered; it seeks to exploit others. It views the world, and those within it, as objects, which may or may not prove to be useful in advancing one’s personal agenda. Likewise, the Christian approach is mainly concerned with the self. However, the Christian perspective presupposes that the world is intrinsically evil. Therefore, one tries to escape, to flee the modern world for the “godly” monastic life; he is consumed with the thought of securing entrance into Heaven. Lastly, according to Brod, there is the Jewish approach. The Jewish perspective, while cognizant of the world’s problems, views the world as essentially good.12 Therefore, the Jew, while noting the evils and difficulties of life, takes the initiative to repair the world, to elevate others, and to utilize it for God’s intended purposes. Thus, according to Brod, human beings, generally, have three approaches when dealing with the world: exploit it, escape it, or sanctify it.
When considering a Messianic Jewish eco-ethicology, our discussion must be grounded upon certain core principles:
• We are motivated by our love for God.
• Humanity was created to partner with God in the works of Creation. If this obligation is true for the nations, how much more so is it binding upon Israel?
• God has charged us with the task to consistently bless others.13
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev once said:
Declare at all times: ‘The world was created for my sake.’14 Do not declare: ‘Of what concern is this to me?’ But do your share to add some improvement, to supply something that is missing, and to leave the world a little better for your journey in it.15
1 Genesis 2:15.
2 Gerald Schroeder, Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery of Harmony Between Modern Science and the Bible (New York, NY: Bantam Publishing, 1991).
3 N. Scherman and M. Zlotowitz, The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Brooklyn NY, Mesorah Publications, 2001), 98.
4 Thorleif Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek (New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1970).
5 Like Rabbi Klayman, I am indebted to Dr. John Fischer for my understanding of this difficult topic.
6 The ancient Hebraic concept, found wthin the Bible, is that the individual was thought of as a part of the family, nation, tribe and that the family, nation, tribe was represented by the individual. Community was viewed as one personality. For a full discussion about corporate solidarity within Israel, see H. Wheeler Robinson, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel.(Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1980).
7 Ein Sof. See J. I. Schochet, Mystical Concepts in Chassidism (Brooklyn, NY: Kehot Publication Society, 1988).
8 Pirkei Avot 1:2. Simon, the Just was of the last survivors of the Great Synagogue. He used to say, “Upon three things the world rests: upon the Torah, upon the Temple service, and upon the doing of acts of kindness.”
9 Estimates suggest 4.9 million barrels. See: United Stated Coast Guard, On Scene Coordinator Report: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Jan. 2014. http://www.uscg.mil/foia/docs/dwh/fosc_dwh_report.pdf.
10 Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the L-RD’s and all that it holds, the world and its inhabitants.” Note: Targum Psalms: “Behold, the earth and its creatures are the L-RD’s.”
11 As told by Dr. Byron Sherwin. “Jewish Theology,” Lecture Notes, Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning, Chicago, IL 2008. See Max Brod, Paganism – Christianity – Judaism: A Confession of Faith (1921; Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 2010).
12 “And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”Genesis 1:31
13 A good model for a Messianic Jewish approach may be found in the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. “The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) deepens and broadens the Jewish community’s commitment to stewardship and protection of the Earth through outreach, activism and Jewish learning.” (http://www.coejl.org/aboutus/)
14 Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5.
15 Louis Newman, ed., The Hasidic Anthology: Tales and Teachings of the Hasidim (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1963).