A Scoutmaster may start his address with: Scouts, we began the service this evening with you reading how the Scout Law exemplifies biblical teachings. Indeed, scouting and religious values are very similar.
Frequently, we recite the Outdoor Code:
“As an American I will do my best to – Be clean in my outdoor manners. Be careful with fire. Be considerate in the outdoors. Be conservation-minded”
Interestingly, Jewish law says a lot about nature and conservation and is in fact very consistent with Scouting values. As many of you know, the major source of Jewish law is the Torah – the first five books of the Bible which are on the Torah scrolls in the ark behind me. Our tradition teaches that the Torah was given to Moses by God at Mt. Sinai 3300 years ago. But the Torah is difficult to understand, so beginning about 2000 years and for over 500 years the greatest Jewish sages wrote a detailed interpretation of the Torah to instruct people how to live. That interpretation is known as the Talmud.
So what do the Torah and the Talmud tell us about conservation and nature? A lot.
Let me give you just three examples.
Jewish law teaches us the principle of bal tashit, a Hebrew term meaning “do not destroy.” This biblical teaching instructs us to respect nature, a Biblical example being to avoid cutting down trees – even during war. Later interpretations of bal tashit instruct us to preserve all in nature – to respect and protect the environment, including animal life. Contemporary interpretations of bal tashit teach us to conserve and recycle natural resources including wood and water. Jewish law teaches us that we are ethically responsible for any destruction of natural resources, whether contributing to it directly or indirectly.
What about water pollution? Water is indispensable to the continuation of life. Yet today, water supplies throughout the world are both threatened and threatening (such as with acid rain). Water is so valuable that over the centuries the rabbis instituted several laws to safeguard it from pollution. It is no coincidence that today Israel is a pioneer in water conservation and reuse. Between 1989 and 1991, Jerusalem achieved a 14 percent drop in per capita water use through “water-saving devices, leak detection and repair, and more efficient irrigation of parks.”
How about animal rights and general respect for Nature? Respecting nature is demanded in Jewish law. Even flies, fleas, and mosquitoes, are included in the creation of the world. Although we might not appreciate the need for certain animals – and some may even bother us – the Talmud declares that God created nothing without a purpose. The manner in which animals are slaughtered for kosher meat is based on preventing cruelty to the animals.
Discussing just these three environmental issues in light of Jewish thought and law illustrates that traditional Judaism includes a concern for the environment and the instruction necessary to inspire us to live in an environmentally conscious manner. The consistency between Jewish law and the modern environmental movement is remarkable.
Our Jewish tradition teaches that the environment, like man, has certain unalienable rights, and these rights are endowed to it by the Creator. As a result they may not be summarily dismissed or violated.
The writer Jeremy Cohen said that responsible interaction with the environment offers us the deepest personal and spiritual fulfillment, while environmental irresponsibility will lead to their physical and spiritual demise.
Scouting teaches values as do our synagogues and churches. It is no surprise that many of these universal values address how we relate to nature. The values of our Scout Oath and Law, and our Outdoor Code, can help to guide us on how to live well and in a spiritually correct manner.