Today marks the 15th of the Jewish month of Shevat, or Tu B’Shvat, perhaps the world’s first Earth Day.
Dating back to the middle ages, this minor Jewish holiday has increased in importance as organized religions have joined the mostly secular green movement. Known also as “New Year for Trees,” Tu B’Shvat is now viewed as an opportunity to celebrate the importance of taking care of the Earth. Whole organizations have sprung up dedicated to this mission. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) is the leading Jewish group in the religious/environmental arena. It’s interesting to note how they connect their religious/ethical values to environmental advocacy.
“COEJL seeks to expand the contemporary understanding of such Jewish values as tikkun olam (repairing the world) and tzedek (justice) to include the protection of both people and other species from environmental degradation. COEJL seeks to extend such traditions as social action and g’milut hasadim (performing deeds of loving kindness) to environmental action and advocacy. And shalom (peace or wholeness), which is at the very core of Jewish aspirations, is in its full sense harmony in all creation.”
The concept of environmental justice lends itself particularly well to the concept of religiously-based environmentalism, it would seem. Yet some religious leaders have been quite critical of the environmental movement, decrying it as a “pseudo-religion.” While I do believe science must play a large role in our efforts to create a healthier world for our children, I also think it’s possible for religious groups to “serve the cause,” if you will. Why shouldn’t religious education highlight “love thy Earth” messages as well as “love thy neighbor”? Shouldn’t the principle of social action, long a staple of many organized religions, be seen in green terms as well? I don’t think you have to worship any religion to care for the Earth, let me make that quite clear. But if you do – is that inconsistent with caring about our world, our effects on it, and its effects on us?
There is growing dissent on this front even within conservative Christian circles. As Bill Moyers documents in “Is God Green?“, even such historically anti-environmentalist religious groups are examining ways to reconcile belief systems with shepherding the earth toward healthier times.
Of note, it turns out that “Earth Day” in the U.S. was created in 1969 by Iowan John McConnell… the son of an evangelist.