I believe, respectfully, that we are failing to apply Jewish values to some of the critical issues facing our society and world today. I write this deeply aware of my own limitations and failings, but also with an appreciation of our tradition`s emphasis on speaking out to try to improve things:
1. Jerusalem was destroyed because its citizens failed in their responsibility to criticize one another (Shabbat 99b);
2. "Love which does not contain the element of criticism is not really love" (Genesis Rabbah 54:3);
3. According to a talmudic story, only once did God change a favorable decree to an unfavorable one, and that was to punish apparently righteous people who failed to protest against evil(Shabbat 55a);
4. If one can protest against transgressions of his(or her) own family, community, and even the entire world, and fails to do so, that person is punished for those transgressions (Shabbat 54b).
Hence, I wonder how we can be so silent when the values of our society are so completely contrary to Jewish values:
1. When G-d created the world, He was able to say,"It is very good", But what does He think of the world today, with its acid rain, potential global warming and climate changes due to the greenhouse effect, depletion of the ozone layer, the destruction of tropical rain forests at an unbelievable rate (and half the plant and animal species that G-d put on earth reside there and some of these species that are being rapidly destroyed may hold the key to cures to some of today`s dreaded diseases), soil erosion and depletion, and widespread toxic dumps. No wonder Time Magazine chose"Our Endangered Earth" as "Planet of the Year" rather than its usual "Person of the Year", in 1988.
2. While Judaism teaches bal tashchit , that we not waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value, our society is based on "buying, using, and disposing of". Perhaps the greatest symbol of our wastefulness is the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, the world`s largest garbage dump. For its Nov.27, 1989 cover story, "The Garbage Crisis: An Environmental Crisis Reaches Our Doorstep", their cover had a map of the U. S. completely covered with garbage.
3. While Judaism stresses that G-d provides enough food for every person on earth, an estimated 20 million people die annually every year due to hunger and its effects. About 8 million infants die annually in the world before their first birthday.
4. In view of strong Jewish mandates to be compassionate to animals, preserve health, help feed the hungry,protect the environment, conserve resources, and seek and pursue peace, and the very negative effects that animal-centered diets have in each of these areas, why do so few Jews seriously consider vegetarianism?
5. What would the Jewish prophets say about our society today? about Judaism in our time? about our synagogues' activities? Why do we have so few dreams about a better world, about tikkun olam, through Jewish teachings? Have we forgotten among our many important classes that it is not study that is the chief thing,but action? Are we segregating G-d in our synagogues? Are we defining Jewish commitment too narrowly, primarily in terms of adherence to ritual only? Shouldn`t Jewish commitment also include sensitivity to ethical values and social idealism?
6. Have we forgotten who we are, and what we stand for, and Who we represent? Have we forgotten our roles: to be a chosen people, a light onto the nations, a holy people, descendants of the prophets?
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