The Citizens' Voice

On Yom Kippur, Jewish teachings match pope’s environmen­tal encyclical

- By Brendan Gibbons Staff Writer bgibbons@timesshamr­, @bgibbonsTT

SCRANTON — Rabbi Daniel Swartz asked the crowd to close their eyes and imagine the first thing that comes to mind at the word “environmen­t.”

“How many of you had people in that image?” he asked as their eyes opened. Most people shook their heads.

“We separate ourselves from the environmen­t,” Rabbi Swartz said. “If you understand the environmen­t is where we live … then it becomes a little more important.”

On Wednesday, the spiritual leader of Scranton’s Temple Hesed led a discussion that matched segments of “Laudato si,’” Pope Francis’ environmen­tal encyclical, with texts from the Torah and Jewish thinkers from ancient to modern times.

Environmen­tal mandates in the Torah range all the way back to the Jewish prophets, with versus like Isaiah 5:8, reading “Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, til there is room for none.” From the Leviticus Rabbah, he quoted a metaphoric­al story of sitting in a ship, while one man drills a hole into the hull beneath him. When his companions asked what he was doing, the man replied, “I am only boring a hole under my part of the ship.”

Rabbi Swartz also referenced “Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis,” signed this year by 350 North American rabbis and released ahead of the pope’s encyclical. That document called out the “great Carbon Corporatio­ns” for extracting enormous profits from the destructio­n of the Earth, then using those profits to influence elections and push fake science to confuse the public.

The discussion took place on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and the first full day of Francis’ visit to the United States. Twenty people of Christian and Jewish faiths attended the discussion, including a Catholic priest and several nuns.

Sister Loretta Mulry, IHM, brought up the wave of natural disasters accelerate­d by climate change that have struck the U.S., including the drought and wildfires now ravaging California.

“The effects of our progress, which turns out not to be progress, are staring us right in the face,” Sister Mulry said.

Several people focused on climate change’s daunting scale. Some thought the problem might correct itself as the consequenc­es of carbon pollution become more evident.

Climate scientists predict melting polar ice caps will cause widespread sea level rise, flooding coastal regions. Changing growing regions and more severe droughts and floods will also disrupt agricultur­e, causing food prices to rise. Both will cause millions of deaths, which could bring balance to the system, some argued.

Others took the more optimistic view that an abrupt social change can stop the worst of the warming. While it may too late for many adults, children can still learn a new way than current American consumeris­m.

In a capitalist society like the US, creating incentives is the best way to reward environmen­tal solutions while discouragi­ng pollution, argued Ken Miller, DDS.

What Francis and other religious leaders bring to the issue of climate change is an “appeal to our better selves” and faith that a better world is possible, Rabbi Swartz said.

‘We separate ourselves from the environmen­t. If you understand the environmen­t is where we live … then it becomes a little more important.’


Temple Hesed

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