This month we review a book that shows how a return to traditional Jewish values can be utilized to solve current global problems for mankind.
Judaism and Global Survival
By Richad H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Lantern Books, 2002
Gradually, rabbis interpreted this biblical passage to mean that the destruction or waste of all things beneficial to humans is prohibited. Thus, humans are "co-workers with God to preserve and improve the world." According to Schwartz, people act as caretakers of the world and must make sure that everything produced is shared by all of God's children. People are renting or leasing the earth, but the true owner is God.
Instead of being guided by bal taschchit, mankind has ignored this edict and has followed a wasteful and destructive path causing irreparable harm to the environment. Schwartz details how corporations seeking huge profits have ignored the principle to avoid waste and destruction. As a result, there is air and water pollution, acid rain, destruction of rain forests, and pesticide poisoning, Schwartz's solution to these problems is a return to Jewish values such as bal tashchit. By applying these values God's co-workers can accomplish tikkun olam (restoring and redeeming the earth).
Bal tashchit also becomes an important consideration in Schwartz's discussion of energy. He distinguishes between soft energy and hard energy. Soft energy emerges from renewable sources while hard energy, once used, is gone forever. Harnessing sun, wind, and water to produce energy is creating energy that is not destroying or wasting. Burning fossil fuel like coal and oil is creating hard energy that is both wasteful and destructive to the environment.
For Schwartz, bal tashchit becomes a significant issue for vegetarians. Vegetarianism is a global imperative. The killing of animals for human food is destructive and wasteful. It has resulted in disease in humans, pain inflicted on animals, world hunger, and environmental pollution. Many of these ideas were ably presented in Schwartz's last book Judaism and Vegetarianism. The VIP review of that book appears at Judaism and Vegetarianism
But bal tashchit is not the only focus of this book. The author points out that Jews are required to protest injustice and work for changes, even though those changes may be exceedingly difficult. Jews are also obligated to work for human rights and to actively pursue peace.
These obligations involve principles like loving one's neighbors, being kind to strangers, not discriminating against others on the grounds of race, giving charity, showing compassion for others, helping the poor, and being ethical in business dealings.
Unfortunately, violence and war are the products of injustice. Dr. Schwartz reveals that the Hebrew words for war and bread come from the same root. Scholars have interpreted this commonality to mean that the lack of bread or adequate food leads peoples to warfare.
"Throughout most of history, the world's people have too often beaten their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears," says Schwartz. Jewish teachings preach against violence and urge Jews to be active participants in working for world peace, even if those efforts involve personal sacrifices.
Schwartz also focuses on international concerns like economic globalization, the population explosion, and global climate changes. In discussing all of these social problems he constantly returns to Jewish values and shows how ignorance of these values has led to many of the problems.
The first edition of this book was written in 1984 while he was a professor of mathematics at the College of Staten Island, New York. In this latest revision he updates and expands on his extensive research of global problems and displays his knowledge of Jewish teachings that apply to those problems. For those who are moved to take action after reading about global problems, Professor Schwartz provides a lengthy appendix that lists ideas for people who want to work towards solutions. He also includes listings of activist groups and publications as well as an annotated bibliography.
You don't have to be Jewish to read Judaism and Global Survival. The world problems he details are ones faced by everyone on the planet. The values he discusses are relevant to all religions and all peoples. In fact, they are values espoused in so many religions.
After reading this book, this reviewer would bestow the following titles upon Dr. Richard Schwartz:
Reviewed June 2003