Jewish Environmental Ethics at EXPO

Jewish Environmental Ethics at EXPO

On July 7-8, a coffee talk on Jewish Environmental Ethics took place at the KKL-JNF compound of the Israel pavillion at EXPO 2015 in Milan. The talks focused on the connection between Judaism and environmental ethics, with special emphasis on the concept of Shmita, the Jewish fallow year in the Land of Israel.

For several decades now, activists, politicians and leaders, as well as ordinary people, have all sought ways to enable the burgeoning global population to continue to develop and grow as a species but in a manner that will sustain the planet’s resources and protect its ecosystems. Many of us look to our religious and cultural roots for inspiration. The Jewish people, who gave the world the Bible, have a rich tradition in the area of environmental ethics. The commentaries of the sages over the millennia have developed our understanding of the role of human beings as an integral part of the tapestry of Creation, in balance with the environment and other living things.

"Jewish Environmental Ethics" was the topic of two special events at the KKL-JNF compound at Israel pavilion at Expo 2015, featuring guest speaker Einat Kramer, the director of Teva Ivri (Jewish Nature), an Israeli NGO committed to increasing the connection between Judaism and environmental discourse in Israel. The auditorium was packed for both sessions, including scientists, doctors, environmentalists, religious officials and journalists. The event was moderated by Carlo Baroni, a senior journalist for Corriere della Sera, one of Italy's major newspapers, who also wrote an extensive article describing the event.

In her talk, Ms. Kramer explained the significance of the sabbatical year in Israel, which occurs every seventh year and in its literal meaning requires farmers and landowners to leave their fields fallow, relinquish ownership of the produce, let the soil rest, and enable any person or animal to take part in the land’s abundance through free access to its produce. In addition, financial debts are cancelled during this year, and people receive the opportunity to begin a new period of financial and social freedom. Ms. Kramer showed how this ancient obligation is being imaginatively reinterpreted so that its core ethical meaning becomes relevant to the needs of a 21st century modern society, whether through the sale of fruit and vegetables at cost price, or through the change in KKL-JNF's annual work plan, such as not planting trees during this year.

Professor Claudia Sorlini, President of the Scientific Committee for Expo 2015 and Past Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Milan, expanded on this topic and showed how the Jewish concept of the sabbatical year has been adopted by other cultures in past to present times. Professor Sorlini, who is also a member of the KKL Italy Honorary Presidium, also commended KKL-JNF for its many environmental achievements, particularly in the field of planting trees, research and development, and protecting Israel's open spaces.

On Wednesday, July 8, Dr. Maurizio Fornari, Neurosurgery Unit Director of Humanitas Research Hospital in Milan and one of Italy's foremost surgeons, joined the discussion. Dr. Fornari, who is also a member of the KKL Italy Honorary Presidium, spoke about environmental ethics in various Christian and Jewish sources, including the Bible, Jewish jurisprudence, the New Testament and more. "We need to respect nature," he said, "but we also need to help it. According to the Bible, the earth was given to man to protect, so we cannot take advantage of it on the one hand, but on the other hand, we have an obligation to make the most of it in a sustainable manner. I think KKL-JNF has achieved a good sense of this balance in its various environmental projects in Israel."