by Lewis G. Regenstein
(New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1991)
Reviewed by Richard H. Schwartz, Ph. D.
There is an apparent contradiction between two verses in Psalms: "The earth is the Lord's" (Ps. 24:1) and "The heavens are the heavens of God, but the earth has given by God to human beings" (Ps. 115:16). According to the Talmud, the apparent discrepancy is cleared up in the following way: Before a person says a b'racha (a blessing), before he/she acknowledges God's ownership of the land and its products, then "the earth is the Lord's"; after a person has said a b'racha, acknowledging God's ownership and that we are stewards to see that God's works are properly used and shared, then "the earth has been given by God to human beings."
Unfortunately, few people have heeded this important lesson. The prevalent view today seems to be not that "the earth is the Lord`s" and that people have an important stewardship role, but rather that people have complete freedom to use and exploit the world for maximum profit. Largely because of this attitude, our world is currently facing many environmental threats related to acid rain, the greenhouse effect, ozone layer depletion, erosion of topsoil, destruction of forests and other habitats, pollution of air, water, and soil, and toxic wastes. It is significant that in its first issue of 1989 Time magazine, instead of choosing its usual person of the year, selected our endangered earth as "planet of the year".
In view of the above, one might wonder where organized religion has been while the earth has been so ravaged. In this context, Lewis Regenstein`s Replenish the Earth provides some extremely good news. It carefully documents that there are very powerful messages in all the world`s major religions and many minor religions on stewardship, conservation, and compassion for animals. Also, it discusses many examples of the recent surge of interest and activity on environmental issues in many religious communities, including Jewish communities.
While the book has material of value to people of all religions, and even to people who profess no religion, there are several sections that are of particular interest to concerned Jews:
1. The opening chapter discusses the message in the Torah (although that word isn`t used) and other traditional Jewish sources on conservation and kindness to animals;
2. The views of the prophets on sacrifices is considered;
3. There is a 38 page chapter on "Judaism: The Jewish Tradition of Kindness" that considers Jewish teachings on vegetarianism, hunting, caring for domestic animals, blood sports, nature and animals in worship, and wildlife conservation. The chapter includes Talmudic and current Jewish writings as well as several stories about Jewish heroes and their relationships with animals.
4. The book points to vegetarianism as being the diet most compatible with Jewish values, as well as those of other religions.
Mr. Regenstein is superbly qualified to write this book. He is the author of America the Poisoned and How to Survive in America the Poisoned., a book that was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. His articles have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He is the Director of the Interfaith Council for the Protection of Animals and Nature in Atlanta, Georgia, an affiliate of the Humane Society of the United States, and vice-president of Help Our Planet Earth. Hence he has an extensive background on both environmental problems as well as religious views on the issues.
As is inevitable in a work of this scope, there are some statements that can be challenged. For example, contrary to Mr. Regenstein`s assertion, the general view of Biblical scholars is that the Biblical prophets condemned not sacrifices as an institution but sacrifices when carried out along with acts of injustice. His statement that through the prophets, "the Lord ordered that (sacrifices) be ended", would be questioned by many people. Also, he should be clearer in indicating that shackling and hoisting are not integral parts of shechita. (Jewish kosher slaughter).
These are relatively small problems in a book that superbly captures the essence of religion`s teachings with regard to nature and to animals. Such teachings provide one more reason why additional knowledgeable, committed religious people should get involved in increasing study and dialogue on connections between religion and the natural world. The realities of today`s environmental crises demand no less. Replenish the Earth is very helpful in efforts to continue dialogues on the important issues that it considers since it has quotes from many religious leaders, 30 pages of footnotes, and an index.
This is an extremely important and timely book. I hope that it will be widely read and that people committed to religious mandates to preserve the earth will see that it gets into the hands of religious leaders of all faiths, that it is widely discussed by religious groups, and that its message is brought to the attention of religious educators.
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