Climate change has clearly emerged in the current century as one of the existential threats to our planet. While several books have explored the topic through a Jewish lens, The Sacred Earth is notable for its excellent thematic approach and its holistic coverage of major issues.
Rabbi Andrue J. Kahn has organized this anthology into five parts: “Theology,” “Jewish Texts,” “Encountering the Divine,” “Sacred Time,” and “Contemporary Responses.” The voices of different scholars, rabbis, and activists offer varied perspectives and insights.
The “Theology” section, appropriately the first section, contains short essays that take basic Jewish theological principles and reframe them through the Anthropocene, the concept that humans have begun a new age on the planet in which sustainability is endangered. The quality of the essays is uniformly high; particularly powerful is Jeremy Benstein’s reading of the book of Genesis, which weighs dominion with stewardship.
In “Jewish Texts,” Mirile Goldsmith and Adriana Leveen use the book of Jonah and the book of Job, respectively, as test cases for social change, while Rabbi Devorah Diana Lynn offers a new way to read the third paragraph of the Sh’ma through an ecological lens. With these powerful innovations, each writer reclaims ancient texts for a contemporary audience.
“Encountering the Divine” is the most personal section of the anthology. Moving outside of shuls and school, the authors in this section relate moments of spiritual contact in nature — small acts of ecological significance that reach surprising depths. Meanwhile, the “Sacred Time” section features some wonderful voices from the Jewish Youth Climate Movement.
The final section, “Contemporary Responses,” moves from the theoretical to the practical, with topics that range from creating a new halacha of environmentalism to finding ways for synagogues to model sustainability. The final essay in the collection is by Rabbi Jenny Rosenn, the founder of Dayenu, a Jewish organization for climate justice. She makes clear that the time for activism is now — that our planet is hurtling toward destruction, and that we as Jews must act. It is a powerful close to an outstanding collection of essays.
Josh Hanft holds Advanced Degrees in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and curated the renowned reading series, Scribblers on the Roof, for over twenty years.