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The medrash in kohelet rabah 7:13 says to not destroy the planet on grounds that there's no one who will be able to repair the damages. Is this an endorsement for Jews to be concerned with climate change and the like? Would G.od really allow us humans to destroy ourselves in this manner? Furthermore, being that humanity's effect on the destruction of the planet is debated amongst scientists, what is Judasim's approach to science in this respect?

רְאֵה אֶת מַעֲשֵׂה הָאֱלֹהִים כִּי מִי יוּכַל לְתַקֵּן אֵת אֲשֶׁר עִוְּתוֹ, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, נְטָלוֹ וְהֶחֱזִירוֹ עַל כָּל אִילָנֵי גַּן עֵדֶן, וְאָמַר לוֹ, רְאֵה מַעֲשַׂי כַּמָּה נָאִים וּמְשֻׁבָּחִין הֵן, וְכָל מַה שֶּׁבָּרָאתִי בִּשְׁבִילְךָ בָּרָאתִי, תֵּן דַּעְתְּךָ שֶׁלֹא תְקַלְקֵל וְתַחֲרִיב אֶת עוֹלָמִי, שֶׁאִם קִלְקַלְתָּ אֵין מִי שֶׁיְתַקֵּן אַחֲרֶיךָ

“See the work of God, for who can mend what He has warped?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13)“See the work of God, for who can mend what He has warped?” When the Holy One blessed be He created Adam the first man, He took him and showed him all the trees in the Garden of Eden, and He said to him: ‘See My creations, how beautiful and exemplary they are. Everything I created, I created for you. Make certain that you do not ruin and destroy My world, as if you destroy it, there will be no one to mend it after you.

My question is whether this medrash implies that our "alleged damage" to the world is irreversible or not?

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    The midrash seems to be referring to spiritual preservation. As for environmentalism, Judaism teaches us not to be wasteful and destructive, but I don't know that we're tasked with saving the planet in the broad physical sense. See also judaism.stackexchange.com/q/30968/6592
    – shmosel
    Jul 30, 2023 at 5:06
  • The medrash mentions trees which doesn't seem to point toward spiritual preservation.
    – Shababnik
    Jul 30, 2023 at 6:16
  • It's talking about preserving the physical world (to the extent the Gan Eden can be considered physical) by proper spiritual conduct.
    – shmosel
    Jul 30, 2023 at 6:19
  • Is there a source for your claim that this is connected to spirituality?
    – Shababnik
    Jul 30, 2023 at 7:21
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    It's in context of Adam and the destruction he brought to the world by sinning. Do you have a reason to interpret it otherwise?
    – shmosel
    Jul 30, 2023 at 7:53

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Interesting question.

Taking a strictly legal perspective:

If it were to be forbidden to contribute to climate change, it would be worth analyzing the "shiur". In other words, we need to investigate what type of behavior specifically, and in what amount, would be forbidden.

Here are some specific actions that by tradition are permissible in any measure, but are reputed to contribute to climate change:

  • Lighting fires with any type of fuel

  • Throwing garbage in the ocean

  • Raising cattle

  • Cutting down trees for fuel or other uses

The assumptions I'm making here are:

  1. that if it were to be forbidden, it would be forbidden in minimal measure, or there would be a specific, clearly definable act that would be forbidden
  2. that the Torah would have preempted this discussion by forbidding such acts in certain measures

Note that this argument does not preclude the idea that it might be in keeping with good values to preserve the climate, but rather addresses what are the legal obligations of the individual.

Outside of that issue, it's worth investigating if we are required to encourage non-jews to preserve the climate. I don't believe it's anywhere in the Noahide laws.

All of that aside, there are some things that the Torah does not need to advise because they are of obvious benefit. If that's the case, it doesn't have a specific endorsement.

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  • In response to your 2nd point, the Torah doesn't involve itself with science it leaves that up to the rabanan and the scientific worldview of the time.
    – Shababnik
    Aug 2, 2023 at 13:22
  • My question is whether this medrash implies that our "alleged damage" to the world is irreversible as per this medrash or not?
    – Shababnik
    Aug 2, 2023 at 13:25
  • @Shababnik I see. I thought it was about "is this an endorsement for Jews to care about climate change". However, even with your point about about science (which is borne out by the fact that the Torah does not instruct us on nutrition but instead tells us to care for out health and learn about how to do that), with climate change, there is no "moderation" to my knowledge; any burned fuel advances the greenhouse effect. If that's the case, why is it permitted expressly? This answer preempts the question you intended, because if there IS no damage, it is certainly not the topic of the medrash. Aug 3, 2023 at 6:57
  • Non-Jew's mission is building the world, making it civilised and liveable (based on Yishayahu 45:18), so indeed we should encourage them to do so when we have the opportunity.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Aug 9, 2023 at 9:50
  • 'there is no "moderation" to my knowledge; any burned fuel advances the greenhouse effect.' That seems wrong to me. Anything that takes from the world does "damage" to everyone else, in the sense that they can't take it anymore. I'm allowed to do it anyhow, in moderation. You need to quantify this. If I increase global temperature a billionth of a degree, we may all be justified in ignoring it. If I understand correctly, almost all major impacts are currently driven by China's CO2 and soon India's CO2 and eventually Africa's CO2, and whatever the rest of us do is becoming increasingly trivial.
    – MichoelR
    Aug 9, 2023 at 16:45
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This Etz Yosef explains that Hashem is bringing a limit on what was taught before. In a previous teaching, we were informed that Hashem created Adam first, rather than Avraham, because if Avraham sinned, then nobody would be able to fix it. However, if Adam sinned, Avraham would be able to fix it.

Therefore, says Etz Yosef, this teaching is clarifying that the damage that Avraham will repair is not referring to the damage of the curses resulting from Adam's sin. Those, he cannot repair.

So this is not referring to climate change, Hashem is warning Adam that there will be some damage he will do when he eats the tree that cannot be repaired by anyone, and that damage is the cursed land, death etc. which fall upon the land forever.

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  • That is not the plain meaning of the midrash. The midrash is referring to destructive behavior in relation to God's creation, the earth. While the midrash was unaware of climate change, this includes climate change.
    – Turk Hill
    Aug 9, 2023 at 19:19
  • @TurkHill I don't know if I am as good at reading midrash as you, to me this is a drash, so "the plain meaning of a midrash" hurts my brain lol.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Aug 9, 2023 at 19:28
  • Of course, we have to remember that whatever is of God’s doing is unalterable by man.
    – Turk Hill
    Aug 9, 2023 at 21:11
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There are two main positions held by mainstream religious Jews regarding climate change.

A quick summary of the theory of climate change: CO2 emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels, are causing the Earth's climate to warm to the point that it will eventually become so hot at the poles that the icecaps will melt, resulting in a rise in sea levels that will devestate large swaths of currently inhabited land, including 75% of the world's major cities.

One group of mainstream religious Jews looks at this phenomenon and immediately sees the Rambam's Negative Commandment #57 against wanton/needless destruction.

Interestingly, this commandment, which is based on Devarim 20:19 is read out by the Gemarra to refer to needless destruction in general, but in the Torah refers specifically to trees (the case in the Torah is the fruit trees belonging to an enemy city under siege and how even in such a situation it is forbidden to destroy them).

The other mainstream group of religious Jews looks at this phenomenon and immediately refers to Genesis 9:11-14 and says, "oh, the fear is that the world will be destroyed by a flood? G-d explicitly said, "And I will establish My covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth."

The latter argument is further bolstered by the Gemarra in Avodah Zarah 3B-4A, which states

"And if you wish, say instead that this is referring to the World-to-Come, in accordance with the statement of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish. As Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says: There is no Gehenna in the World-to-Come. Rather, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will remove the sun from its sheath [minnarteikah], where it is situated during these times, and heats [umakdir] that world with it. The wicked will be punished by it and consumed by the heat, but the righteous will be healed by it. The wicked will be punished by it, as it is written:

“For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble; and the day that comes shall set them ablaze, said the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 3:19).

This verse is interpreted as follows: Neither a root shall remain for them in this world, nor will a branch grow for them in the World-to-Come. This teaches that the sun itself will burn and consume the wicked in the future. And the righteous will be healed by it, as it is written in the next verse: “But to you that fear My Name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 3:20). And moreover, not only will they be healed by it, but they will even be rejuvenated by it, as it is stated in the continuation of that verse: “And you shall go forth and leap as calves of the stall.” [end quote from the Gemarra]

This Gemarra appears to imply that a process similar to what we perceive as global warming may actually be extremely beneficial.

Both groups clearly have solid textual suport for their positions, and both groups have rabbis big and small in their camps.

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    This is a false dichotomy. God also promised that the Jewish people will not cease to exist and yet the prohibition on murder remains in force.
    – Double AA
    Jul 31, 2023 at 22:52
  • Quite true @DoubleAA. But I am not giving prescriptive psak on 'what a Jew should believe about climate change' I'm describing two widely held positions and the texts underpinning them. Jul 31, 2023 at 22:55
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    @DoubleAA I don't think your example is symmetric. Murder is definitely causing a detrimental effect, while burning fossil fuels is only debatably going to bring destruction to the world; according to the view that relates the assured continuation of the world to climate change, Hashem won't allow the world to suffer that ruin, which means that the act of burning fossil fuels doesn't cause a definite detrimental effect. Aug 1, 2023 at 19:00
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    @DoubleAA I'm saying in the way that they interpret it. The point of the answer was not to argue with the positions but to explain them. Murder definitely causes a detrimental effect because the person definitely dies. Aug 1, 2023 at 19:25
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    @DoubleAA I don't think that's exactly right. The point of the answer, if I understood it correctly, was to connect those claims to climate change. Those connections are absolutely controversial, and they lead to opposing views on climate change. If you believe that G-d won't allow the world to be destroyed entirely, regardless of man's actions, that can be understood to mean that ignoring climate change doesn't necessarily cause any harm at any level, so it's altogether different than murdering a single Jew, which causes harm without destroying all Jews. This has been explained sufficiently. Aug 2, 2023 at 0:21

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