It may seem obvious that we should 'look after' the world that Hashem gives us but is it considered a mitzvah to involve oneself in nature conservation and/or recycling?


6 Answers 6


As mentioned in NBZ's answer, the Torah prohibits destroying fruit trees, and this prohibition extends to destructive and wasteful behavior in general (Rambam, Hil. M'lachim 6:10).

Additionally, we are encouraged to maintain our surroundings properly. Rashi (Bava Kamma 6a, s.v. Biymos hachamma) explains that it is forbidden to empty to one's drains and gutters into a clean street since it will make it dirty (see also Shulchan Aruch CM 414).

In the Talmud's (Shabbos 33b) illustration, when our forefather Ya'akov arrived in Shechem, he established a local currency, constructed public roads, and built public bathhouses. As Rashi (B'reishis 33:18-20) points out, when Yaakov encamped in this new locale, he also enhanced it (the Hebrew words for "encamp" and "beautify" share the same root); when he purchased land, he also improved it ("purchase" and "improve" share the same root in Hebrew).

So it appears that we should maintain our environment and certainly not destroy it. Whether these considerations affect conservation of uninhabited areas or require recycling is less certain, and I'll leave that for another poster to address.

  • Your answer seems to discuss "quality of life" issues for societies rather than nature conservation per se, particularly the bit about Ya'akov. Constructing roads, while not terrible for the environment in Ya'akov's time, isn't exactly nature conservation either.
    – Yitzchak
    Sep 9, 2013 at 22:21
  • 1
    @Yitzchak True, but to the degree that nature conservation fulfills the purpose of seeing to the upkeep of our surroundings, my answer is relevant. (Also, recycling might arguably be considered a means of avoiding bal tashchis).
    – Fred
    Sep 9, 2013 at 22:28
  • +1 regarding the presenting Midrash as history, see judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/53349/belief-in-midrashim/….
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 28, 2016 at 22:49
  • @mevaqesh Thanks for the link. Regardless of whether those remarks in the gemara and Rashi are historical or ahistorical, Chazal are clearly encouraging civic mindedness. (I'm not suggesting you're saying otherwise; I assume you agree based on your vote. I just wanted to emphasize that point :) ).
    – Fred
    Jul 29, 2016 at 1:56
  • @Fred You correctly surmised that I agree. My point was merely regarding the wording. I personally would have written: "The Talmud illustrates Yaakov's arrival in Shechem..."
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 29, 2016 at 2:00

We are obligated in passive nature preservation of natural valuable resources. Those of no value are possibly included too. When the author of the following tshuva* was asked about an active obligation, he responded that he doesn't know a source for such a mitzvah. (Emphasis is mine.)

  1. one who Breaks dishes or tears Garments or destroys anything of value is violating the Prohibition in the Torah called Baal Tashchis.

    The shita of the Rambam in the Laws of kings chapt 6 hal # 5 As per the Teshuvos chasam sofer choshen mishpat 27 is that It is a torah prohibition.

    The Noda beyehuda disagrees in His responsa Yoreh deah # 10 and considers it a rabbinic Prohibition.

    Agreeing with the Noda Beyehuda are great poskim such As the responsa Mahari bessin, Mishne lemelech,responsa of Beis Yitzchok #142 ,the Chaye Adam in hilchos tzitzis.

  2. The prohibition against being Wasteful is even if the object being wasted is from Hefker according to the above mentioned teshuvos noda beyehuda and The Baal hatanya In his shulchan aruch Harav hilchos shmiras haguf.

  3. There is an unresolved discussion regarding wasting an Object that has no monetary value.

    The teshuvos hisorres teshuva vol2 # 183 and teshuvos chavalim banimim. And Rav Yosef C Sonnenfeld ,zt'l Remain with this doubt.

  4. spending money mindlessly is Included in the Prohibition of Baal Tashchis according to Rabbenu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuva 3-fn 82 and semak mitzva # 173

* R' Leib Tropper's e-mail list, Shoel and Meishiv, May 23, '13.

  • I wouldn't mention the source of this as it is an embarrassment.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 28, 2016 at 22:50
  • @mevaqesh What are you talking about?!
    – Adám
    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:13
  • How about this: "In early December 2009, recordings circulated on the internet that contained conversations between Tropper and a woman whose conversion he had been supervising, encouraging the woman to engage in sexual activities with others; the two also discuss having sex with each other" and "tapes in which Tropper is heard encouraging a pretty, blond 32-year-old woman who Tropper was guiding through conversion to participate in phone sex and actual sex with men the rabbi knows: He also fantasized about rape. [cont.]
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:21
  • [cont.] The scandal has rocked the Orthodox community from Rockland to Israel" On 14 February 2010 Tropper was to be summoned to a meeting in the Yeshiva Bais Mikroh of Monsey where the Rabbonim were to demand that Tropper resign all his posts and leave Monsey.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:22
  • @mevaqesh While already obvious from hilchos lashon hara, I heard a confirmation first hand from R' Reuven Feinstein, that it is forbidden to believe such about an otherwise observant Jew, and even if there was proper eidus (there wasn't), one would be obligated to assume he had already done t'shuva. Btw, the originator of the accusations apparently committed suicide not long after.
    – Adám
    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:31

To add to the previous answers, I would say that there isn't really much in ironclad halakha about recycling for obvious reasons and to get a "Jewish View" we'd have to go back to Tanach where things are ambiguous as usual. On the one hand one can quote "לעבדה ולשמרה" (Genesis 2:15) as evidence that that conserving nature is man's sole purpose. On the other hand, we have several verses such as Genesis 1:28 and Isaiah 45:28 indicating that it is mankind's place to use nature in service of man (ultimately in service of God but that's a separate issue) in which case conservation is only a "Jewish Value" insofar as it's common sense to keep natural resources around to use.


This is a relevant Q&A from Rav Aviner's website although there are no sources:

Q: Is Halachah "Green", obligating us to be concerned about environmental issues? A: Yes. It is forbidden to cause damage to the environment. But we must always weigh the expense of protecting it against other essential expenses such as food for the poor, education and the military.


The Ramban in parshas Ki Seitzei chapter 22 vs 6 mentions a second reason for shiluach hakan and not slaughtering the animal with it's child on the same day which seems pertinent to the question at hand. 'The reason for both (commandments) is so we shouldn't have a stern heart and not have pity. Or so that scripture should not allow a complete destruction, to uproot a species. Even though it allowed the slaughtering within that species. But if someone were to kill the mother and child on the same day, or take them before they have a chance to fly, its as if he perpetrated an extinction of the species.' What we see is we may use, not abuse or use up.


The Seforno on D'varim 22:7 mentions a conservation-type reason for the mitzvah of the mother bird:

למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים. הנה בענין שלוח הקן יש איזה גמילות חסד להמון שלא להשחית זרע עופות השדה שהם הפקר וזה בשלוח האם.

In the matter of sending away the mother bird, there is a certain type of lovingkindness to the multitude, not to do things that exterminate the species, though the birds are hefker, ownerless.

In other words, you have a right on an individual basis, but the Torah wants you to think also of the impact overall.

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