By Richard H. Schwartz,
Jewish Vegetarians of
From his book: Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World
Today’s environmental threats bring to mind the Biblical Ten plagues in the book of Exodus. Is it only coincidence that we read this story in the synagogue during the weeks leading up to the environmental holiday of Tu B’Shevat? Or is God giving us a warning here? The list of today’s Ten Plagues might include [Of course, unfortunately, many more could be added]:
1. The rapid melting (due to global warming) of polar ice caps and sheets, of permafrost and mountain glaciers, which could soon precipitate a disastrously sudden — for humans and other creatures — recalibration of the earth’s climate. We are in the process creating a potential catastrophe comparable to the biblical Flood.
2. A permanent increase both in severe droughts (due to the drying effect of heat where water is scarce) and severe floods (due to the evaporative effect where water is plentiful), straining humanity to the limits of our ability to cope and survive.
3. Extreme deforestation (about half of the world's rain The material below is excerpted from my recently published book, "Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism forests have already been destroyed), decimating one of the world’s most valuable providers of natural goods and services and, by slashing the planet’s ability to sequester carbon, further exacerbating climate change and all its consequences.
4. Severe heat waves, with each of the last five decades being warmer than the previous one and record temperatures being recorded in many areas.
5. Rapid loss of thousands of species, faster than during any previous time in history.
6. Widespread soil erosion and nutrient depletion, reducing fertility, increasing desertification, and severely compromising humanity's ability to feed itself.
7. The serious pollution and, in some cases, “killing” of fresh water bodies by runoff contaminated with pesticides, inorganic fertilizers, and animal wastes from factory farms, as well as by fallout from smokestack and tailpipe air pollution.
8. An epidemic of heart disease, many types of cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases, largely due to gluttonous consumption of animal products and junk foods, sedentary lifestyles, and a glut of toxic environmental chemicals.
9. Increasingly widespread and severe wildfires because of warmer temperatures and the resultant dryer environment in many areas.
10. Increasing hunger and famine as global demand for food increases due to rising population, increased affluence leading to rising demand for animal products, and increasing use of biofuels, along with decreased food production due to shrinking glaciers and aquifers, droughts, floods, heat waves, and other damaging effects of climate change, and the loss of farm land to urban sprawl.
While the Egyptians in the time of Moses were subjected to only one plague at a time, the modern plagues threaten us all at once. The Jews in Goshen were spared most of the biblical plagues, while every person on earth is imperiled by these modern plagues. And it is we ourselves who are the authors of these plagues, though it is future generations who will be most severely afflicted.
Instead of an ancient Pharaoh’s heart being hardened, our own hearts today have been hardened by the greed, materialism, waste, and lack of recognition of our precarious relationship with nature that are at the root of the current environmental threats.
God provided the Biblical plagues to free the Israelites from oppression. Had Pharaoh heeded the warning of the first plague, and simply let the people go, there would have been no need for the other nine plagues. Unfortunately, he did not. Today we must learn from this lesson, and heed many environmental warnings. We must apply God’s teachings in order to save humanity and our precious but endangered planet, before we are destroyed because of our own hard- heartedness.
Richard H. Schwartz
Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival and Mathematics and Global Survival and over 140 articles at JewishVeg.com/ schwartz President. Jewish Vegetarians of North America (www.JewishVeg.com); Director of Veg Climate Alliance Associate producer of A SACRED DUTY president@JewishVeg.com "Like" JVNA on Facebook at facebook.com/JewishVeg