Going Green

Earth Day, Jewish Tradition and You

by Beri Kravitz, Jconnect Staff 

The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970. It was the idea of a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin who witnessed the devastating results of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara California. What started as a day of rallies has now become a day of education, family activities and awareness. Earth Day has expanded to Earth Month (the month of April) with many cities hosting programs throughout the month.  Worldwide, Earth Hour, observed on a Saturday evening in late March, shows us that an hour of turning off our lights can be fun and beneficial.

The Jewish concept of “Bal Taschit” predates Earth Day by several millennia. We find in the Book of Deuteronomy (Chap. 20: 19-20) a profoundly simple solution to the problem of waste.  This law tells us "don't waste/destroy." In this specific instance, the concept was applied to times of war when it was forbidden to destroy the trees (particularly fruit bearing trees) in the siege of an enemy city. Over the centuries, our rabbis elaborated on what it means not to waste. We are told not to use more than what we need, not to needlessly destroy anything, not to use something of greater value when something of lesser value will suffice and not to use something in a way it was not meant to be used (which increases the likelihood the item will be broken or destroyed).

What can you do to celebrate Earth Day, Earth Month or observe the mitzvah of “bal taschit”? Start by going to the Earth Day website, where you will find information about national and international efforts to preserve the earth’s resources and action items for you and your family. You  can attend one of the many Earth Day or Earth Month programs in your area (see the right hand column for programs in the DC area.) Most importantly, you can change your behavior in many small ways. Earth friendly behaviors can give you great satisfaction of “doing good” but they will also save you money! Some have immediate benefits while some require an initial investment that leads to savings down the line. Some cost-free changes you can make include:
  • Combine trips when running errands. You’ll save gas and time.
  • Turn off your car when sitting for more than 30 seconds (except when waiting at a traffic light). An idling car gets zero miles per gallon and idling for two minutes uses the same amount of gas as driving a mile.  This article from the California Consumer Energy Center explains idling in greater detail.
  • Use compact fluorescent bulbs (cfl’s ) wherever possible.  Not only have the prices of cfl’s come down significantly to be competitive with old fashioned incandescent bulbs, they now put out “warmer” light and don’t have a delay in turning on as they used to. Compact fluorescent light bulbs last up to 10 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs and use at least two-thirds less energy to provide the same amount of light.  And because cfl’s generate 70 percent less heat than incandescent light bulbs, they are safer to operate and can reduce energy costs associated with cooling. Keep your eye on the LED (light emitting diode) bulb market as these highly efficient bulbs become more widely available and affordable.
  • Recycle all items your municipality accepts for recycling. Here are the trash basics: Municipalities pay a “tipping fee” per ton of garbage sent to the landfill or incinerator. Municipalities receive a payment for each ton of recyclable material brought to the recycling center, with aluminum fetching the highest payment. Disposal savings benefit residents directly.

For more ideas, refer to this Earth Month calendar, with environmentally friendly actions you can take each day in the month of April, and beyond.