Shemini (5767)

Drash Cards for Shemini (5777)

by Marc Mangel

  • Today is Earth Day.

In 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, John McConnell proposed a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be celebrated on March 21, 1970.

A month later a separate Earth Day was founded by United States Senator (WI) Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970. Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom award in recognition of his work.

  • Decided to link the Parsha to Earth Day. Obvious connection: the kosher laws.
  • Commentators in chronological order; at times it may seem a bit woo-woo, but I will end with hard science.
  • Rashi (ca. 1085) on nearly last verse 47 (read first part in Hebrew): it is our responsibility to become expert in recognizing what is contaminated and what is not.
  • Even animals that are not contaminated can be made so: think about drizzling cheese over your ritually slaughtered goat.
  • So it is with the earth and us: we are responsible for learning what will contaminate the earth and avoiding that contamination.
  • The Rebbe (ca 1955): the first sign of a kosher animal is a split foot – which both touches the ground and separates the ground from us. We must make sure that the light of holiness permeates even the most mundane aspects of creation.
  • The other sign is rumination. The Rebbe teaches that this alludes to the necessity of deliberating before engaging in the mundane aspects of life.
  • So it is with our interaction with the environment: we need to think carefully before changing it, and do so in a way that allows the holiness to both permeate and emerge.
  • Dennis Prager and Joseph Teluskin in Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism (1986) “keeping kosher is Judaism’s compromise with the ideal of obtaining food without killing, namely, vegetarianism”.
  • Pinchas Peli (1987): “the laws of kashrut come to teach us that a Jew’s first preference should be a vegetarian meal. If however one cannot control a craving for meat, it should be kosher meat, which would serve as a reminder that the animal being eaten is a creature of God…Kosher means proper. The purpose of the laws of kashrut is to help us choose guidelines to what is proper in our habits in this basic human activity”.

Zalman used to talk to the animal slaughter when he was shochet – apologizing and explaining why this had to happen.

  • The environmental footprint of vegetarian food is much less than of animal food – just drive the Central valley and smell the methane from cows.
  • Rosie Saltzman (2006): you are what you eat. “All preying birds are non-kosher because they are cruel and convey this quality to those who eat them. Among the animals that chew their cud and have split hooves, none are predators and so all are kosher.” (citing Ramban).
  • Phil Levin (NOAA Fisheries, now Marine Program of TNC) (2014, Ecology and Society)

Sampled 4500 seafood items from 68 supermarkets and 112 restaurants. Considered

  • Food miles
  • Energy consumption
  • Carbon dioxide emissions.

Food miles, energy consumption, and CO2 emissions associated with transportation were all less for kosher than non-kosher seafood.

“Our results highlight that even though the moral underpinnings of conservation and religion can be very different, careful scientific attention to the environmental costs and benefits of traditional foodways offers an important entry point for engagement with cultural practices and belief systems.”

Let me know if you want his paper after Shabbat and I will send it to you.

A final moment of pedagogy – following on what Shlomo has taught us about the names of the books of the Torah. Shoah is the Hebrew word for calamity.  Holocaust is the English word for burnt offering sacrificed to God. The Jews of Europe were not sacrificed, they were murdered. We at least should call Monday Yom Ha Shoah, not Holocaust Remembrance Day