Conservative Jewish Environmentalists To Pollute Only In Public
New York (AP) – In keeping with the template of their religious observance, the leading institution of Conservative Jews has endorsed a pattern of environmentally conscious behavior that calls for maintaining an eco-friendly home, but adhering to society’s wider mores when outside. They will therefore adopt such practices as composting, recycling, and cutting waste while in the privacy of their residences, but in the street and at work they will continue to litter, drive fossil-fuel-guzzling behemoths, and place glass bottles in the regular trash.
The Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan issued new environmental guidelines today for the adherents of Conservative Judaism, after three years of research. The movement’s general trend has been to uphold Jewish tradition in the home but to adopt general societal modes in public. Thus, for example, many Conservative Jews will don a skullcap, or yarmulke, upon entering their homes, synagogues, or other religious contexts, but remove the head covering upon leaving. They keep a kosher home – for example maintaining separate utensils for preparation of meat and dairy – but tend to be more lax about what they eat elsewhere. This dichotomy is the expression of a constant effort to express loyalty to Jewish tradition while simultaneously living in gentile society.
Congregational leaders began to petition JTS for guidance as their constituents expressed greater and greater ecological awareness, and saw the cultivation of that awareness as a Jewish value. Accordingly, the Seminary recruited faculty and outside scholars to develop material for those leaders to use in ministering to their congregations.
“The preservation of the world we were bequeathed by our ancestors, the one designed for us by God, is inherent in the very definition of mankind’s task at the very beginning of Genesis,” reads the introduction to the materials that JTS will distribute to those Rabbis and lay leaders this coming week. “God placed Man in the Garden to work it and protect it – and we would be derelict in our mission as human beings not to care for the planet for its benefit and ours.”
“Of course, given the fact that we do not demand that religious behavior exist outside the domestic realm, that verse from Genesis only applies when we are exclusively in the domestic or Jewish community context,” the introduction continues. “As such, we recommend that you guide your congregations to strict adherence to the environmentally friendly behaviors we have detailed herein while they are in those Jewish milieus. But you must take care not to imply that under any circumstances are they obligated to maintain their ecologically conscious behavior when they are among the non-Jewish public.”
Among the questions that the guidelines resolve is whether Conservative Jews may continue to drive their cars to synagogue on the Sabbath. For decades, the recommended practice has been to allow it, even though the internal combustion mechanism of a car engine involves the ignition of fuel, which is one of the categories of activity Biblically proscribed on the Sabbath. Since the Conservative leadership has generally seen synagogue attendance as more important than meticulous Sabbath observance, it was deemed preferable to invoke the “Jewish at home, American in the street” principle in favor of allowing the use of a motor vehicle.
The added layer for the environmentally conscious Conservative attitude is the use of fossil fuels in a motor vehicle. The committee recommended that Conservative Jews continue to drive their Lincoln Navigator, Hummer H3, and Infiniti QX45 sport utility vehicles even on weekdays, as achievement and visible social status lie in the realm of “outside the home” and that the rules of environmentally friendly behavior do not apply.
At press time, officials at Hebrew Union College, of the Reform movement, wondered aloud why the Conservative movement thought any of that environment stuff was still relevant in this day and age.