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Waskows eco-kashrut to headline state conference
January 23rd, 2004
Frogs, lice and locusts infesting everything may seem like nuisances to humans; but they along with the other seven plagues the Torah says God inflicted upon the Egyptians to liberate the Israelite slaves reflect a far deeper idea: that nature itself suffers and rebels when humans commit evil.
We rarely have thought about the plagues as being ecological disasters, but they were, said nationally famed author and activist Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center.
Waskow will likely elaborate on that idea when he speaks in Oshkosh next month as the keynoter at an interfaith conference titled From Global Warming to Global Sustainability At the Tipping Point.
What Aaron and Moses were saying to Pharaoh, Waskow said in a recent telephone interview, is that the way you are behaving toward human beings is bringing down shattering results for the earth itself, [that] when you turn workers into slaves, the water turns poisonous.
They understood the deep meaning of echad (oneness), that all life is interwoven.
And this, to Waskow, is just one example of how Jewish wisdom addresses environmental issues and why they are truly Jewish issues.
What would it mean about Judaism to say that when it comes to the most important issue facing the human race, Judaism has nothing to say about it? Waskow said. If Judaism did not care about it, then Id recommend that we not care about Judaism.
But Judaism does care about these issues and shows it in such practices and in the principles embodied in the practices as Shabbat, the festivals and kashrut, Waskow said.
If eating, for example, is understood more broadly as consumption or use of resources, then we eat more non-food than food in our industrial society, Waskow said. The principles of kashrut can be applied in what has been called eco-kashrut, or what does it mean to eat in a sacred way.
There is real wisdom in that kind of thinking, that what you eat matters, said Waskow. Those kinds of wisdoms Judaism has at its disposal and is now beginning to unpack.
Waskow is not the only Jewish figure deeply involved in the two-day Oshkosh event, which will begin Sunday, Feb. 8 the day after Tu BShevat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees and will be held at the Gruenhagen Center at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh campus.
Chris Herb of Madison is coordinator of the Wisconsin Interfaith Climate & Energy Campaign, the prime sponsor and organizer of the conference. He is also one of the founders of the Madison Area Jewish Environmentalists.
He said the purpose of this second statewide conference the first was held in 2000 is to mobilize the faith communities to confront this issue.
Though environmental scientists will speak at the conference, from our point of view, the evidence of climate change and the evidence of industrial contribution to it are incontrovertible. Our main point is how do people of faith confront this from a faith-based perspective?
And such issues cant be separated from religious concerns about social justice, to Herb. Climate change is a social justice issue. It will affect people and primarily poor people, he said. All of us feel our faiths compel us to confront this issue.
Herb said the conference organizers decided to invite Waskow to speak partly because he is pretty much the name in Jewish environmental ethics and because hes a dynamic speaker beloved by Jews and Christians alike for being devoted to social justice and environmental issues.
WICEC itself is a project of Wisconsin Interfaith IMPACT, which, according to WICECs Web site, seeks to inform, train, empower and encourage people of faith to act on significant public policy issues before the Wisconsin State Legislature and the United States Congress.
Interfaith IMPACTs executive director is Madisonian Michael Blumenfeld, who is also executive director of the Wisconsin Jewish Conference, one of the programs and services of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
To Blumenfeld, environmental concerns are part of our mission to be good stewards of our planet. It is part of tikkun olam [the Jewish principle of repair of the world] literally.
Ive also seen that this issue in the Jewish community has energized members of the Jewish community, especially younger members, to become involved in public policy issues where they havent been before, Blumenfeld added. Ive seen that nationally when I attend the Jewish Council for Public Affairs plenum and Ive seen it here at the UW-Madison campus.
Conference sponsors to date include Reconstructionist Congregations Shir Hadash (Milwaukee) and Shaarei Shamayim (Madison) and Reform Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha.
For more information about the conference, contact 608-310-9189 or www.wicec.or g.