Ten Teachings on Judaism and the Environment by Rabbi Lawrence Troster - Teaching Seven
7. The Torah gives an obligation to save human life. The Jewish tradition mandates an obligation to save and preserve life (called in Jewish legal sources: pikuach nefesh) based on an interpretation of Leviticus 18:5, “You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which people shall live: I am the Lord (See Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 74a).” Jewish law forbids us from knowingly harming ourselves (Leviticus 19:28). There are also numerous sources mandating the proper disposal of waste and that noxious products from industrial production must be kept far from human habitation (see for example, Deuteronomy 23:13-15, Mishnah Baba Batra 2:9) In the Jewish tradition, the public good overrides individual desires. While there are many useful and even lifesaving technologies that come from modern chemicals and materials, we have an obligation to be cautious in their use. Pikuach nefesh demands that we consider the impact of our use of chemicals and other materials, not only in the short term but also in the long term. For the Jewish tradition, the Precautionary Principle can be seen as a modern form of the warning not to tamper too much with the boundaries of Creation.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. How does Rabbi Troster connect pikuach nefesh to environmental concerns?

2. What is the Precautionary Principle? How does it inform our behavior?

3. How do we a society sustain these principles? When do we fail to do so? How can we improve?

Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)