In Judaism it is actions that count above all in healing the world

1:30 PM to 2:30 PM on Jul 12, 2019 by Jonathan Keren-Black

Matthew Fox traces the roots of Creation Spirituality to the Hebrew bible and it seems clear to me that there is a very strong ethic of living with God’s creation, as part of God’s creation, from the first creation stories and all the way through the Israelite and Rabbinic tradition. 

Occasional texts might look exploitative or have been used as justification to exploit the earth, but this is contrary to the core message which today we’d recognise as ‘Sustainability’. I will bring some insight from David Abram, who finds common strands tying us to creation in Judaism, indigenous and many other traditions.

I will be looking at what ‘holy’ means – what makes us holy, and can the whole earth be holy? Rabbi A J Heschel talks of ‘radical amazement’ that we should experience when we see creation, as the universe fills us with awe. We recognise the transcendent power of the creator – but also the immediate and immanent sense of God in our heart if we can but hear the ‘still, small voice’. We try to act as we imagine God would act – and that starts with recognizing God in every human being, in every creature – we are all created ‘b’tzelem elohim’ – in the image of God.

We may find ourselves, as Fox says, through spiritual practice – and we may all have the potential to be mystic, artist, prophet - but in Judaism we tend to be more pragmatic – and we bring God into the world also through our actions – mitzvot – commandments.

I will look at some familiar and some surprising environmental concepts that we find in the Biblical and Rabbinic teachings.

Finally, I will agree that ecological justice is essential for the sustainability of life on Earth. Our human task is to look after God’s creation and we have a key Jewish principle ‘tikkun olam’ – healing the earth, as we work ‘b’shutafut’ – in partnership with God on this crucial – and now pressingly urgent – challenge.

About Jonathan Keren-Black

Jonathan Keren-Black


Rabbi, Leo Baeck Centre, East Kew, Melbourne Jonathan grew up in a committed progressive Jewish family and always wanted to be a Rabbi. He went to a large orthodox Jewish day school, because it was...