Author Archives: slhoch


Temple Completes Two-Year Process to Achieve Certification in Environmental Leadership from National Environmental Coalition

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J., April 24, 2012 – Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI) had a special reason to celebrate Earth Day and more this year. TSTI recently became the first reform synagogue in the U.S. to attain certification for environmental leadership from GreenFaith, a nationally recognized interfaith environmental coalition. The temple, located at 432 Scotland Rd. in South Orange, N.J., was named a GreenFaith Sanctuary after completing a comprehensive program of education, action and advocacy.

Two years ago, temple members Phil and Sue Hoch listened to TSTI’s Rabbi Daniel Cohen give a high holy day sermon on Jewish environmentalism, which inspired the Elizabeth, N.J., couple to spearhead the certification process. Over the course of their two-year journey, the Hochs’ efforts and enthusiasm motivated the entire community of temple members and convinced even the most skeptic congregants to get involved. GreenFaith will recognize the congregation for their achievements at a graduation ceremony on May 16.

TSTI’s clergy and congregation have participated in eco-themed worship services, religious education classes on the environment, and interfaith and intergenerational activities. They worked together to “green” their own facility, implementing changes in waste reduction, product choices, and energy conservation that resulted in 20% energy savings. In addition, they learned about environmental justice issues and participated in environmental advocacy initiatives. A member of The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), TSTI was part of a URJ pilot program to help synagogues initiate and achieve certification.

“The Jewish tradition teaches us that ‘the earth is God’s and the fullness thereof,’” said Rabbi Cohen. “Working to attain GreenFaith certification meant that as a community, we accepted our responsibility to preserve and repair God’s world. The program seemed daunting at first, but with commitment and support, the congregation embraced the changes that were required.”

Among the environmental initiatives launched by TSTI is the planning of an outdoor classroom site with the preschool at the temple’s Iris Family Center. “Our children will be planting flowers and vegetables in planters and raised beds in this special landscape, starting this spring,” explained Carol Paster, Preschool Director. “They will learn how to take care of the earth as they create a sustainable garden for all of us to enjoy.”

“We are proud to have been certified a GreenFaith Sanctuary,” said Phil Hoch. “Environmental awareness is now woven into all of our programs and activities. We will continue to expand our environmental efforts as a result of the education and guidance that GreenFaith provided.” Those continued efforts include environmental field trips for both the preschool and religious school, and “green”-themed Adult Education programs.

GreenFaith was founded in 1992 to inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership. As part of its certification program, faith communities across the nation, including Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu groups, are making changes to their worship, education, facilities and social outreach efforts. These involve taking a number of specific steps in the program’s action areas of Justice, Stewardship and Spirit, with an emphasis on interfaith and intergenerational initiatives.

Travel Justly

The work of tikkun olam does not just happen at home. When we travel, we can help build a more just, more sustainable world, rather than make travel choices that tread heavily on our environment and our fellow human beings.

Learn more about the impact travel has on others and the world around us and help us all make more just travel choices.

Next time you travel, we hope you will find ways to travel justly, as we are commanded: Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue. You can start today by taking action to support carbon reductionand offsetting in your own community and in Israel by contributing to a clean future fueled by green jobs and sustainable products and practices.

Earth Day – April 22, 2012

Participate to Mobilize the Earth

 This excerpt is from a great website:

For Earth Day 2012 we are mobilizing the planet simply to say one thing: the Earth won’t wait. It seems that environmental issues have been put on the back burner as we are in the midst of a global recession. Yet, the problems that the Earth faces will not subside simply because we choose to ignore them. We continue to constantly pump CO2 into the atmosphere as climate change advances unabated. Our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans remain polluted along with our air. Nowadays, it seems all too often that we hear of another oil spill or pipeline break or another mountain leveled to mine for dirty coal. 

It is time for us to Mobilize the Earth™ and speak with one voice, one message. We are tired of the lip service paid to the concerns of everyday people. It’s time our leaders put us on the path to sustainability and address our economic future by taking the green economy seriously.

Join us on Earth Day, April 22, 2012, as we Mobilize the Earth™ and demand action from the world’s governments to embrace renewable energy, invest in energy efficiency, end dirty fuel subsidies, and make energy accessible to all.  Together we will marshal A Billion Acts of Green®, gather petitions, register voters and build the support necessary to enact change. 

At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June, 2012, we will demand that our world leaders stop delaying and begin protecting our planet now.  We cannot wait to act; our Earth’s future is at stake.

Bal Tashchit: The Torah Prohibition Against Wasteful Consumption

 In Judaism, the halakhah (Jewish law) prohibits wasteful consumption. When we waste resources, we are violating the mitzvah (commandment) of Bal Tashchit (“Do not destroy”). It is based on Deuteronomy 20:19-20:

“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siege works against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.”

This law was expanded in later Jewish legal sources to include the prohibition of the wanton destruction of household goods, clothes, buildings, springs, food or the wasteful consumption of anything (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:8, 10; Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, 279-80). The underlying idea of this law is the recognition that everything we own belongs to God. When we consume in a wasteful manner, we damage Creation and violate our mandate to use Creation only for our legitimate benefit. Modesty in consumption is a value that Jews have held for centuries. For example, one is not supposed to be excessive in eating and drinking or in the kind of clothes that one wears (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Discernment, chapter 5). Jews are obligated to consider carefully our real needs whenever we purchase anything. We are obligated when we have a simchah (a celebration) to consider whether we need to have elaborate meals and wasteful decorations. We are obligated to consider our energy use and the sources from which it comes.

 Author: Rabbi Lawrence Troster, Director, Fellowship Program, GreenFaith

Jewish Environmental Justice : The Common Good

An obvious implication of the concept of Tzedek is that a Jewish environmental justice ethic is concerned with the common good. The common good is often defined as “the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number of individuals,” which could include all sentient beings. The common good in environmental terms means that our individual relationship with Creation cannot be divided from our relationship to all life. Therefore each of our actions has moral impacts on the totality of Creation. This is best expressed in the following midrash:

Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai taught: It can be compared to people who were in a boat and one of them took a drill and began to drill under his seat. His fellow passengers said to him: “Why are you doing this?!” He said to them: “What do you care? Am I not drilling under me?!” They replied: “Because you are sinking the boat with us in it!” (Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 4:6)

There is also the Talmudic legal principle of “geirey diley” [Aramaic: “his arrows”]. In this principle, it is forbidden for a person to stand in his own property and to shoot arrows randomly while claiming that there was no intent to cause damage (Talmud Bava Batra 22b). Thus in rabbinic sources, people are forbidden to establish polluting workshops in courtyards where other people are living. This principle can also be applied to sustainability, in that we cannot claim that our unsustainable consumption is morally neutral. We know that it causes harm to other human beings to extract resources, produce the things we consume, and dispose of waste.  Judaism promotes the principle of collective responsibility even where there is no intention of damage. Striving for tzedek demands that we see we are all in the same boat.

 Author: Rabbi Lawrence Troster

Director, Fellowship Program, GreenFaith

Global Hunger Shabbat and 18 Days of Action

Global Hunger Shabbat is part of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) ongoing food justice campaign. This fall, the campaign is focusing on mobilizing the American Jewish community to reform policies in the U.S. Farm Bill that negatively impact communities across the globe.

Join AJWS and Jewish communities around the country for Global Hunger Shabbat—followed by 18 Days of Action leading up to Thanksgiving—to promote food justice and tikkun olam. Nearly 200 communities participated in this nationwide event last year!  

Global Hunger Shabbat, a key moment in AJWS’s year-long food justice campaign, is a weekend of nationwide solidarity, learning and reflection around food justice. The learning and exploring of Global Hunger Shabbat is designed as a springboard into meaningful action over the following weeks and months, as they mobilize the American Jewish community in the fight for food justice.  This campaign begins on November 4, 2011.   More information can be found at :




Interfaith/GreenFaith Event: Arts & The Environment

 On November 6th, 2011, TSTI  joins local houses of worship to celebrate and appreciate the arts and the environment.  Join us for a wonderful afternoon of song, music, poetry, art and photography exhibitions reflecting how our respective faiths celebrate, revere and help protect the environment.  And, if you are an artist who would like to exhibit or demonstrate your work or play your instrument please contact Hope at

This event will take place at St. Andrew and Holy Communion Church in South Orange, from 2:30-5:30 pm.  Admission is FREE.

Tashlikh: The Cleansing Water- An Eco-Theological Reflection


On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah (or the second if the first is Shabbat), there is an ancient tradition, where one is supposed to go to a natural body of water like a stream or a pond and throw crumbs into the water while reciting several verses from Scripture. It is called Tashlikh, and one of the verses that is recited confers the name for this ceremony and its meaning: Micah 7:18-20 in which the prophet proclaims the uniqueness of God in being forgiving of the people Israel. He says, “You will again have compassion upon us, subduing our sins and casting (ve-tashlikh in Hebrew) all our sins into the depths of the sea.” 

While the symbolism is obvious, it is interesting that the sea is the place where our sins can be cast away. The image is of the sins like the crumbs, sinking to the bottom of the sea never to be seen again. When one participates in this ceremony, it gives you a real feeling of the casting away of burdens that we carry from the year before. It is a cathartic experience that serves to refresh and renew us for the coming year. The sea then is the place where we dump our unwanted spiritual waste. Our ancestors felt that the sea was almost bottomless, and beyond the impact of human activity. This idea that the sea is so vast that there is nothing we can do to harm it even existed in scientific circles until very recently. An environmental scientist once related that high school science textbooks still reflected this idea as late as the early 1960’s.

We know now that the sea is not bottomless, and that we can have an adverse affect on it, especially those parts of it that are of the most value for the biosphere. We can no longer dump our waste without thought into the sea. So when we do Tashlikh, we should reflect that the sea in fact does contain the environmental sins of humanity and that we cannot escape them any more. While God may be as forgiving as a bottomless deep, the real oceans must be taken care of as any part of Creation. Let Tashlikh remind us that the sea is a part of Creation that touches all life and requires our restoration.

Written by : Rabbi Lawrence Troster

Director, Fellowship Program GreenFaith