Should Jews be “green”? Can the term “pilgrim” apply to Jews? With Passover in
our sights, it is appropriate to ask these questions, in spite of the fact that
the answer may seem obvious to many of us. At this time, we have a sense of
starting afresh, with all the opportunities that implies. Perhaps this is the
time to shake off not only the physical cobwebs on the walls, but also to do
some serious “rethinking” of what it means to be Jewish in our time, to
reexamine the way in which we fulfill our obligations as Jews. This must surely
include an awareness of and response to the global environmental crisis, one of
the most burning issues of our day.
To my way of thinking this results in
a need to pose several questions, traditionally the Jewish way of tackling
Indeed, if climate change is the greatest threat to life on
earth as we know it, then we must make sure that our Jewish practices have
bearing on this. Our sages taught that we must “walk humbly,” which should in
turn result in modest lifestyle habits.
The ancient Jewish obligation to
ascend on foot to Jerusalem three times a year was no longer feasible after the
destruction of the First Temple, when the Jewish Diaspora was first created.
During the period of the Second Temple, Jews knew that once in their lifetime
they should make the effort to visit Jerusalem. This raises the question of how
today’s Jewish community views the obligation to go on such a pilgrimage, when
the very justification of the Jewish state is being called into question by
certain sectors of the Diaspora community.
Reviving the spirit of Jewish
pilgrimage on the one hand, and planning the City of Jerusalem with a view to
having the capacity to welcome millions of visitors on the other, is surely a
worthy goal, and one that could inject some much needed adrenalin into the
relationship between the Jewish community in Israel and that of the Diaspora.
However, I believe that an essential ingredient in this proposed recipe for
re-framing our Jewish world is the prerequisite of underpinning our conduct with
Jewish guidelines of sustainability, responsibility and mutual respect, whether
as citizens of Jerusalem or as pilgrims on their way to the most important
spiritual destination in the world.
It is particularly exciting when we
can place this line of Jewish thinking in a global context, within which we must
bear in mind the significance of Jerusalem as a major spiritual destination for
Christians and Muslims as well as for Jews. The Global Network of Green
Pilgrimage provides a meeting ground for pilgrim cities around the world and for
the faith communities that view them as important spiritual destinations, and at
the end of April 2013, Jerusalem will be the proud host of the First
International Symposium on Green and Accessible Pilgrimage
Cities, holy sites, faith
communities and environmental innovators will meet in Jerusalem to celebrate the
message of the Green Pilgrimage Network, and its potential impact on the habits
of world travelers in the years to come. We will be sharing best practices and
discussing how to green not only holy cities and sites, but also how the
pilgrimage experience itself, each to his own theology, can harness our
collective and individual responsibility as stewards of Divine Creation. But
apart from the goal of sustainable development for pilgrim cities on the one
hand, and guidelines for sustainable travel on the other, there is a message
that is potentially of greater impact here.
With wisdom beyond his time,
King Solomon offered a special prayer on the occasion of the dedication of the
Temple he had built, the very Temple that would become the symbol of Jewish
yearning for the Land of Israel throughout the following millennia. In 1 Kings
8: 41, Solomon asks Gd to welcome strangers who visit the temple, and to answer
their prayers, in a statement of tolerance that should surely be an inspiration
for us today.
Indeed, in a city of many diverse cultures, respect for the
other is of the essence, but this is not enough. We need also to be able to
appreciate the reverence felt by other religious communities when visiting their
spiritual destinations. If we can achieve that, and at the same time re-engage
the Jewish communities of the Diaspora in the ancient obligation of pilgrimage
to Jerusalem, then our “rethinking” will have been more than worthwhile. If, in
addition, we reinterpret the 10 rules of environmental conduct prescribed in the
Babylonian Talmud for the pilgrim seasons in Jerusalem (Bava Kamma, 82b), we
will discover that there is indeed nothing new under the sun, and all we have to
do is revisit our sources, and make sure that we leave a positive
The author is deputy mayor of Jerusalem.