A rabbi, a priest and an imam walk into an environmental conference

Revealing the connection between religion and ecology

March 21, 2018 18:43
2 minute read.
Simon Wiesenthal Center

Spiritual leaders from Christianity, Bahai, Islam and Judaism gather at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles for an interfaith dialogue. (photo credit: BART BATHOLOMEW)


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The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development has continued to bring religious leaders together to reveal the connection between religion and ecology and move people to act towards more earth-friendly practices with an emphasis on faith since 2010.

The Jerusalem-based center has been addressing the world geological crisis both in Israel and abroad and is involved in a number of activities promoting environmental sustainability and public well-being, through a Jewish lens.

Rabbi Yonatan Neril, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, believes that the ecological challenges of our day is a spiritual challenge.

“How do we live as spiritual beings in a physical reality?” Neril asked The Jerusalem Post.

“Ecology is not really about ‘nature’ and the trees and the animals, it’s about us and our lives. It’s about ‘how am I trying to satisfy my desire for pleasure.’ So I think our biggest challenge is to reorient our pleasure desire by fulfilling it through spiritual, family, and community,” he said.

For Neril, connecting ecology to Judaism is only natural: “There’s a level of authenticity when we are quoting the Bible or the Talmud that this isn’t something new, this is deeply rooted in our tradition.”

Nowadays, the decline of a modern-day agrarian society creates changes and new challenges that need to be dealt with. “You need to remember that people only started using smartphones about a decade ago. Most of us live in urban areas and with a lot of technology. It’s important to recall how, in premodern times, people were more connected to the land, and the trees, plants, and animals that produced their food,” said Neril.

Even the language used to describe the work he does has shifted to reflect these changes. “The word ‘environment’ implies that nature and ecosystems are something ‘out there.’ The word ‘ecology’ means ‘logic of the home,’ and we can understand the earth as our home. From a Jewish perspective, God created our home and we are entrusted to care for it.”

In terms of working with other religions, Neril noted the similarities that bind these followers together. “I think there’s a lot of commonality among religious communities on many core issues of ecological sustainability, including moderating consumption, thinking long-term, caring about other people and creatures, finding spiritual satisfaction, being mindful of waste and pollution and caring for the earth.”

The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development is in the process of planning its 10th-annual Interfaith Environmental Conference in Jerusalem, which is scheduled to take place on May 9 – an interfaith conference focusing on climate change and renewable energy.

There, scientists and religious leaders from all three Abrahamic faiths will have a platform to share ideas for faith-based ecological programs.

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