New environmental group aims to enlist haredim

'The Midrash warns man not to destroy the world.'

tree 88 (photo credit: )
tree 88
(photo credit: )
Global warming, the thinning ozone layer and the greenhouse effect are not presently at the top of the haredi community's priority list, but an organization known as Haredim Le'sviva (Haredim for the Environment) wants to change that. Not only desecration of Shabbat by El Al or the sale of immodest clothing in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem will be at the forefront of haredi interests if Haredim Le'sviva has its way, but also educating against littering and encouraging recycling. In the first conference of its kind, haredi MKs and a dozen local government politicians together with Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, will meet Monday in Bnei Brak to discuss recycling, air and noise pollution and the adverse effects of cellular phone antennas. Environment Minister Gideon Ezra will also attend the conference. McCann Erickson, an ad agency with a haredi department, will be sponsoring the gathering. So far none of the major haredi halachic authorities has come out publicly in support of the move and without their support it is doubtful that Haredim Le'sviva's initiative will gain momentum. However, according to Yehudah Ganut, a young haredi educator from Petah Tikva who founded the organization several years ago, two prominent rabbis are backing his organization. Rabbi Yitzhak Zilberstein, an expert in medicine and halacha, and Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern, a member of Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Vozner's rabbinic court, both support increasing haredi awareness to environmental issues. Akiva Briland, a member of Haredim Le'sviva, told The Jerusalem Post that there were many classical Jewish sources supporting environmental protection. "For instance, Jewish law states that a tree must be planted 50 amot (25 meters) from the city out of consideration for the landscape and the Midrash [homiletic rabbinic commentary] warns man to be careful not to destroy the world," said Briland. Briland and Ganut say that haredim realize the importance of protecting the environment, but they have yet to be mobilized. According to a survey conducted by Mutagim, a leading pollster, 94% of haredim surveyed said that protecting the environment was important. Some 72% said they were bothered by air pollution and the same amount said they wanted to live in a green setting. In a related development, the government set in motion Sunday a recycling bill that would include as refundable 1.5 to 2 liter plastic bottles. The government set up a committee that is supposed to prepare the legislation within a month. The Sephardi haredi Shas party has opposed the bill, arguing that it would hurt large families. Shas said that including the bigger bottles as eligible for a deposit refund would raise the price by half a shekel. "We do not have enough refund outlets for the bottles," MK Amnon Cohen (Shas). "So haredi families will pay the extra price without getting their money back." Haredim Le'sviva recommended allowing non-profit organizations to collect the bottles, thus encouraging citizens to recycle them. Briland said that in Bnei Brak last year, four million bottles were returned for refunds.