Catholic and Jewish Faith Traditions Call for Climate Action
Though Pope Francis may not know it, he and the ancient rabbis have a lot in common. As I participated in an interfaith webinar about the Papal Encyclical, Rabbi Tarfon’s words continually came to find: "It is not your obligation to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it,” (Pirkei Avot 2:15-16). The conversation between Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner and Rachel Laser from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Dan Misleh of the Catholic Climate Covenant, and Mark Rohlena of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops unfolded around Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si: Sulla Cura Della Casa Commune (Praised Be You: On the Care of the Common Home), which was released in June.
Pope Francis’s stance is that as we, as human beings, are directly responsible for the effects of climate change, and so the onus is on us to make good on our mistreatment of the environment. Though the work may not be complete within our lifetimes, neither are we free to sit idly by while clean water sources disappear, deserts expand, and the poorest and most vulnerable among us continue to suffer. This is not only our responsibility, it is a moral imperative. Pope Francis discusses climate change as an “issue we’re facing as a human family” and links our disregard and abuse of the environment as intimately connected to and indicative of our disregard of one another – one that requires our immediate attention, individually and systemically.
With an audience of almost 100 participants representing a variety of faith groups from around the country, we learned on the webinar that Laudato Si is the first papal encyclical solely dedicated to the environment. While Mr. Misleh noted that encyclicals are, first and foremost, “to be conscientiously read by Catholics,” this one is intended for everyone, including those outside of the Catholic community.
We as Reform Jews can certainly agree with Pope Francis’s environmental agenda. Our relationship with the environment and the natural world is not as God intended, nor is our relationship with our fellow humans. Rather, as partners in the sacred, ongoing work of creation, we must consciously plug back into the notion of “intergenerational solidarity.” At the same time we need to acknowledge that our planet is on loan to us from our children and all the generations which will come after us. This parallels the Jewish teachings in Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah (7:13), which tells us that when God created the first humans, God said: “Look at My works! See how beautiful they are - how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”
We are not only thrilled to have such great partners in the Catholic Church in the sacred, ongoing work toward climate justice, we also look forward to assisting in the worldwide culture shift toward the Pope’s idea of “sabbath living;” toward deep reflection and contemplation about our place in the universe, and our role as stewards of the earth in order to actualize, as Mr. Rohlena put so eloquently, the “full picture of human flourishing”.
Ken y’hi ratzon. May it be God’s will.
Jennifer Queen is the rabbinic legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center this summer and is a second year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She holds a Master of Public Health degree from the George Washington University and is an alumna of Indiana University.