The Jewish Prohibition Against Wastefulness: The Evolution of an Environmental Ethic
Yoreh, Tanhum Siah
MetadataShow full item record
Bal tashḥit, the Jewish prohibition against wastefulness and destruction, is considered to be an environmental ethic by Jewish environmentalists. This dissertation investigates whether this prohibition has the historical basis to be considered an environmental principle, or whether its environmental interpretation is mainly a contemporary development. To this end, the study uses the methodology of tradition histories. This research critically examines the conceptualisation of bal tashḥit as it develops throughout history. The dissertation traces the evolution of bal tashḥit through the examination of relevant passages dealing with wastefulness and destruction in Hebrew Scripture, rabbinic literature, halakhic codes, responsa, the accompanying commentary traditions, as well as the works of scholars in the field of Religion and Environment. It highlights the important stages in the development of the prohibition, notes the most influential scholars, and uncovers the critical vocabulary that emerges. The most significant finding of this research is that in the earliest stages of development (c. 1st-2nd centuries C.E.), the prohibition against wastefulness was conceptually linked with the prohibition against self-harm. This connection was rejected by sages of the Talmud (3rd-6th centuries C.E.) who asserted that these prohibitions are qualitatively different from one another. Ultimately, the separation between the two prohibitions became the predominant view, and their connection disappeared almost entirely from Jewish literature. When combined, these prohibitions create an environmental ethic: wastefulness and destruction are harmful to oneself; and in environmental terms: to harm the environment is to harm oneself.