Eco-energy. Eco-career. Eco-friendly. Eco-tourism. Eco-labeling. Eco-clothing. Eco-learning. Eco-wines. Even — I’m not kidding — “eco-chick; (because the earth is a woman).” Alright, already: it’s the handle of the age. But eco-kashrut? Is there meaning and validity behind this handle-laden movement that had its beginnings in the late ’70s?
Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, one of the main founders of the Jewish Renewal movement, coined the phrase “eco-kashrut” while exploring the meanings that living a kosher life encompasses in modern culture. He brought out ideas that are even more conspicuously relevant in our current age in positing that, as Jews, we are commanded to protect the environment of the world that we were chosen to morally lead.
More recently, another Jewish Renewal leader, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, has also posed pointed questions: Is it eco-kosher to eat vegetables and fruits from soil that we have strained to the limit and poisoned with pesticides, allowing the irrigation water to run off and toxify lakes, rivers and oceans? Is it eco-kosher to use 100 percent unrecycled paper in our offices, and should we promise to utilize 10 percent recycled paper next year and maybe 30 percent the year after? Should we say brachot over non-organic wines in completely non-recyclable plastic cups that are dumped into over-full landfills?
One of the first inescapable Biblical references to our human relationship to the earth as Jews comes right up front, in the beginning. Genesis 1:26: “And God said, ‘Let us make Adam [who was also then woman] in our image, (in a form worthy of Us, that is commensurate with being) our likeness. They shall rule (have dominion over) the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and the animals and over the whole earth and over all creeping things that creep on the earth.’”
27: “So God created Man in His image (in a form worthy of God) in the image of God did He create him; male and female, He created them.”
28: “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply (increase) yourself, fill the earth and subdue (master) it; and rule (have dominion over) the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
Well that seems to be relatively clear: Humans were to have dominion over all other creatures and rule the earth and every living thing in it, to do with as humankind wanted, right? Yet, as I read over and studied these primary declarations, something seemed to come through to me about the intent of the holiness of humanity, stemming from having been made in a form worthy of God, and the continual reiteration of the positions of the other beings under our care. I am no scholar, but I turned for guidance to the commentaries on the commentaries of Rashi and Nachmanides, two of the most profound and venerated scholars of Torah throughout all Jewish ages.
And I found that my “intuitions” were borne out in various interpretations of the passages. Nahum Sarna, in the 1989 edition of the Jewish Publication Society Torah Commentaries, clarifies in his explanation of the revealed position of humankind as God-like that this bestowing came with responsibilities to the Creator. For one example, in explaining the phrase “They shall rule (have dominion over) the fish of the sea,” he says:
This power, however, cannot include the license to exploit nature banefully, for the following reasons: the human race is not inherently sovereign, but enjoys its dominion solely by the grace of God. Furthermore, [in] the model of kingship [i.e., humans ruling or dominating]…the monarch does not possess unrestrained power and authority; the limits of his rule are carefully defined and circumscribed by divine law, so that [human] kingship is to be exercised with responsibility and is subject to accountability.
So, from the beginning, the “rule” of humankind over the earth was to be conducted by codes of God-like or holy behavior. But what about God’s injunction to “subdue” or “master” the earth in Genesis 1:28? Should humans really view the earth as a place that can be tamed and used exactly as suits the needs of an increasingly demanding “master”?
S.R. Hirsch, in his masterful Translation and Commentary on the Pentateuch, first published in Germany in the 1870s, promotes the explanation that this passage brought the outline of God’s expectations for most of humanity’s social interactions, and reveals that the order of the “instructions” is relevant. First, the injunction to be “fruitful” covers marriage and the moral union of people, who don’t just “mate” as do other kinds of animals; “multiply” concerns family and the care that people, as God-creatures, must take with this most basic societal unit; “and fill the earth” refers to society and the obligation of humanity to work in God’s image and will to assure that not just one clan or family prospers, but that all clans and societies thrive; and finally, “subdue and have dominion over” speaks to property, and here is the crux of my questioning: How does God-like man/woman own and exercise dominance on the earth?
Hirsch submits that even though the property issue comes as the last instruction in God’s first interaction with humanity, following kids, family and society, it doesn’t mean that it’s less important. Its final place instead signifies that there are limitations on humankind’s “owning” of the earth, including the important moral understanding that if fortune or obeisance is sought from the earth, it can only be done in service of the other three social conditions.
Some commentators relate that if humans look to the first three to provide wealth, or claim social dominance to further the acquisition of wealth, the order of dominance can be reversed and the earth and its creatures will exercise dominance over humans. Hmm. Doesn’t it look a little like we may be in for some role reversal now with the current “eco-woes” of the 21st century?
So, since it seems that there is some solid ground for pursuing an eco-kashrut lifestyle, let’s go ahead and practice a bit by baking up some very fun and eco-friendly matzohhs in this reflective time leading up to Passover:
Please note that these are not kosher for Passover if made with the locally grown flour I recommend. To make them kosher and useable during Pesach, you must use flour that is “kemach shel matzoh sh’mura” — observed from the moment the wheat is harvested to the time the dough is mixed to make sure no moisture touches the flour. I have not found local sources for kemach flour, but there may be some on the Web. These matzohs are to dip our hands into with family or kids and experience the thrill of getting them done in 18 minutes, using some locally grown wheat, and eating some hot, fresh matzoh!
For 1 large matzoh:
2 cups Stone-Buhr Shepherd’s Grain, Pacific Northwest Grown All Purpose, Whole Wheat or Bread flour, available at many groceries in our area
Extra flour for rolling
2/3 cup tap water purified through a home water filter: Brita, Pur, etc.
Bowl for mixing
Flat baking (cookie) pan
Tool for pricking dough (small knife or new, thin chopsticks work well)
Kitchen timer that times past 18 minutes
Preheat the oven to 425º. Clean the back of the baking pan and place in the oven while mixing the dough. Set the kitchen timer to 18 minutes. Put the flour in the mixing bowl, add the water, and quickly mix in with your hands until a stiff dough is made. If the dough is sticky, add a little more flour. Make into a ball. Flatten to a disc and place on your floured counter.
Quickly roll the dough into a large, thin circle, about 1/8th-inch thick, pressing hard while you roll. Prick all over with the knife or chopstick tip. Check the time: you should now have about 5 or 6 minutes. Carefully remove the baking pan from the oven with a thick potholder, place on the counter, and cover with a little flour. Put the matzoh on back of the pan and replace in the oven. Bake for 4 or 5 minutes; the 18 minutes should now be up! The matzoh will feel a little soft when you pull it out. Take from the pan, let cool a few minutes, eat and enjoy your homemade, eco-friendly matzoh. Then make another one!
Yield: As many as you like.