UPDATE: August 2006: The original source for this essay is Cate from Qi-Whiz, and this updated version can also be found at her site by clicking here.

My original header: I originally linked to this site about four years ago, and since then the original site seems to have disappeared. I'm glad I saved the information to disk, so that I can share it with you. The ecological and spiritual concerns of the ancient world, whether in Israel or China, have an eerie and synchronatic theme that is very similar.

Please note: if anyone who views this page knows of where the original Eco-Kosher and Feng Shui page moved, please let me know and I'll re-link to it.


Eco-Kosher & Feng Shui

In the hour when the Holy One created the first man, the Holy One took him and let him pass before all the trees of the garden of Eden, and said to him:

"See my works, how fine and excellent they are!

"Now all that I have created for you have I created.

"Think upon this, and do not corrupt and desolate my world; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you."

—Eccles. Rabbah VII.28

Pico della Mirandola borrowed this for his De hominis dignitate in 1486, a work emblematic of the Renaissance spirit

What is "Eco-Kosher"?

The word was invented in the late 1970s by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, founder of the P'nai Or Religious Fellowship. Eco-kosher is an attempt to redefine Kashrut (kosher practices) in terms of broader values and obligations to the planet that stem from Jewish tradition and echo modern environmental concerns.

Judaism is the West's closest equivalent to a traditional belief system. It is a codified ethical civilization combining traditional beliefs with more modern revelatory and scientific truths.

The spiritual values at the heart of Judaism are shared by many traditional societies, who believe that the natural world is a living and vital being and who express certainty of an inextricable link between themselves and the natural world.

Interestingly, it is this same traditional worldview that is presumed by science to have provided humans with their only ecologically sustainable lifestyles. Yet some people insist on calling the traditional worldview and societies "primitive" and "superstitious," and heap scorn and ridicule upon Jewish beliefs and customs.

The traditional worldview is considered by many scientists as having an evolutionary advantage. As Stephen Kellert writes in The Biophilia Hypothesis:

It may be sufficient to suggest that a biological advantage is conferred on those who experience a profound sense of psychological well-being, identity, and self-confidence produced by the conviction of an ultimate order and meaning in life.

Like the belief systems of other traditional cultures, Judaism addresses the earth's essential role in our existence and our ultimate reliance on planetary health. It takes seriously the limits on our ownership of any part of the world, but it also understands that a full spiritual life is the only way that people will come to respect those limits.

Eco-kosher maintains awareness of the unhappy truth that humans must kill plants and animals to live. It aids our acknowledgement of the fact that whatever we do to stay alive poses some danger to the planet that gives us life.

Judaism has always believed that we might be more inclined to exercise self-control if we are consciously aware of the truth and incorporate it into our daily life.

Like most traditional cultures, much of Jewish life is built around this awareness of responsibility and guidelines for right conduct in the world, especially in our dealings with that which is alive but not human.

Stephen Kellert explains:

The moralistic experience of nature encompasses strong feelings of affinity, ethical responsibility, and even reverence for the natural world. This perspective often reflects the conviction of a fundamental spiritual meaning, order, and harmony in nature.

The late Andree Collard said this more forcefully:

Apathy, thoughtlessness, and the denial of responsibility and choice are moral transgressions; they allow for the overall pollution and destruction of the earth, the oppression of people, the atrocities committed on animals . . . and the objectification of wildlife in general.

In Jewish spirituality, along with Native American and other traditional cultures, the moralistic view of nature is paramount and governs the individual and society as a whole. Some of these practices are codified in Kashrut.

Kashrut's concerns with the gathering, preparation, and consumption of food exhibit Jewish solutions for solving the moral dilemma of killing other life forms so humans can survive.

Eco-kosher determines that actions bearing considerable risk of habitat or ecosystem destruction or death of species are treyf ("unfit," "not kosher," and many other negative connotations).

Actions to protect habitat, species, and ecosystems are rewarded and encouraged. Likewise, actions likely to irreparably alter or destroy distinctive human cultures or communities are prohibited. It's the Jewish concept later given broad coverage as Star Trek's Prime Directive.

Eco-kosher offers Westerners the traditional approach to interactions with our planet and its nonhuman inhabitants, but this tradition is also firmly grounded in the here-and-now. The principles of eco-kosher imbue the Rio Summit Declarations, whether by design or unconscious acknowledgement of what the drafters knew in their hearts to be right.

We're postmodern. We understand that people need mythology and a mythos to live by. People are not satisfied with the Enlightenment promise that rationality is going to be the whole answer. The rational world produced Nazis.

We're no longer accepting this Western "enlightenment" model as being "the most superior model of all time."
—Moshe Waldocks

The basics of eco-kosher

An exploration of eco-kosher involves traditional Jewish and modern concerns.

Tzaar baalei chayim (Literally "distress of those who possess life")

This is traditionally interpreted as respect and compassion for animals. Care of and kindness to animals is not generally mentioned in the same breath as the Ten Commandments, but the concepts are codified in the Decalogue.

Torah prohibits the torture or causing of pain to any living creature. It's also a moral obligation to show kindness to animals and to avoid actions that would cause them anguish or suffering.

A famous rabbi was cursed by God because, when a terrified calf sent to slaughter broke away and came bleating to him for protection, he handed it back over to the butcher rather than spare its life.

People are supposed to consider the feelings of the animals in their care — and sometimes the animals' feelings come first. For example, one who is responsible for animals is forbidden to relax until their animals are watered and fed.

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.
—Proverbs XII, 10

In the Jewish worldview it seems that all life, whether human or not, forms an organic whole. Certainly Psalm XXXVI, 7, and Jonah IV give the impression that there is no break in the chain of sentient life.

In Genesis (VIII, 1) and Jeremiah (XXI, 6), domesticated animals are regarded as part of the human community. What a far cry from pagan cultures. The bloodthirsty rites of the Roman arena were a clear indication of the inhumanity which prevailed in what we tend to call the "civilized" world during the Talmudic period.

Christianity ignored that part of the Ten Commandments touching on the treatment of animals, and it dropped the other concepts entirely. We see this occur in Paul's mocking rhetoric: "Is it for oxen that God careth?" That's why it took until the late 1800's for animal cruelty laws to make it to the lawbooks of civilized Christian society, though Jewish law accepted it as fact with the Covenant.

Hunting as a sport has historically been looked upon with disdain as a violation of the spiritual intent of Judaism, particularly if there is no utilitarian purpose, for it invariably involves an element of cruelty to animals.

There are also extremely precise rules regarding the consumption of animals for food. One story insists that the rules are rigid because The Eternal One originally planned for humans to be vegetarians. However, strict compromises to the rule had to be created for those humans who begged to be allowed to eat meat!

Age-old moral constraints codified in Judaism are part and parcel of the indigenous worldview, where animals used for food are treated with dignity even at the time of death. Nothing from a slaughtered animal is wasted, and out of respect for animalkind humans only kill what they absolutely need. Jewish law covers the methods of animal slaughter; the rules were devised with the intention of providing an easy death for the victim.

The traditional view is expanded under eco-kosher to have some respect for the feelings of animals we eat. It prohibits factory-farm conditions for animals and the eating of meat from animals raised under such undignified and cruel conditions. It prohibits using byproducts from these animals as well

Some extend eco-kosher to respect the identity of plants by restricting pesticide use and recombinant genetic practices.

Eco-kosher rules the drug Premarin to be treyf because of the appalling conditions experienced by pregnant mares (and their offspring) used to obtain Premarin's primary ingredient.

Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.
—attributed to Albert Schweitzer

Bal taschchit (Literally "not ruining the earth")

This is generally interpreted as a divine commandment to protect the environment, beginning with the directive in Deuteronomy against cutting down an enemy's trees.

Property has a moral aspect in Judaism, as in "the Earth is the Eternal's, and all the fullness thereof." The Sabbatical Year (Leviticus XXV, 1) and other biblical injunctions on the treatment of tilled ground also relate to this concept of gentle and considerate treatment of the land that gives us life and sustains us.

Eco-kosher extends Bal taschchit to all trees and other aspects of nature, such as a prohibition against pesticides that poison the earth as they produce food.

Bal taschchit concepts were written as non-binding considerations into the Rio Summit's declarations. This ancient spiritual law continues to influence people in subtle ways: organically grown fruits and vegetables have achieved 17 to 20 percent increase in sales in the last few years (according to Nanette Hansen, "Organic food sales see healthy growth" on MSNBC in 2004).

Protection of one's own body (shemirat haguf)

Within the confines of eco-kosher, this principle is used to justify not eating foods that contain harmful chemicals or other substances.

This directive determines that BGH and other hormones, along with known carcinogens, are rendered treyf (unfit for consumption), as are tobacco and overdoses of alcohol. Attention is also paid to life-threatening eating disorders such as compulsive overeating, anorexia and bulimia.

Tzedakah or righteous sharing

One of the hallmarks of Jewish tradition is regular charitable work and contributions. In a vastly unequal world, "righteous sharing" takes on a new importance.

The wealthiest of humans — one percent of our kind — are growing richer at the expense of the rest of humanity. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) noted in 2006 that the United States is an unequal society, with more Americans in poverty than any other industrialized nation except Mexico. More than 35 percent of the US population is chronically poor.

In an unequal world, even the poorest 10 percent of Americans in 1993 were still wealthier than two-thirds of the rest of the world.

Twenty percent of humans not living in industrialized nations are chronically malnourished. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN issued a report in 2005 that states

Hunger and malnutrition are killing nearly six million children each year — a figure that roughly equals the entire preschool population of a large country such as Japan.

It's easy to see why tzedakah is extended under eco-kosher to include a prohibition against eating meals that do not include a proportionate share to buy food for the hungry.

You can mend the cosmos by anything you do — even eating.
Yesod ve-Shoresh ha-Avodah by Alexander Susskind

Eco-kosher has even deeper repercussions, however. In a world where protein is not distributed in an equitable fashion it is unjust to eat meat at all when the grain used to feed meat animals could directly feed larger numbers of people.

The EPA says the amount of U.S. crop sales in 1996 totaled $109 billion. Feed crops for animals (corn, sorghum, oats, and barley) provided the most sales. According to the National Corn Growers Association, about 80 percent of the maize (corn) grown in the US is eaten by food animals around the world.

"Food is oil," says Richard Manning.

Every single calorie we eat is backed by at least a calorie of oil, more like ten. In 1940 the average farm in the United States produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil energy it used. By 1974 (the last year in which anyone looked closely at this issue), that ratio was 1:1.

According to a report by The Worldwatch Institute, the average U.S. family of four eats enough beef in a year to burn 200 gallons of petroleum. A 2001 Iowa State study on food and how far it travels to reach the table concluded (not surprisingly) that fresh produce transported to citizens of Iowa currently travels longer distances, uses more fuel, and releases between 5 and 17 times more CO2 than the same quantity of produce grown and consumed locally.

Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with at least 4.3 pounds of food each day. Efforts to feed the hungry are not causing the environmental crisis.

In a 1997 study the American Association for the Advancement of Science noted that 78% of all malnourished children under the age of five who live in the developing world also live in countries with food surpluses. In the 1990s more than 30 million Americans could not afford a healthy diet; 8.5% of U.S. children were hungry; 20.1% more were at risk of hunger.

The Alan Shawn Feinstein World Hunger Program at Brown University calculates that if everyone ate a largely vegetarian diet with only minor supplementation from fish and range-fed animals, equally distributed planetary food rations would support roughly 7 billion well-fed people — and create a sigificant reduction in fossil fuel consumption.

Berakhah and Kedushah

These are the Jewish traditions related to consciously affirming a sense of holiness and blessing in life. For this reason, before and after eating those gathered for a meal stop and give thanks to Makor HaHayim (the Source of all life) for the bounty of the planet.

Eco-kosher and Money

Money consciousness is part of eco-kosher. Money reveals and conceals the interactions between humans and the earth. When we think of money as a metaphor for the bounty of our planet, it becomes a spiritual issue.

There are currently 1.3 billion people, or almost 20 percent of humanity, who live on US $1 or less a day.

These things that, by his science and technology, man has brought about on this earth, on which he first appeared as a feeble animal organism… these things do not only sound like a fairy tale, they are an actual fulfillment of every — or almost every — fairy tale wish.
—Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents

In older models of economies, certain aspects of the earth are not factored in because they are considered "productive," while others are left out because they are considered "relational." These days it is more realistic to include the value of the planet in economic calculations — to assign a value to what is generally considered a nonvalued secular transaction.

Putting a value on biodiversity requires an assessment of biological resources and an estimate of changes in biodiversity in economic terms.

Charles Hall, a professor at Syracuse, calculated that every American dollar or its equivalent spent anywhere on the planet triggers a series of events that generally consume a half-liter of petroleum.

A gallon of oil when burned releases 5 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere. Buy a bottom-of-the-line Lexus and there's several thousand pounds of carbon lofted into the Earth's atmosphere. Buy a $20 book and there go a couple of gallons of oil.

With every normal action in a consumer society we nudge the thermometer a little higher.
—Bill McKibben

GNP is now largely distrusted as a means of mirroring human "progress." Herman Daly, once employed by the World Bank but now a professor of economics at the University of Maryland, suggests that instead we should use the Genuine Progress Indicator as an indicator of what is really happening. This system incorporates environmental factors — including "depreciation of natural capital" like soil erosion — into GNP. And when that happens, economic figures change dramatically.

Based upon GPI figures, economic welfare in the U.S. is deteriorating.

The GDP has overestimated the health of [the US] economy by $7 trillion. Ironically, one of the key factors contributing to this over-counting is the expenditure that have resulted from the accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen and others.

"Ecosystem services," or what the planet does to sustain life for us as well as other species, work something like economic services. According to researchers, ecosystem services could be valued around $20 trillion a year — about equal to the annual gross global production of humans.

Ecosystem services include

  • Provision of clean water and air
  • Pollination of crops (which is why we should be worried about the worldwide die-off of bees)
  • Mitigation of environmental hazards
  • Pest and disease control

According to the Ecosystem Services website and available scientific evidence,

  • Ecosystem services are essential to civilization.
  • Ecosystem services operate on such a grand scale and in such intricate and little-explored ways that most could not be replaced by technology.
  • Human activities are already impairing the flow of ecosystem services on a large scale.
  • If current trends continue, humanity will dramatically alter virtually all of Earth's remaining natural ecosystems within a few decades.

It is time to heal the planet.

Tiqqun Olam: Feng Shui meets Eco-kosher

It's not about doing everything, it's about doing something.
—Laurie David, producer of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth"

Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572) first used the phrase tiqqun olam, (typically translated as "repairing the world"). He sought to explain the role of humanity in the evolution of the universe and preparing for the Moshiach.

According to Lurianic Kabbalah, The Eternal One created the universe by forming vessels of light to hold the Divine Light. The vessels shattered at the moment of creation. Divine sparks entered the material world, objects and beings. A few returned to their Source.

As the Baal Shem Tov wrote:

In all that is in the world dwell Holy Sparks, no thing is empty of them; in the actions of men also, indeed even in the sins he does, dwell Holy Sparks of God.

Tiqqun Olam is based on this Lurianic doctrine of Shevirat haKelim: that all things and all actions (even trivial ones) contain pieces of the Divine Light, yearning to return to the unity before the creation of the world. The task of humankind is to aid The Eternal One in gathering these pieces of the shattered vessels, to "raise the sparks" back to eternity, and to restore unity to the universe.

Tiqqun olam affects the outer and the inner realms. You heal the world through your righteous giving (tzedakah). You serve The Enternal One by helping those in need. You raise the sparks within yourself to serve The Eternal One.

Offering loving service and righteous giving, and receiving it, transforms our souls and raises the sparks.

This world, our world, is imbued with holiness … We are not seeking to escape the everyday, but to hallow it. We do this by cleansing ourselves of the negative behaviors that keep us from encountering the world — and all beings in it — with a sense of awe, wonder, kindness, and compassion …
—Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Feng Shui is so much more than its New Age image as a feel-good system of interior design, housekeeping, and self improvement. Feng shui takes human-environment interactions found in traditional spiritual systems, along with indigenous oral scientific knowledge, and expresses them in mathematical and philosophical terms — then expands them to the level of systematic science.

John Michell once said that Feng Shui will come into its own

when the symptoms of terrestrial sickness have become too blatant to be further ignored and the need arises to consider again the terms of the contract … by which settlement and civilization are permitted to continue.

The "terrestrial sickness" is around us. The research behind the Biophilia Hypothesis and the current scramble by scientists to record traditional environmental knowledge indicates that the scientific community is listening. The scientific community is investigating and implementing a variety of methods for healing the planet.

We have the opportunity to use the wisdom of the traditional environmental science of China and the traditional worldview of the West to achieve the Rio Summit Declarations.

But where to begin?

Feng shui can accomplish great things by embracing scientific knowledge of the planet — if practitioners move beyond their "wounded healer" needs, their profound ignorance of science, their spiritual hunger, and their chicanery.

Theologian James Nash created Six Ecological Dimensions of Love, which can be brought to bear on a synthesis of East and West. They certainly sound like feng shui principles:

  1. Beneficence (kindness to wild creatures)
  2. Other-esteem (rejection of the idea of possessing or managing the biosphere)
  3. Receptivity to nature (awe, for instance)
  4. Humility (caution in the use of technology)
  5. Knowledge of ecology and how nature works
  6. Communication (which Nash defines as "reconciliation, harmony, koinoia, shalom" between humankind and nature)

In her famous article in Tikkun magazine, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, a professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Chicago Divinity School, threw an extraordinary challenge at us:

If we begin to sense that a particular rule points us in unholy ways and would lead us to a less-than-holy reality, then it not only can, it must be altered.

We must do more than submit to our ancestors' vision of holiness. We must honor their vision by constantly revisioning the divine state, redefining the obligations that are demanded of us, and reaffirming them in deed and word. We must not only remember the revelation of the past, we must look upon our own actions as paths to this eternal revelation, and strive to have our acts bring us a sense of the Presence.

A Lakota prayer

Achieve a profound sense of involvement and attachment to the Presence. Have the "attitude of gratitude" for what the Earth provides for you every day. All you need is this little prayer, which would not be out of place in Mishkan Tefilah — another testimony to the wonders of the traditional worldview.

Great Spirit,
The star nations all over the heavens are Yours,
And Yours are the grasses of the earth.
You are older than all need,
Older than all pain and prayer.

Great Spirit,
Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all
that live.

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