Defining Kosher

December 18, 2010

I have been a vegetarian for eight years and made a relatively recent jump to veganism.  I know very well what occurs in factory farms and even that kosher slaughter is now more inhumane than regular slaughter.  Even so, I was still appalled by what I saw in the video we watched in class and, even more so, the way people who considered themselves to be rabbis justified the practice of “kosher” slaughter.

I had a lot of trouble believing that, given the overwhelming evidence of misconduct against the animals, these people who consider themselves teachers of an enlightened religion could condone the practice as acceptable.  The laws of kosher slaughter were intended to prevent excessive suffering for the animal, not to tell people how to slaughter an animal.  These rabbis, however, prefer to read the laws as how to slaughter and ignore the why behind it.  It seems to me that Judaism needs to reconsider its laws to make this distinction clearer for those who would prefer to be willfully ignorant so they can eat meat without guilt.  If animals are to be slaughtered for meat, the main concern, as the laws of Kosher make clear, should be to make sure the animal is treated and slaughtered humanely.

Finding Balance

December 17, 2010

I recently read out of our Ecology of Jewish Spirit book, an essay called “Jewish Perspectives on Limiting Consumption,” by Eliezer Diamond.  In this essay, he spends most of his time talking about the values within the Jewish people, concerning limiting consumption.  Diamond’s main focal point is finding a balance between pleasure and work, and understanding when to indulge in rest and celebration.  He speaks about the Jewish belief that God is the creator of all living things and the environment and how Jews are required to say a blessing before consuming any food, which is very similar to the reciting of Grace in Christianity. 

Diamond spends a huge portion speaking about halachah.  “Halachah consists of a system of boundaries or laws that are meant to distinguish a proper balance between enjoying and exploiting the world” (p.82).   Hachalah requires that time used for work should be mixed in evenly with periods of rest.  In Gen. 2:15, it talks about when God placed man in the Garden of Eden.  The Lord preaches, “… work it and tend it.  Diamond believes that to “work it”, refers to the six days that you are supposed to work during the week.  And to “keep it” refers to observing the seventh day as the Sabbath—the day of rest.  This idea of resting on the Sabbath actually comes up in my life pretty regularly.  Living in New York City, I am very use to diverse communities.  In apartment buildings all over my neighborhood, a great number of elevators are labeled “Sabbath Elevators”.  On the day of the Sabbath, the elevators stop at every single floor because on the Sabbath you are not allowed to use electricity. Something as little as pushing the button to get to your floor defeats is against the rules of the Sabbath.  I find it unbelievable how one little thing like pushing the button in your apartment building is actually abided by, by some people.  It shows how passionate and trusting Jewish people in their religion. 

Diamond’s main issue of concern is how when people are supposed to be on their day of rest, other things are being done.  He believes that people do not respect the Sabbath and what its intention is.  He states on numerous occasions that when people are given a day of rest, they over consume and celebrate their day off, completely belittling the reason for the Sabbath in the first place.  Diamond states that people spend their money on large festive meals or other extravagant activities, when they really should be spending it on more valuable things needed for every day life. 

I believe that this is a prevalent issue that we all face in society.  Over consumption has been one of the biggest reasons for pollution and poverty.  It has heavily contributed to the economic struggle that many Americans face and Diamond preaches that we need to cut down immensely.  I honestly believe that if we as a society are able to find that balance point between work and rest, and saving and consuming, then we as a community will be more united.

The holiday season

December 17, 2010

All across the country, students from grade school to college are going home to spend the holidays with family. Family gatherings, presents, big meals will be on the agenda for many if not most of these students and their families.  For those in marketing and sales, December is make-it or break-it.  From black friday through to New Year, consumerism is at an all-time high.  With everyone worried about the gifts they’ll be receiving and giving, the saving on purchases they can make, and the large meals they need to plan, many do not think about the amount of waste produced during this time of celebration.

According to the EPA, from Thanksgiving to New Years, household waste increases by more than 25%. This adds up to about and additional 1 million tons a week to our landfills. About 4 million tons of trash come from just gift-wrap and shopping bags. Half of the paper consumed in the U.S. is used to wrap and decorate consumer products. Half!

How many gift cards do you send or receive over each winter holiday break? 2.65 billion Christmas cards are sold each year. Try and picture a football field piled 10 stories high. Use Less Stuff estimates that if everyone sent one less card, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.

For those of us lucky enough to be around those close to us, think of all those tasty meals you will have. Does anyone pay attention to the amount of food thrown out after each meal? Probably not. Nearly 28 billion pounds of edible food are wasted each year.

People love their Christmas trees. Nearly 50 million of them are sold in the U.S. each year, 30 million of those end up in a landfill. Don’t forget about how we all get around to all these activities. An estimated one million tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced if everyone drove about 20 miles left.

Now it probably looks like I’m some sort of anti-holiday grinch who thinks everyone should sit alone in the dark and cold. I love eating with and giving gifts to my loved ones just as much as anyone else and I’m just as guilty of contributing to this waste. However, this year I’m going to try and do better by the environment and the people I share the planet with. is a great resource for alternative, cost-effective, and environmentally-friendly alternatives to our normal ways of doing things during the holiday season. Check it out. It’ll go a long way to help the environment if we were all a little more conscious  of the impact we have during the holiday season.

Just as we wrap up one of the most severe environmental disasters in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil lobby has decided to bite into its next victim, ANWR. This 19,286,722 acre expanse of protected land sits at the north eastern section in the Alaska North Slope region. It is special because it remains relatively inaccesible to humans.

This “lost land” is home to critical animal species and boasts the most biodiversity anywhere in the arctic circle. There is a diverse set of terrain from taiga to high mountain to salt-marsh deltas on its northern shore.

Oil has long been known to exist in ANWR, however its protected status made it difficult for oil companies to survey and then receive permitting to drill. Nowadays, with the scarcity of oil becoming more and more of an issue, big oil is eying the ANWR “1002” area. It is a very divisive issue among Alaskans. Some feel that drilling will provide needed jobs while boosting the economy, while others feel that oil companies have ruined enough of Alaska and in this case should be barred from meddling in such a pristine environment.

Estimates for just how much oil this refuge could yield are staggering, especially when considering the fact that there is a 95% chance that the refuge will be a super-field (that means 500-million barrels of crude or more). This type of yield is very hard to find nowadays, especially on dry ground, and this is precisely the reason that oil is passionately pursuing it.

These estimates vary from one extreme to the other. There is no proven method to estimating oil reserves. The only way to know for certain is to drill it. After drilling the amount of oil

The biggest worry among environmentalists is that the porcupine caribou breeding season will be impacted severely by the pipe infrastructure needed to carry the oil from the well to storage tanks. These pipes act as a barrier to migration for these rare animals.

If it were up to me, I think I would allow the oil companies to proceed. The chances of anything going wrong with a land based operation is low and only 8% would be considered for exploration in the first place. 1002 is America’s best chance for a major discovery with minimal environmental impact as well. In terms of public opinion 78% of Alaskans think that the exploitation of ANWR oil is the better decision. The general consensus among many of these citizens is that it makes sense to allow the capture of ANWR supplies.

Looking at a current operating platform in the Arctic Circle, Prudhoe Bay, it does seem within reason that such a project as ANWR oil extraction can co-exist with the nature around it with enough scientific research. I think this option is a no-brainer, we don’t have many other options for supplying are very petroleum hungry nation– and this reserve looks very promising in terms of  its long term production potential.

“Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor” by Garret Hardin definitely puts forth less than socially acceptable views on the world we currently live in.

He believes that each country is more or less a lifeboat, and that allowing others on-board is like asking for the death of all the original members on board. He argues that the influx of immigration, especially from Mexico, is going to drown original citizens out because Mexicans have a high birth rate.

He argues that because Mexicans are already poor to begin with, the more children they have places a larger demand on America’s resources. He makes the argument, indirectly that we cannot allow the wide-scale influx of 3rd world poor because it will end up draining precious resources we are starting to run out of.

The Food for Peace Program was a food bank like program that utilized taxpayer dollars ($7.9billion) to purchase the surplus food. He argues that this plan’s cost was a staggering price for American Business to pay, and that this program was not in our country’s best interest. The government bureaucracy in charge of seeing this program though, began to build up to the point of dependence on the program’s success no matter whether or not is was doing any good or was worth it in the first place.

A well-run family, company, organization or country prepares for the likelihood of accidents and emergencies. It expects them, it budgets for them, it saves for them.

At the end of his thought comes this revelation of Hardin’s which is typically harsh, but on the other hand very well thought out. He seems to think that by doling out food to anyone in need we condition economies and people to this aid and cause them to become further dependent on these efforts. He thinks that food banks serve a purpose,  but only for ACTUAL emergencies. He does not believe that a country that has been poorly managed deserves food aid and instead should suffer at its own peril. I agree with Mr. Hardin, because I think this aid is really a crutch for countries that need initiatives to avoid future shortages of food. He argues that we should give these 3rd world nations *technology* not supplies. He argues that with technology we enable the user(s) to provide themselves and thus remove a crutch for them and a financial burden from having to give them food hand outs regularly.

He makes some dark comments regarding the way a food bank would only help speed up the growth of poor immigrants throughout the world. Because they reproduce at such a high rate, when they are given access to the food bank multiple children per woman will be the result. These children will then be faced with the problems of their parents, only the problem will be worse and everyone involved will see a somewhat desperate situation become more alarming with each passing year.

Well, of course! I think it is a well meaning idea, but I hate to say it is a more than a bit impractical. It seems hard to guarantee, especially in current times that someone living in the depths of New York City is going to enjoy the same environmental quality as Billings, Montana.

According to Maude Bartlow a “Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth” should be established. It argues that both clean air and water should be a guarantee to everyone. It goes even further when it states that even ecosystems themselves should have inherent rights. Whoa! I think Ms. Bartlow is going a little far with this last bit. Shouldn’t we first get the air and water quality standards up to speed before we worry about giving rights to ecosystems?

I am not exactly sure how this plan is going to be carried out, but it does sound beneficial, especially considering its humanitarianism ends. When you really think about it makes sense to give everyone at least such basics as clean air and water. I am sure that if nothing else, this idea will stand at the forefront of goals mankind needs to accomplish. We are reaching a point where water is becoming scarce and where the very air we breathe is questionable in many locals.

What will the quality of our environment be like for our children? How are we going to continue as a species if we run out of water– the most basic, but also the elemental necessity for human health? I think the human race is headed down a very scary path, one that I don’t really want to think about, but also one that can more than likely be reversed with global cooperation and understanding.

Borders themselves are an afterthought when these basics of life are in jeopardy, and it is only going to get better through the implementation of large scale global policies, not national policies. I think we need to realize this problem is much larger in scale and importance than one nation enacting carbon-trading as a means to curb pollution.

In terms of current nations/locals that are enacting newly written laws/constitutions I can give you two examples, both of which stand to greatly change the ideology of many more. In Ecuador the entire constitution has been re-written and is now updated to state that rights are given to nature itself. In a lesser degree Pittsburgh, PA has begun an intensive examination and re-writing of many of its laws regarding the environment to protect itself from the exploitation of mining companies. In Pittsburgh’s case, the laws have come out of what many citizens feel is the advantageous taking of natural gas through a process called “fracking”. In this process deep cracks are sent through Marcellus shale causing trapt gas to escape. In this process hazardous chemicals leech into soil and subsequently into water supplies. In Ecuador’s case it is more highly motivated by the eco-tourism industry and the general high regard many Ecuadorians have for their nation’s natural beauty.

Christian Evangelicals, believe it or not, are pro-Israel. This is because Israel represents the “holy land” and is incredibly important to their religious ideologies.

Recently in one of my other Jewish classes with Ted Merwin we listened to an expert on the matter and discovered some interesting facts about this matter.

Evangelical Christians donate generously to Israel to make sure important religious relics will not be destroyed. It is not that they support Jews as much as the land itself. The problem is this land they want to perserve is also not inhabited by people they agree with.

Interestingly enough, their are Christian missions set up in Israel that advertise free meals and board. Their motives are not exactly as positive as the boarder would think. The point of these bed and breakfast like inns is to convert any Jew who enters.

This is a disgraceful and deceitful thing for Evangelicals in Israel to place on their boarders. Religion should not be rammed down someone’s throat, and especially when that someone is clearly a believer in a different religion.

What could possible motivate these “converters” to make others feel insecure enough to become Christian. I further ask the question of how faithful these newly born Christians will be. It just blows me away that anyone could pursue such a disgustingly wrong and mal-intent purpose with their only support being that “God will only love you if you are Christian” or “The only way you will be saved is if you come to our God”.

In Israel such “converters” are banned, but they can still operate through a loophole involving hotels/inns or bed and breakfasts.

I feel that more than anything else, these people bring a great disgrace to their religion and probably hurt their religion’s reputation more than helping it by converting people.

The amount of these converters in Israel is unknown, but it is still quite a prevalent problem. The overall mission of these men and women is fanatical and quite transparent. They hope to lure unsuspecting victims into their homes and then begin to profess that their guest will go to hell, unless they convert. It is a very bewildering situation that the guests are placed in, they don’t want to leave for fear of being rude, but also don’t want to stay and listen to stranger(s) tell them that their religion is entirely  wrong.

I know I am ranting quite a lot, but I just feel that the whole situation is a mixed bag. I am sure Israel greatly appreciates the gifts it receives from Evangelical Christians, but the money seems tainted with false acceptance. More than likely donations are being given only to protect what Christians see as invaluable relics, not to create a sense of acceptance between Jews and Christians. It is a hard situation to judge, but it definitely isn’t hard to see that Evangelicals have false motives despite their generous gifts.

Thinking Outside the Box

December 15, 2010

An article from the Huffington Post today titled, Used Clothing Collection Bins: Why they’re good for the Environment, reminded me of the importance of thinking outside the box on environmental issues. As the article discusses, oftentimes people tend to exclusively recycle plastic, glass, and aluminum and rarely think about recycling other materials.  Obviously recycling these items is convenient in our daily lives (there are bins seemingly every 50 feet on Dickinson campus) but we ought to take the time to recycle other materials as well.

The article speaks about the use of drop bins for unwanted articles of clothing, which can be found all over the place in any town throughout the country. Undoubtedly, these bins are easier to find than a specific charity that will take unwanted clothes, and there are no lines or extensive clothing checks like some organizations may have.  I found the article to be enlightening because I always assumed that the clothing in these bins were simply brought to charity organizations and sorted once they were there.  While that is the purpose of some of these drop offs, in some cases the textile from the clothing is actually broken down and used again to make new clothing.  As the article described, “unlike paper and plastic, 100% of all textiles and used clothing can be reused.”  In this way, the clothing and textiles will never end up getting thrown out (and put into landfills), and a new product, better product can be made as a result.

Since I was unaware that used clothes can actually be recycled, rather than simply re-bought from a charity organization, I began to look around my house for other items that could be recycled as well.  I realized that many items in my bedroom (e.g. posters and rugs) could be recycled along with lots of my unwanted clothing, rather than simply thrown out at the end of the year. I think that if Dickinson was more adamant about checking student’s dorm rooms/ apartments at the end of the year for recyclable goods, vast improvements could be made in our already impressive recycling practices.  Dickinson dorms are havens for non- traditional recyclable goods, and awareness about these items should be raised in order to continue our pursuit of an exceptionally green campus. While I am no expert, I imagine that an enormous amount of recyclable goods are simply thrown away at the end of each school year during annual dorm clean-ups.

I think that articles such as this one by Mattias Wallander are critical to reducing our campus’s carbon footprint, seeing as I learned so much from reading his brief piece. It is clear that we as students need to do more than just the traditional recycling that is implemented throughout the campus. We ought to start looking outside the box (or plastic recycling bin in this case) to ensure that we are doing our very best to promote strong green values on campus, and throughout all aspects of our life.

This article, along with a number of different intriguing “green perspectives” can be found in the Huffington Post’s Green Section…

No Impact Man

December 15, 2010

In another one of my courses, my class watched a documentary called No Impact Man, a movie about ecological change that has high relevance to this course.  The film follows a man, Colin Beavan, his wife Michelle, and their toddler-aged daughter as they try to entirely eliminate their carbon footprint over the course of a year.  The project required the Beavans to make drastic changes to their daily lives in New York City such as ridding their apartment of all electricity, shopping exclusively at farmer’s markets, riding bikes to work, and even removing the toilet paper from their bathrooms!  While their actions were clearly very extreme and highly inconvenient at times, they also had a purpose.  The Beavans’ goal was not to have everyone follow in their footsteps, but rather to simply raise more awareness about ecological issues present in our society today.  In making their documentary, they were able to get an extensive article in the New York Times, and had multiple appearances on day-time network talk shows in which they described their new daily lives.  While they were met with both positive and negative reactions, the Beavans most certainly achieved their goals of bringing up green issues in many different contemporary media outlets.

Of all the entertaining moments in the entire film, I found that the interviews with Colin and Michlle Beavan after their year-long project had been completed were the most valuable.  While they had made some extremely drastic changes to their daily lives, it was interesting to see which changes the Beavan’s planned to maintain upon the completion of the film. According to them, without electricity each day not only felt extremely long, but also extremely valuable and productive.  Because of this, they both planned to minimize their electricity use on weekends- in order to spend more time together as a family.  Furthermore, they planned to continue riding their bikes to work, and continue shopping at the local farmers’ markets in order to help local businesses.

I believe that the best way to make progress in the green movement is to set goals for ourselves in our daily practices in order to establish personal change and improvement.  While they do not have to be as extreme as some of the Beavan’s changes, doing things like minimizing electricity/TV watching/ Internet use on weekends would prove valuable to many people’s lives. Not only would it lower our individual carbon footprints, but as the Beavan’s noted, it could potentially make people value their time and the world around them significantly more.  I think that by setting personal goals, we as humans would be making the change that we want to see, and we would likely feel better about many aspects of our lives on a daily basis.  Not everyone needs to make their living and work spaces LEED certified or compost all of their waste, but smaller changes like riding your bike instead of driving shorter distances would lower carbon footprints universally.  And with the new year approaching, what better time to set new personal standards for which to live our daily lives by. For more information on No Impact Man and other work by Colin Beavan, click on this link …

Establishing Balance

December 15, 2010

After seeing each group’s presentation in class on Wednesday, I came to the realization that the concept of halacha is perhaps the most valuable and applicable lesson for our class’s field work in Harrisburg.  As I understand it, this lesson ties in with limiting consumption and maintaining modesty in life by preaching of a sense of balance that ought to be established within all individuals.  This balance is often applied to how we as people should keep our strongest material desires under control and should not be driven solely by the thought of material gain.  Through minimizing materialism, humans will be able to focus on more spiritually fulfilling practices such as our relationship with God, family, and community. In this sense, balancing our various desires and the important elements that make up our daily lives, we will reach spiritual fulfillment- the most valuable “possession” of all.

I heard this concept of balance brought up many times throughout the presentations on Wednesday, when groups were exploring arguments found in Jewish literature about ecology.  As most groups pointed out, it is important for the various sites in Harrisburg to find a balance between their financial needs and their environmental needs if the proposed plans are expected to be successful.  While I do think that this is a very important lesson for the people working in the sites, I think it is important for us as the planners to search for some balance as well.  In my opinion, the green movement is often met with some hesitance not only because of financial concerns but also because of resistance to change/modernization.  Because of this, I believe that it is critical for those individuals spearheading the green movement to search for balance in the change that they are promoting.  Rather than pushing strongly for radical changes in our environmental practices, it would be better to ease certain institutions into the movement by asking for smaller changes within their practices.  For example, if a sense of resistance is felt from an institution, it is much more logical to ask them to start a recycling program, rather than asking for an entire re-commission of their building. By doing this, you could get the ball rolling within an institution, work with them over time, and then propose the larger changes once the smaller goals have been successfully achieved.

It is important to remember that not everyone is one hundred percent sold on the environmental movement present in our culture today.  Therefore, by balancing the change that we would like to see with the change that people are comfortable with, success is much more likely.  In this sense, the values taught through halacha are important to keep in mind as continued progress is made for the protection of our environment.  While progress may seem slow at times, without a balanced, modest approach it is clear that the goals of the green movement are simply unachievable.  For that reason, we can see that balance is critical to our individual daily lives, and to global cultural improvements.