Canfei Nesharim


Check back each month for our exciting newsletter filled with facts and info about the environment! (Past editions are available at the bottom of this page)


December 25, 2003 30 Kislev 5764

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On Chanukah, we remember that even in the darkest time of year we can celebrate miracles. It's a time to be grateful for the oil that lasted longer than we expected, and for the resources that turned out to be sufficient even when they seemed too scarce. In this time of year, it's appropriate to celebrate blessings of all kinds. And Canfei Nesharim has quite a few blessings that we are celebrating in this special season. In the last few months, Canfei Nesharim has evolved from a small group of committed Orthodox Jews to a growing organization.

The biggest news is that we've established a home on the internet at For now, the web site is a place where you can read our previous newsletters, see the bios of our members, and subscribe yourself to our newsletter. But we have big dreams for this web site. Ultimately, it will become a resource for the entire Orthodox community, including articles by Orthodox rabbaim on environmentally-related issues, Tu b'Shevat seders, one-stop access to Torah books on nature and the environment, and other resources.

Canfei Nesharim, with funding from Hazon, will also be hosting our first official event � an Orthodox Shabbaton scheduled for the Shabbos before this year's Institute for the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). This is an opportunity not only to bring Orthodox Jews to participate in the COEJL Institute, but also to share a traditional Orthodox Shabbos with COEJL members who may never have experienced one. The Shabbason will take place this February 20-21 in Boston.

Even though it's still Chanukah, it's not too late to start preparing for Tu b'Shevat (only six weeks away!). Canfei Nesharim is coordinating a "learning campaign" this Tu b'Shevat. We'll be placing environmentally-related articles written by Orthodox rabbis in numerous learning websites and newsletters this year. Look for our materials in your favorite newsletter � or, better yet, help us get posted in it!

With all these candles gleaming, it's hard to remember we're in the darkness of winter. As you read through this newsletter (there is lot of information here!) -- about recycling Shemos, understanding the science behind toxic chemicals, and learning how to reduce toxics in your home � we hope Canfei Nesharim brings some warmth into your winter season.

Good Chodesh,

~Evonne Marzouk


By: Rabbi Daniel Roselaar

[Rabbi Daniel Roselaar has served as the rabbi of the Belmont Synagogue, a constituent synagogue of the United Synagogue in England, since 1997. He studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel for eight years and received semichah from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate in 1994. Rabbi Roselaar also serves on Canfei Nesharim's Rabbinic Advisory Board.]

Amongst the unavoidable realities of human existence is the fact that most benefits exact a price. This is particularly true where limited resources are available. This phenomenon is easily recognisable from an economic perspective, where for example the acquisition of one item costs money that could have been used for other purchases; and is also quite apparent from a broader social perspective, where for example the provision of healthcare facilities may preclude the provision of recreational facilities. Currently society is also becoming aware of this reality from an ecological and conservationist perspective. Thus, every airplane flight exacts a price both in terms of the consumption of increasingly scarce resources, and also in terms of pollution and other forms of damage to the environment.

These latter concerns have largely been ignored from a traditional Jewish perspective. Though we are familiar with the Biblical concept of bal tashchit, which enjoins us not to be unnecessarily destructive, it is fair to state in broad terms that unless things are being wantonly destroyed these concepts need not necessarily be applied.

However there are other considerations that can justifiably be factored into the equation. Chazal comment that the patriarch Yaacov crossed back over the Yabok River in order to retrieve some small jugs or trinkets and that this demonstrates how righteous people value even the smallest of items (Chullin 91a). Even though the halachic principals of bal tashchit would have justified abandoning those items, Yaacov's religious sensitivity prevented him from allowing them to go to waste.

In a similar vein it is also pertinent to consider the Talmudic observation that the Torah is concerned not to waste Israel's money (Yoma 44b). Thus, even certain ritual implements for use in the Temple service were made out of silver rather than gold, so as to conserve Israel's wealth.

Bearing these sources in mind we might do well to ponder whether we are perhaps inappropriately wasteful of resources in ways that exact both a financial cost and an environmental cost. They imply that it would not be alien to Jewish tradition if, for example, we decide to assess each car journey that we make, asking ourselves if we are wasting scarce resources and money. Perhaps we should also think about the speed at which we travel and the increased fuel consumption that higher speeds often entail, as well as the use of items such as disposable tableware. There are many everyday things that might well be acceptable within the parameters of bal tashchit, but they don't sit comfortably with the extra-halachic aspirations of the Sages.


By: Gary Skulnick

When searching for Hanukah gifts, as well as everyday household items, be sure to choose products that keep your house toxic free. By purchasing toxic free products, you are minimizing pollution hazards for children in the less fortunate communities situated in the shadows of polluting manufacturing plants.

Toys made with Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or "vinyl") are dangerous for your children, but even more dangerous for the children that live near PVC producers. Cancer Alley was named after a stretch of land that lined the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge because the PVC and Petro Chemical plants leaked or emitted pollutants that caused an alarming rate of cancer in the residents. For more information on "Cancer Alley" and the harm caused by PVC, go to Look for the PVC warning stamp on the toys and children's items you are thinking about buying and express your protest to the manufacturers by refusing to purchase those items.

Additionally, toxic chemicals in household cleaning supplies that you might use to clean up from your Hanukah party can be extremely damaging to your home and local watershed. Fortunately, there are many safe alternatives available. Examine the label for natural ingredients and words such as "non-toxic, biodegradable, and non-petroleum-based" surfactants that are free of chlorine and phosphate. One example of these products can be found at Enjoy the gifts of Hanukah and stay environmentally safe, this year and all year round.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that in the year 2000 the average American produced approximately 4.4 lbs of waste per day, or over 1600 lbs per year. The EPA also estimated that 40.4% or 71.6 million tons of all trash generated is from paper products. In the U.S., paper use is increasing, despite already utilizing over 100 million tons a year. According to the EPA and Treecycle (a leading recycled paper provider), recycling paper reduces energy and water consumption by 60-70% and 55% respectively and reduces toxic and water pollution by 74% and 35% respectively during paper production.

Consistent with leading a Jewish lifestyle, our communities are faced with the environmental quandary of what to do with the large quantity of paper products called Shemos (all religious documents). We need to determine what, if any, of these documents can be recycled. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein answers this question in his writings of Teshuvas: Torah scrolls, anything on parchment (i.e. tefillin, mezuzas), siddurim (prayer books), any paper form of the 5 Books of Moses, and the written 7 Kinnos (different holy names) of Hashem's name cannot be recycled and must be put into Shemos for proper Jewish burial. Alternately, Shemos are often placed in the foundation of a new Synagogue. Remaining materials, including oral law, is permitted to be recycled, as it was never supposed to be transcribed into writing. However, Rabbi Feinstein qualified the above by saying that the Poskim in Israel should be consulted and that not everyone will hold by this lenient view (Igros Moshe, Orah Hayim, volume four, number 39).

This list does not include electronic images, which have separate teshuvas. Whether your paper waste is Hebrew or English, there's an excellent possibility that it can be recycled at a local facility, which allows you to personally contribute to environmental conservation.

What are your questions about Judaism or the environment? We want to answer you! Send your inquiries to

-The Eagle


By: Daniel Weber, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Life doesn't exist without chemistry. However, chemistry can harm life as well. This "split personality" can be illustrated by the metabolism of food. In all living things, chemical reactions rearrange food molecules into molecules of hormones, proteins, bones, muscles and nerves. Unused molecules are then eliminated in a form that may be dangerous to other living things. In other words, all living things produce toxic waste. Fortunately, ecological systems utilize most of that toxic waste (i.e., metabolized by other organisms.) Bacteria, worms, maggots, sowbugs, and ants are examples of organisms that keep the toxic deposits of others from accumulating�in fact, they often transform these wastes into useful compounds. Over the eons of time, living systems have been endowed with the ability to detoxify many, but not all, harmful chemicals.

The balance described above depends upon three components: 1) waste products can be metabolized by the cellular machinery of other living organisms, 2) the amount of harmful by-products is only a small fraction of all wastes produced, and 3) the rate of utilization is similar to the rate of production of toxic chemicals. If these components (type, chemical quantities, and rate) are unbalanced, toxic chemicals will accumulate in the environment. The understanding that humans cause the imbalance in ALL of these components helps us understand the damage toxic chemicals cause in the environment, wildlife and ourselves.

At first glance, chemicals with names of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD or just dioxin), or dichlorvos (an organophosphate insecticide) can be overwhelming just to pronounce, let alone understand their danger. Even familiar chemicals like DDT, lead, mercury, and chromium may act on living systems in ways that can be harmful. Yet, all these chemicals interact with at least one of four basic biological systems or process: nervous system (neurotoxins), hormones (endocrine disruptors), metabolism (metabolic poisons), or the genetic code (genotoxins). Understanding how toxic chemicals interact with these four fundamental categories (toxic action) enables us to conduct risk assessments for wildlife and humans.

Nervous System (Neurotoxins)
Many inorganic (such as metal salts) and organic chemicals (such as pesticides) can affect the nervous system. Pesticides, such as organochlorines, organophosphates, and carbamates, are purposely released into the environment at concentrations that are lethal to the "pests" being targeted. Since physiology among animals is similar, neurotoxic chemicals affect a wide range of animals, including humans. Some of the most potent pesticides manufactured today are found naturally as plant defense compounds, such as nicotine (a pure drop is lethal to humans). Manufactured metals such as lead, mercury, zinc, and cadmium are potent neurotoxic agents and released into the environment. Recent discoveries by scientists demonstrate that drugs such as Prozac are finding their way into lakes and streams where they are affecting normal frog metamorphosis.

Neurotoxic agents affect the transmission of information within and between nerves or cause behavioral birth defects. For example, Permethrins (synthesized from chrysanthemums) are an effective pesticide because they block the transmission of electrical impulses in the nerve's axon, the arm of the neuron that extends from the main cell body toward another nerve or target organ such as muscle. An excellent example of how chemicals affect the translation of nerve information the effect of lead, a commonly used metal, on human learning. Learning is a complex process, one part is the way in which certain chemical keys unlock cellular pathways that allow a nerve to "create memories." Lead blocks the locks and makes learning more difficult.

Hormones (Endocrine Disruptors)
Another way our bodies create lines of communication is through hormones. Hormones affect many biological functions, e.g., metabolism, growth, reproduction, and mood. Chemicals that affect hormone activity are called endocrine disruptors. For example, animals such as insects, spiders, and crabs possess a unique hormone related to their growth and molting of their exoskeletons. Specific pesticides have been developed to prevent molting, thus preventing growth. The animal soon dies because it is no longer protected from desiccation or predators by its exoskeleton. Since all invertebrates have this hormone, all are affected, even those not considered "pests."

As mentioned above, human activity releases lead, mercury, PCBs, DDT, and certain pharmaceuticals into the environment. All of these agents can alter endocrine systems. PCBs, while no longer produced for electrical transformers and backs of carbonless paper, still exist in large quantities throughout the environment. PCBs block the synthesis of thyroid hormones that are important to metabolism and the development of nerves during embryo development. DDT, an organochlorine developed as a neurotoxic pesticide, blocks the hormones involved in calcium metabolism, thus causing the "thin-shelled egg" syndrome that nearly wiped out the American Bald Eagle. A number of pharmaceuticals, industrial byproducts (e.g., dioxin), and surfactants in detergents (nonylphenols), mimic, for example, the activity of estrogen and are now believed to be in sufficient quantities in rivers and lakes to alter reproductive success of many fish species.

Metabolic Poisions
A third category of toxic chemicals is the metabolic poisons. These affect basic cell biochemistry, which can cause organ malfunctions. For example: Dioxin, petroleum-based chemicals (benzene, toluene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), lead and mercury, may change the way a liver operates so that it fails to utilize carbohydrates correctly. Chemicals such as chlorine (used in swimming pools or wastewater treatment plants) or cyanide (from industrial waste) can affect the cell's ability to use oxygen, cause the formation of radicals in the cell, or inhibit the critically important process of transferring ions across cell membranes.

Genetic Code (Genotoxins)
Genotoxicity implies that chemicals may alter the basic functioning of our genetic code�DNA, genes, chromosomes, etc. If these changes in gene function occur in the cells that produce sperm or eggs, these changes may be heritable, that is, the next generation will inherit a faulty genetic code. If these changes occur in nonreproductive organs, only that individual will be affected. Scientists are finding that many of the chemicals, including lead, cadmium, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, coal derivatives such as anthracene, fertilizers such as nitrites, and some fungicides released into the environment by human activity are genotoxic. Additionally, genotoxic chemicals sometimes lead to birth defects or cancer.

While large proportions of toxic substances are released, simple individual attempts to minimize the damage of toxic substances are certainly beneficial and serve as role models for others. The following are active suggestions you can take:
- Refer to the Environmental Defense Fund's Chemical Scorecard at Knowing what chemicals you use and which of those are toxic will be the first step to wise use and disposal.
- Contact your municipal public works department for recommended procedures of disposing of hazardous wastes, e.g., paints, batteries (car and electronic devices), light bulbs, and pesticides. Do not place these items in your regular garbage.
- Never dump contaminants in a drain or throw them into your household garbage. In fact, participate in local efforts to mark all storm sewers with a "DO NOT DUMP WASTES" decal.
- Look at ingredients of the items you buy. If you can't find alternatives to products that contain hazardous materials, then use less of them.
- Read Canfei Nesharim's Action Corner this month (see below) for more suggestions on buying non-toxic items.

Send your comments to Dr. Daniel Weber at


"Lecha Dodi Likrat Kala, Penei Shabbos Ne Kabela"
Canfei Nesharim invites you to share an uplifting & spiritual Orthodox Environmental Shabboson in Boston, February 20-21st, 2004.

The Shabboson participants will stay with local families, share our environmental and Torah learning with the Boston Orthodox community, and join Jewish Environmental Activists from around the world to pray, eat, celebrate and educate. The program will be a traditional Orthodox Shabboson, including Orthodox services at a local synagogue, kosher food, and plenty of ruach! More details and application forms available shortly, but you can pre-register now by emailing Aviva at

*Please note - If you would like to help to organize this event, or have general questions, please email John at (NOTE: This Shabboson is separate from the COEJL institute taking place 22nd-24th February (see, but priority for our limited overnight accommodation will be given to people attending both events.)

The 2004 Arava Institute Hazon Israel Bike Rike will take place from Jerusalem to Eilat, from April 27th to May 3rd, 2004. Riders will commit to raise at least $3600 in sponsorships: proceeds will go to Hazon and the Arava Institute, and the sponsorships will also cover all expenses for the trip. The ride will be capped at 100 riders and is expected to sell out. Hazon's rides are friendly to Orthodox needs such as shabbos and kashrus. For more information, visit or email

Save the date! The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) annual institute will take place in Boston on February 22-24th. Last year a number of Canfei Nesharim steering committee members attended the Institute, including our Executive Director. Having Orthodox Jews present at the Institute helps demonstrate the halachic authenticity of protecting the environment, builds support for the success of Canfei Nesharim's mission, and is a great opportunity to share our halachic commitment with non-observant Jews. COEJL events are kosher, shomer shabbos in public areas, and include opportunities for Orthodox prayer services. For more information visit


Canfei Nesharim has had some exciting developments over the last few months! We are always eager for assistance and feedback from our readers. Here are some ways you can help this month:

Visit our new website,! Our goal is to make this web site a resource for the entire Orthodox community on environmental issues. Please suggest books and articles that might be appropriate to post on the site, and send any comments or suggestions to our webmaster,

This year on Tu b'Shevat, Canfei Nesharim is planning a "learning campaign." We will post articles written by Orthodox rabbis in a number of Orthodox publications and learning websites. If you know of publications or web sites that might be appropriate for this, email Ariel at

Tell your friends about us! It is now possible for them to subscribe to our newsletter directly on the website at Our goal is to have 200 readers on our newsletter list by Tu b'Shevat. That's 30 new readers in 6 weeks. Help us find them!


Thank you for taking the time to focus on the importance of our natural world and our obligation to protect it. We look forward to sharing more Torah and avodas Hashem with you in the future.

Canfei Nesharim is eager to share our learning with many different Orthodox Jews around the world. Please forward this newsletter to anyone who would find it interesting, and print it out to share with your synagogue, so that we can continue to develop our connections and engagement in the Orthodox community! And please encourage the people who would be interested to subscribe directly to our mailing list by sending an email to

The Canfei Nesharim Steering Committee

Note: All materials published herein are Copyright 2003 by their authors. Reproduction of this material is encouraged so long as the footer and header information remains intact.

Many thanks to Steven Krieger, our editor, and the rest of the steering committee, who contributed to the development of this newsletter. If you would like to contribute materials or ideas to the newsletter, please contact Steven at

Canfei Nesharim is an organization of Orthodox Jews who are dedicated to educating the Orthodox community about environmental issues and their connection to Torah and halacha.


Past editions of the newsletter available for download.

February 17, 2003 15 Adar 5763

April 2, 2003 1 Nissan 5763

May 13, 2003 12 Iyar 5763

June 23, 2003 24 Sivan 5763

July 25, 2003 25 Tammuz 5763

September 12, 2003 15 Elul 5763

November 6, 2003 15 Cheshvan 5764

� (2003) All rights reserved.