FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
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
The biggest news is that we've established a home on the internet at
www.canfeinesharim.org. 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
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
THE ENVIRONMENTALISM OF THE PIOUS
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
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.
REDUCE TOXICS THIS CHANUKAH
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
http://www.seventhgeneration.com. Enjoy the gifts of Hanukah and stay
environmentally safe, this year and all year round.
INQUIRIES FOR THE EAGLE: WHAT CATEGORIES OF SHEMOS MAY BE RECYCLED?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE CHEMISTRY BETWEEN US: AN INTRODUCTION TO
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
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.
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
http://www.scorecard.org. 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 email@example.com.
UPCOMING EVENTS AND OPPORTUNITIES
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org
(NOTE: This Shabboson is separate from the COEJL institute taking
place 22nd-24th February (see www.coejl.org), but priority for our
limited overnight accommodation will be given to people attending both
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 www.israelride.org or email email@example.com.
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 www.coejl.org.
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, www.canfeinesharim.org! 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, Dave@tailofthelion.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell your friends about us! It is now possible for them to subscribe
to our newsletter directly on the website at www.canfeinesharim.org.
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!
ON A WING
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 CanfeiNesharimemail@example.com.
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 StevenAKrieger@yahoo.com
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.