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Mass. Board of Rabbis releases Statement on the Environment as Boston COEJL signs state synagogues on to the Pledge to Green

For immediate release

July 1, 2008


Susie Davidson, co-coordinator, Boston COEJL (, 617-566-7557)

Rabbi Victor Reinstein, Chair, Public Policy Committee of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis (, 617-522-3618)

Alan Teperow, Executive Director, Synagogue Council of Massachusetts (

Mass. Board of Rabbis releases Statement on the Environment as Boston COEJL signs state synagogues on to the Pledge to Green

What: The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis (MBR) and the Boston chapter of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) have undertaken major statewide iniatives in environmental responsibility.
More information: In June, 2008, the MBR unanimously endorsed a “Statement on the Environment." Boston COEJL, listed on the MBR and the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts websites, has been signing Massachusetts synagogues on to their statewide “Pledge to Green.”
The MBR statement was proposed by the Public Policy Committee of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, a group of seven appointed Rabbis who study social issues and submit proposals to the Executive Committee and the membership. If approved, the proposals become official positions of the MBR. With the statement’s passage, the MBR commits to supporting activities that protect and preserve the environment in the areas of advocacy, education and action, as it calls upon its members and their communities to do the same. The document cites ancient Jewish texts pertaining to the relationship between human beings and the earth, passages that protect animals and trees, and the concepts of tikkun olam (repair of the world) and of bal tashchit, which warns against wanton destruction and waste of resources. MBR leadership has signed on to the Massachusetts Interfaith Pledge for Climate Action, which urges Massachusetts elected officials to support legislation that fights climate change. In the 1970s, the MBR supported the farm worker boycott of non-union lettuce and grapes.
Rabbi Eric Gurvis, president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, stated, “This is an important step for the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis. Our 120 members represent a broad spectrum of the Jewish community. Through the leadership of our Public Policy Committee, we have organized ourselves to speak out on important issues which face our world, using our rich Jewish heritage as a prism through which to see our world as it is, and as we might wish it to be.  We see this statement on the environment as the first of many steps in engaging as a Board of Rabbis in some of the important issues of our day.”

Boston COEJL, locally coordinated by Susie Davidson and Amelia Geggel, has simultaneously begun a statewide “Pledge to Green" synagogues in Massachusetts. The Pledge, a nonbinding promise to practice more environmentally-conscious measures, is viewable on, which along with the Synagogue Council site, will post progress reports of individual synagogues. 
Boston COEJL members, who are available for consultations and Basics of Greening talks for children and adults, have also posted a Green Guide for Massachusetts Synagogues, with information on lowering energy bills, obtaining state energy company rebates, cutting down on waste, purchasing energy-efficient products, green cleaners and landscaping items (Goldman Paper Co., which supplies many state synagogues, is now offering environmentally-friendly products), and on conducting “green” events and educational programs.
Signees thus far include Congregation Beth Israel of the Merrimack Valley, Andover; Temple Israel, Athol; Beth El Temple Center, Belmont; Congregation Kehillath Israel, Brookline; Temple Sinai, Brookline; Congregation Eitz Chayim, Cambridge; Congregation Mishkan Tefilah, Chestnut Hill; Temple Emeth, Chestnut Hill; Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue, Jamaica Plain; Temple Tifereth Israel, Malden; Temple Beth Shalom, Needham; Congregation Agudas Achim Anshei Sfard (The Adams Street Shul), Newton; Temple Ner Tamid, Peabody; Congregation Beth Jacob, Plymouth; Congregation Klal Yisrael, Sharon; Temple Sinai, Sharon; and Temple Hillel B’Nai Torah, West Roxbury.
While many state synagogues have already been promoting and practicing green efforts, Davidson said that this pledge represents a unified, environmentally-conscious statement from the local Jewish community along the lines of alliances such as the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and the Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) of Northeastern States.
“Boston COEJL believes it is ethically imperative for Jews to work toward lessening our environmental impact and thus uphold the Jewish ideals of tikkun olam, tzedek (justice), and bal tashchit,” said Geggel.
In addition to the Mass. Board of Rabbis and the Synagogue Council, Boston COEJL is allied locally with the Jewish organizations GesherCity and Moishe House Boston: Kavod Jewish Social Justice House, as well as with the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, Clean Water Action, the Interfaith Alliance of Massachusetts, and Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light.
“We view signing the Pledge and interacting further with COEJL members as a way that local synagogues can increase environmental awareness as they implement more earth-friendly practices,” said Davidson, who is a correspondent for the Jewish Advocate and an Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow board member. “The Green Guide will clearly and concisely detail financially efficacious ‘green’ steps that synagogue staff can adapt and incorporate into their building and landscape structure, their energy operations, and their educational and other programming.”
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life is a New York-based program of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), a national coordinating body for 13 national and 125 local Jewish public affairs agencies (Jewish community relations councils). With a national board of 23 trustees, COEJL is the leading Jewish environmental organization in the US, representing 29 national Jewish organizations.
Information on Boston COEJL can be viewed at the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts’ website,, or at
The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis (MBR) is an organization of rabbis of various streams and groups serving congregations, agencies and institutions within Massachusetts. The MBR Executive Committee is led by President Rabbi Eric Gurvis. Synagogue Council of Massachusetts Executive Director Alan Teperow is MBR's Managing Director. Please visit for further information.
The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis Statement on the Environment and Boston COEJL's Pledge to Green:
June, 2008
Statement on the Environment
Public Policy Committee of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis
The Public Policy Committee of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis resolves to support efforts that protect and preserve the environment through advocacy, action, and education. The connection between Jewish tradition and the natural world begins with the first words of the Torah, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," (Gen. 1.1). Our ancestors learned to live in harmony with the land. Biblical tradition teaches the importance of leaving the fields to lie fallow in the sabbatical year. Through our rituals we are never far from an awareness of the world around us. We thank God for the foods we eat, both before and after eating. Our psalms ring with the praises of the Creator of heaven and earth. We say blessings for a variety of natural phenomena, from eating the first fruit of the season, to seeing the ocean, to coming upon a marvel of nature.
A midrash underscores our responsibility, as Jews and as human beings, to care for the planet: "When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: 'Look at my works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one repair it after you'" (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 1).
The Torah expresses concern for the environment even in the extreme setting of war, "When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy [lo tashchit] its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down." (Deut. 20:19) The concept of bal tashchit, of not destroying and not wasting, was elaborated upon by Talmudic rulings that prohibit killing animals for convenience (Hullin 7b), wasting fuel (Shabbat 67b), and, in a minority opinion, eating extravagant foods when simpler ones are available (Shabbat 140b). Rambam, in his code of Jewish law, states, "Whoever breaks vessels, or tears garments, or destroys a building, or clogs a well, or does away with food in a destructive manner violates the negative mitzvah of bal tashchit." (Hilkhot Melakhim 6:10)
In our time, growing concern for bal tashchit and increased awareness of all that threatens the sacredness of the planet, have provided the impetus for a Jewish environmental movement. Recognizing our responsibility for the natural world, as Jews and as human beings, the Mass Board of Rabbis supports active concern for the environment through:
·    Advocacy: supporting and promoting legislation to preserve and protect the environment, as well as to protect the health and safety of children, workers, and adults through such efforts as reducing the use of toxic materials;
·    Education: fostering greater awareness among children and adults in Jewish sources as well as the scientific imperative for environmental concern; and
·    Action: encouraging all Jews and Jewish communities and institutions to reduce their own negative impact on the environment and to working with others to help insure the continued renewal of Creation.
Please sign on to statewide greening. Let’s create a model among our Massachusetts synagogues!
Our Massachusetts synagogue pledges to "Go Green" and signs on to this proposal to work toward greening our synagogue. We understand that Boston COEJL guidelines are non-binding suggestions. We are merely agreeing to practice more earth-friendly and natural methods. We will try to email or mail in progress reports to Boston COEJL, and agree to be contacted by a Boston COEJL member who might help with our progress.
Synagogue: ____________________________________________
Address: _________________________________________
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___Please send The Green Guide for Mass. Synagogues with info on how to help our synagogue reduce its environmental impact (where to buy earth-friendly, healthier products at great prices from local vendors, how to lower our energy bills, obtain state energy company rebates, and how to cut down on the amount of waste we produce as well as our consumption of toxic chemicals).
 ___ We are interested in finding out how our synagogue can become LEED (the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System™) certified (