Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and Sacred Meet
edited by Ellen Bernstein, Jewish Lights $23.95
The Jewish Vegetarian Year Cookbook
by Roberta Kalechofsky, Micah Publications $15.95
The Ecology of Eden
by Evan Eisenberg, Knopf, $30
An internet course on Judaism and vegetarianism? Jewish animal lovers organizing against paté de foie gras? In the seemingly endless quest to apply Jewish values to the modern world, a thriving subculture of environmentalists has taken the journey one step further. A series of new books address the relationship of Judaism to environmentalism, ranging from a flat out call for vegetarianism to an argument for heightened awareness of our place in the natural world.
Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the Sacred Meet, an anthology edited by Ellen Bernstein (founder of Shomrei Adamah—Keepers of the Earth), is the best theoretical work of the bunch. The contributors—rabbis, educators and others—offer a broad range of ideas, from serious biblical analysis (by theologians such as Neil Gillman) to fiction (a wonderful story by Robert Sand) to memoirs of related moments, from childbirth to farming.
Roberta Kalechofsky is publisher and author of two recent books from Micah Publications, The Jewish Vegetarian Year Cookbook and Vegetarian Judaism. Both books provide well-researched though often preachy arguments on the merits—indeed the necessity—of vegetarianism for Jews. Kalechofsky sees in vegetarianism the potential to unite Jews at all levels of observance. It makes some sense . . . but would Jews survive without brisket and chicken soup? To ease the way, Kalechofsky reconfigures all the major Jewish feasts into vegetarian menus that are, in fact, interesting for all but the die-hard carnivore.
In The Ecology of Eden, Evan Eisenberg is less concerned with the Jewish side of his subject. Humanity’s exile and constant yearning for a return to Eden, he suggests, provide a metaphor for our relationship to our environment. Using highly symbolic language that may either repel or attract the reader, Eisenberg traces the path of humanity from our biological beginnings to the present, tracking the tumultuous relationship between humans and the rest of nature.
Sarah Wildman is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.