We’ve gathered web-based Jewish resources - including prayers, holiday-specific resources, and more. You’ll see these below the ecospirituality tips.
Justice, justice shall you pursue, so that you may live and take hold of the land that the Lord your God is about to give you.
Deuteronomy 16:20 NJPS
Jewish Eco-Spirituality Tips
By Rabbi Lawrence Troster
More and more synagogues and temples are integrating Creation-oriented and environmental themes more directly into their religious services. Here are our tips on how to do this well.
Worshipping outdoors is hard to beat as a way of connecting people with God in and through the earth. Many congregations worship outside during the summer, when the weather is mild. Here are a couple of tips to make your outdoor worship meaningful.
Remember – Many of the prophets had their encounters with God outdoors. Many Jewish mystics emphasized how God could be found in the natural world. Creation itself is the closest expression of God that we can access. This simple reminder offers people a new way to connect with God, as well as with the earth.
Make sure that there is safe seating and footing. For people to enter into worship deeply, they need to feel safe. So, make sure that you’ve got places to set up chairs (or blankets) in a secure fashion.
Use silence. Especially outdoors, periods of silence can be powerful ways to help people connect with God. In 30 seconds of silence outdoors, people will hear a range of sounds they don’t normally notice – wind, birds, and a range of human sounds. Silence can help people relax, and allow the God’s presence into their lives.
Encourage movement and body awareness. Too often, people don’t move during worship even though it is quite traditional to sway during Jewish prayer, and their bodies don’t get to enjoy the experience of movement as a way to praise and connect with God. Make it possible for people to move freely, whether together or individually.
Try to have services include the full cycle of Jewish daily prayer (morning, afternoon, and evening) to experience the outdoors at different times. Different times of day evoke different moods, and different ways to connect with God. Try to have small Shaharit services as the sun is rising or a Ma’ariv (evening) service as it is setting, or by candlelight in darkness. Use props creatively.
Master of the Universe, grant me the ability to be alone.
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses,
Among all growing things,
There to be alone and enter into prayer.
There may I express all that is in my heart,
Talking with Him to whom I belong.
And may all grasses, trees and plants
Awake at my coming.
Send the power of their life into my prayer,
Making whole my heart and my speech through the life and spirit of growing things,
Made whole by their transcendent Source.
Oh! That they would enter my prayer!
Then would I fully open my heart in prayer, supplication and holy speech;
Then, O God, would I pour out the words of my heart before Your Presence.
Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav’s leader, 1770-1811 Prayer
Connect a Torah reading or other biblical text with the earth. If you are worshipping near a stream, consider using a reading such as Psalm 42 – “As the deer longs for the running brook, so my heart longs for you …”
Enjoy community outside. When you’ve finished worshipping outside, make it easy for people to stay outside to enjoy Kiddush and/or other refreshments and each other’s company.
Finally, for outdoor worship experiences that transcend traditional services, be sure to check out the spiritual practices section of our Eco-Spirituality resources page.
A sermon, Torah portion study or short d’var Torah using Jewish sources about the gift of Creation - and our obligation to conserve it – can be a life- changing experience for many people. Many people have never heard such a sermon, and therefore lack a well-grounded theological, spiritual or moral perspective on the environment.
There are many ways to integrate environmental themes into sermons. Rabbis and others who speak can:
- Tell stories that describe outdoor spiritual experiences.
- Describe the scientific evidence that human activity is harming Creation, and preach on the need for realizing our role as individuals and as members of a community. On the High Holidays, this can be linked to traditional Jewish ideas of repentance.
- Share stories that link pollution to human health impacts, and emphasizing the Jewish tradition’s imperatives of pikuach nefesh , saving a life and healing the sick.
- Describe the impact of environmental degradation on the poor, and the Jewish tradition’s commitment to the ethic of Tzedek (Justice and Equity).
- Discuss Jewish teachings about restrained material consumption as an expression of moral maturity.
The traditional Jewish liturgy (and most of the more liberal iterations of it) is filled with references to Creation and it is both possible and important to incorporate Creation and environmental interpretations into the services whether daily, on the Sabbath or on the festivals. These prayers can be found in all parts of the service: preliminary, Shaharit , Torah service (on Monday, Thursday, Sabbath and holidays), ( Musaf on Sabbath and holidays) and concluding prayers. There are also Creation themes in the various kinds of Jewish prayers: request, thanks, and praise. (Here the traditional morning service is referred to but similar prayers are found in the evening service and Creation psalms are part of the Kabbalat Shabbat service for Friday night.)
The breath of all that lives praises You, Lord our God. The spirit of all flesh exalts You, our Sovereign, always…Could song fill our mouth as water fills the sea and could joy flood our tongue like countless waves—Could our lips utter praise as limitless as the sky and could our eyes match the splendor of the sun—Could we soar with arms like eagle’s wings and run with gentle grace, as the swiftest deer—Never could we fully state our gratitude for one ten-thousandth of the blessing, dearest God, granted to our ancestors and to us.
Nishmat: Traditional Prayer in the Saturday Morning Preliminary Service
Preliminary Service (Birkhot Ha-Shahar and Pesukei D’Zimrah)
In the Preliminary service there are numerous blessings and many psalms are used either in part or complete. The blessings are meant to thank God for aspects of waking up to life again and for the daily miracles of existence. Psalms 19, 24, 104 and can be studied for the themes of God’s ownership of Creation, God’s benevolence expressed through Creation, God’s presence throughout Creation, and the beauty of the Order of Creation.
Praised are You, Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe, who fashioned the human being with wisdom, and created in the human many openings and cavities many holes and pipes. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if but one of them were to be opened or but one of them were to be closed, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You for even one hour. Praised are You, Lord, Healer of all flesh who acts wondrously.
Traditional prayer for the body found in the Preliminary Service
The origin of the Shaharit service lies in the regular morning sacrifice that was done in the Temple in Jerusalem at sunrise. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE prayer replaced sacrifice but the order of the prayer services was based on the sacrificial schedule. The first part of the Shaharit service consists of the Sh’ma and its blessings. The first bless after the formal call to prayer is the Yotzer blessing which praised God as Creator. Following the blessing itself are a series of poems that expand on the theme. On the Sabbath additional Creation poems are included which add the theme of the Sabbath. The next part of the Shaharit service is the Amidah (standing prayer) which is traditionally first recited silently by the congregation individually and then repeated out loud by the cantor or prayer leader. In the Amidah during the week it consists of 19 blessings: 3 praise, 13 request and 3 thanks. On the Sabbath and holidays there are seven blessing as the middle 13 request blessings are changed for one blessing dealing with the special theme of the day which on the Sabbath is Creation. On the regular days of the week the 13 prayers of request are concerned with individual and community needs such as repentance, healing, God’s hearing our prayers and the hope for the Messianic era. It is possible to have members of the congregation during the silent recitation of the Amidah to hope for the healing of the earth and also to repent for our environmental sins. The hope for the Messianic era can be interpreted as a wish for the reconciliation of humanity with Creation.
You illumine the earth and its creatures with mercy; in Your goodness, day after day You renew creation. How manifold Your works, Adonai; with wisdom You fashioned them all. The earth abounds with Your creations.
Poem following the Yotzer Blessing
While the Torah service mostly consists of prayers before the ark and during the processional and recessional of taking out and bringing back the Torah , there are nonetheless opportunities for environmental interpretations. During the reading of the Torah it is traditional to do a prayer for those who are ill and to this could be added a prayer for the healing of the earth. Also, during the recessional Psalm 24 is recited on weekdays and Psalm 29 is recited on the Sabbath and both these Psalms are filled with Creation themes and emphasize the grandeur and power of God.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over the mighty waters.
Psalm 29:3 NJPS
The Musaf service which is only done on New Moons, Sabbaths, and holidays (and is not generally done in Reform or Reconstructionist services) represents the additional sacrifices done in the Temple on these special days (see Numbers 28-29 for a calendar of the sacrifices ). While the traditional prayers emphasize the sacrifices, it could be a good time to discuss the meaning of these rituals and how originally the eating of animals was done only in a sacral manner. Musaf is thus a good time to discuss the ethics of food and our relationship to the other creatures of Creation.
The concluding prayers include the ‘Aleinu prayer in which we hope for the final tikkun or fixing/repair/healing of the world. It is from this prayer that the modern concept of Tikkun ‘Olam as social justice actions is derived. Jewish environmentalists have adopted this term for Jewish environmental action. On Sabbaths and holidays the service concludes with ‘Adon Olam a medieval poem which praises God for being both the transcendent Lord of Creation and the personal God of salvation.
Eternal Lord who reigned supreme,
Before all beings were created,
When everything was made according to His will,
Then He was called “King.”
Adon Olam, J. Hoffman translation from Lawrence Hoffman, editor,
My People’s Prayer Book Volume 5: Birkhot Hashachar (Morning Blessings),
(Woodstock: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001), p. 93
Too often, people feel spiritually disconnected from the natural world, and God’s presence within or through it. There are four ways that synagogues can integrate Creation’s real presence into services: raw nature, refined nature, technology and collective silence.
“Raw” Nature in Worship
Congregations can integrate “raw” natural elements into services or into the synagogue’s sanctuary. For example, there could be “blessing stations” either around the sanctuary or in the foyer which could contain containers of water, earth, plants, flowers, leaves from local trees, spices, or other natural elements. At each station could be a blessing that a congregant could recite (in Hebrew and/or English) while touching the natural element. There could also be one or more biblical verses connected with the element. At the water station, congregations could be encouraged to perform the washing of hands blessing (an old traditional purification ritual) before entering the sanctuary. Inside the sanctuary, living local plants or the five traditional fruits of the Land of Israel (dates, grapes, figs, olives, and pomegranates) could be placed on the bimah instead of cut flowers. These natural elements can beautify a synagogue and deepen worshipers’ relationship with God. Or put out something natural each week that connects with Torah reading of the week; for example: water with the story of Noah, a rock with the story of Jacob’s dream etc.
And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that this was good.
Genesis 1:11-12 NJPS
This presentation of nature in a “raw” form affirms the goodness (Gen. 1) to God of Creation on its own – not just for its value to human beings. It can also remind us of renewal of our spirits that we find in relationship with Creation, and the ways in which our culture can draw us away from a strong connection with the earth and God and our imperative to be good stewards of Creation.
“Refined” Nature in Worship
Services can use “refined” nature – natural products or services shaped by human effort – to strengthen worshipers’ bond with creation. For example, cuttings of local, seasonal flowers and greenery, real wax candles, or locally baked bread to model respect for Creation and to create a more engaging relationship with God. The wine or the challah that is used for the Kiddush could be organic and if possible local. Or congregants can bake organic challah or even make organic wine for the congregation if the community’s food policies permit it.
This practice can be taken further. For example, synagogues can use announcement or study material printed only on 100% recycled paper, reduce their energy use during worship through energy-efficient lighting (If possible power the Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) with a solar panel or at least have it use a CFL bulb) and make sure the congregation is aware of these actions; or purchasing renewable energy credits to offset carbon emissions from energy used during services; declare a carbon free or waste free Sabbath service with appropriate practices created for that day (like urging everyone to walk or bike to synagogue if they normally take their cars) Such a use of “refined” nature expresses gratitude for the Creator’s generosity and an appreciation of ecologically respectful human activity.
Not only one who cuts down food trees, but also one who smashes household goods, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or destroys food on purpose violates the command: "You must not destroy..!" Deut. 20:19
Moses Maimonides, Mishneh Torah , Book of Judges, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:10
Nature Present through Technology
Technology makes it possible to increase worshippers’ sense of nature’s presence through images and sounds. Some congregations are using PowerPoint slides with photographs of nature alongside the words of prayers and songs. Sometimes, words aren’t necessary - these photographs or images can also be used on their own – as visual meditations. For congregation who do not use PowerPoint during services, a constantly running slide show on a large screen monitor in the foyer could also help to set the theme of the celebration of Creation.
Collective silence is a fourth way that can integrate the environment into services. Through silence, worshippers become more aware of surrounding sounds, natural and human-made. They have their senses sharpened, and can develop a stronger relationship with their surroundings and with God. In 30-60 seconds of silence, worshippers can experience a bird’s call, a dog’s bark, the rumble of traffic, the sound of a breeze. Many people commented that silence increases their awareness of their neighborhood and deepens their spirituality.
Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel taught: Throughout my life, I was raised among the scholars—and I discovered that nothing becomes a person more than silence.
Pirkei Avot 1:17
Sabbath: The Sabbath is a celebration of Creation through its practices (both the Sabbath restrictions and the actions) and its liturgy and can be an important source for the development of a Jewish environmental spirituality which is based on love and humility before the grandeur of God’s Creation. It is also is a way to living a sustainable life since it asks us for one day out of seven, to limit our use of resources. It is a time to raise the questions of the true meaning of life and happiness. These are all good themes for Green preaching and teaching.
Certain Jewish holidays lend themselves particularly well to a focus on Creation. Some of these days are more commonly observed by Jews than others – but they all offer an opportunity to celebrate the bond between God, people and the earth. While many of the Jewish holidays have often been interpreted in terms of a sacred historical cycle (Exodus→Sinai→Desert Wandering→Land of Israel) many of them can also be seen as part of a Creation cycle.
Here is a listing of these holidays, starting at the beginning of the Jewish calendar:
The High Holidays: Rosh Hashanah (“New Year”) and Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) and the days between make up the Ten Days of Repentance, the holiest time in the Jewish calendar when individuals and the communities must take stock of their behavior in the past year (heshbon ha-nefesh, “account of the soul”). Rosh Hashanah is also called Yom ha-Din (Day of Judgment) and is also considered to be the birthday of Creation and can be said to inaugurate a Creation season that ends with Shemini Atzeret (Creation→Purging Away of the Old Year/World→Ordering of the New Year/World). A sermon on Rosh Hashanah on Jewish Creation theology can emphasize our role in the Order and our responsibility to take care of God’s world. A sermon on Yom Kippur can center on our need to realize our past “environmental sins” and our need to do tikkun, “repair” or “healing” for these acts both intentional and unintentional.
The weekly message of Shabbat rings with environmental import, if we but dare to understand it on its own terms…this profoundly and uniquely biblical institution is not intended to ennoble the human race but to humble it. With its incessant strictures against work, Shabbat reminds us of our earthly status as tenant and not overlord. One day out of seven we cease to exercise our power to tinker and transform. Willful inactivity is a statement of subservience to a power greater than our own...The design of Shabbat to rein in our lust for grandeur and gratification then addresses the environmental issue head on…Our mission is to tend to this cosmic oasis, to perpetuate an islet of consciousness in a seemingly mindless universe.
Rabbi Ismar Schorsch: Tending to Our Cosmic Oasis, The Melton Journal, #24, Spring 1991.
Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret: The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the most important pilgrimage festivals during the days of the Second Temple. It was a Creation Festival (of seven days length which corresponded to the seven days of Creation in Genesis 1) which both celebrated the bounty of the fall harvest and looked forward to the winter rains which would ensure the future fertility of the Land of Israel. Today, while many Jews understand the holiday to celebrate the wandering of the Israelites in the Sinai desert, many more are reviving and emphasizing the Creation meaning. Shemini Atzeret (the Eight Day of Assembly) is a separate festival on which there is a prayer for rain included in the liturgy. This is a good time to raise environmental water issues both local and global.
Hanukah: While Hanukah celebrates a historical event, for several years Jewish environmentalists have used the legend of the miracle of the oil to speak about energy issues.
Tree plantingTu Bishvat: Tu Bishvat has become in the last thirty years the Jewish Earth Day and many congregations are holding Tu Bishvat seders of which there are many examples available.
Pesah: While the Passover seder is the most practiced Jewish ritual by those who self-identify as Jews, most participants only see the ritual and the holiday as being connected to the Exodus. It is possible however to link the holiday to environmental justice (EJ) and to also see the abstaining from leavened foods as a spiritual practice of restraint—a good opportunity to discuss consumption and consumerism.
Shavuot: Shavuot began as a holiday of the first fruits but then was interpreted as being the day of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The agricultural theme can still be raised as it can be used to talk about how the growing plants in the spring symbolize the rebirth of the land, the people and the world. It is also a time to talk about how environmental ethics can be incorporated into the covenant of Sinai.
In addition to these holidays, many congregations use Earth Day (April 22 or the Sabbath closest to it) as an occasion to integrate ecological themes into worship.
For more ideas, please see our holiday specific Jewish GreenWorship page.
Jewish Web-Based Eco-Spirituality Resources
These sites are an excellent place to start when looking for GreenWorship materials, resources, and ideas:
These materials have been submitted by individuals and/or synagogues for inclusion on this site. If you have something that you would like to have considered for inclusion (such as prayers, liturgies, readings, sermons, etc.), please feel free to email a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes religious-based practices in a natural or agricultural setting can be just as meaningful and beautiful as time spent in the pew. Here are a few organizations which allow alternative opportunities for Jewish GreenWorship in North America and Israel:
Jewish GreenWorship Resources: Holiday Specific
*O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name throughout the earth, You who have covered the heavens with Your splendor! When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars that You set in place, what is man that You have been mindful of him, mortal man that You have taken note of him *
Psalm 8:2, 4-5 NJPS
These books also contain excellent materials and ideas for Jewish GreenWorship: