ART GREEN AND I agree on so many important issues—not only on the environment, the rejection of religious triumphalism, and the embrace of human and ecological diversity, but also (and perhaps most importantly) on the role of theology in the ethical evolution of humanity. Yet I believe we disagree in some fundamental ways about how to do theology, specifically Jewish theology, and about what the best theology looks like. Green also understands my work very differently than I do. I never make a claim that all creatures are equally in God’s image; on the contrary, if we follow the lead of the Kabbalists, all of being participates in God’s image, but in different ways and to different degrees. This makes for an important and meaningful debate, and I hope Tikkun’sreaders will indulge me as I explore its various dimensions.
Green and I agree that the most pressing issue of our time—indeed the only issue that matters if as a species we are to have time left—is our relationship to this planet. But do we need more clarion calls? Jewish environmentalists, like environmentalists of all stripes, have been exhorting us for half a century. Will one more exhortation make the difference? I do not think so. When there are so many issues competing to be the most pressing one, sounding one more clarion can do little except reassure people who are already convinced that their issue is the right one.
Of course, many pages in Kabbalah and Ecology, especially in the introduction and conclusions, do sound a clarion call. (I encourage Tikkun’s readers to go to kabbalahandecology. com and download the introduction in order to listen for themselves.) But such clarity and intensity of purpose is the reason for doing theology; it is not theology. Admonishments without deeper ethical transvaluation can only bring us so far along the path. What we need instead is a transformational theology, which requires us, as Hillel says, to “go and study.” Theology cannot just be about ethical assertion, nor can it be only a matter of making one’s old religion line up with one’s modern (or post-modern) values. Theology is about reading one’s tradition coherently, accounting for all its moving parts—both the ones we agree with and the ones we do not—and learning from the way all those parts are interrelated.
This is exactly what Jewish eco-theology has yet to accomplish. We have mostly taken for granted that our Jewish values are correct, and that our personal values are also correct. It goes without saying that theology may realign a religious tradition in accordance with one’s own values, but it should first and foremost bring insight to the tradition and uncover its inner dimensions. Moreover, what theology uncovers must have the power to correct the values one starts out with, so that we are changed by what we learn.
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Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 1: 62-64