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image of Israel Journal of Plant Sciences

Usually for non-Jewish readers the most difficult passages of the five Books of Moses are those containing the numerous commandments given by the Torah. However, careful examination of many of the commandments and precepts reveals: (1) a deep understanding of ecological processes by the authors of the Torah, which probably was unique for their time, and (2) the fact that this knowledge was used to set rules for the proper use of natural resources. This will be shown by an analysis of the commandments and precepts which regulate (1) the proper food; (2) the use of land; (3) the use of water for cleaning. The main goal of the pertaining commandments and precepts of the Torah with regard to the use of land and natural resources is always the same: (1) to avoid overuse and destruction of the land; (2) to maintain around the cultivated fields a high diversity of animal species suitable for the biological control of pests. These facts, which are obvious from the reading of the Bible, make it possible to reconstruct how the authors of the Torah looked upon nature and the way it should be exploited and how the commandments and precepts were elaborated in relation to this special aspect. Numerous quotations from the Books of the Prophets (especially Isaiah, but others as well) and Psalms lead to the conclusion that the importance of the “ecological” commandments and precepts was considered equal to that of the other rules of the Torah. The same as any political disaster, agricultural calamities such as the invasion of insect pests, etc. were considered a punishment for the sins of the people of Israel. Thus, “ecological” sins had the same rank as “moral” ones. On the other side, good harvests were considered as a reward for obeying the commandments of the Lord. This subtile knowledge of the ecological basis of the survival of mankind was gradually forgotten after the Second Temple had been destroyed and the Jews had lost their connection to the biblical land.

Affiliations: 1: Forstbotanisches Institut der Universität Göttingen


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