A Note to Rabbis About The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
“Justice, justice, you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 20:16) is the baseline of Jewish social justice work. It is our oft-repeated mantra that undergirds our fight for everything from trans-inclusion to gun violence prevention. And yet, how often do we dig into the second justice? When do we really consider what it means that our text tells us not “justice you shall pursue” but “justice, justice”? I believe that this second justice represents a second level of obligation, a level that speaks directly and inherently to our need as Jews to champion climate change.
In the pursuit of justice, we find ourselves “championing the poor and the needy” (Proverbs 31:9) on a micro-level. Justice-justice requires a more systemic approach, beyond giving to charity or advocating for policies to protect folks experiencing homelessness in our cities. The “poor and the needy” immediately require clothes and shelter, but their lives are also fundamentally shaped by global food and water scarcities due to rising sea levels and shifting weather patterns.
In Leviticus 19:34, we read that we should “welcome in the stranger.” Justice alone would have us allow entry of immigrants and refugees into our borders, while justice-justice requires us to look at the wars and famines that are causing people to flee their homes. In short, our Jewish obligation to pursue justice is more than case-by-case direct service work, but is a call to combat system structures of inequality, like the industrial greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate disruption.
Next month, I will be joining a delegation of young faith leaders to attend The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris, France. I am the manager of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and will be there representing the Jewish community. Our delegation, comprised of myself along with Muslim, Mennonite, and Zoroastrian lay leaders along with a Baptist preacher, mirrors the spirit of the UNFCCC.
The UNFCCC is perhaps the only governmental mechanism that has a real shot at addressing and combating a problem as large and inter-national as climate change. The conference lasts for two weeks and includes representatives from both developed and developing countries. The hope is that by the end of negotiations, there will emerge an international agreement on emissions reductions.
In the same way that the UN represents international collaboration, we aim to act as an interfaith group, learning from each other and bringing climate mitigation practices and our moral imperative to care for our planet and fellow human beings back to our respective faith communities. While there, we’ll join pop-up prayer vigils, the People’s Pilgrimage, and climate protests. We’ll also be speaking to Parisians and decision-makers who will gather at the conference to make some of the most important policy calls of our time in order to bring them the voice of faithful ethics that informs our climate change advocacy.
One of the most important things that the faith community and in particular our Jewish rabbinic leadership, can do ahead of this paradigm-shifting conference, is to show their support for a strong international agreement. Rabbis have the unique ability to pass on this connection between the issues happening in the world around us and our sacred text to your congregations. Reform Jewish leaders have a critical role to play in giving voice to our moral obligation to act on climate change, and to protect the poor and the needy, not only in the immediate ways in which we are well-versed, but also with our eye to a second “justice.”
Guest Blogger Liya Rechtman is the Manager of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), and a Policy Associate of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. She is also co-chair of the Washington Inter-religious Staff Council’s Energy and Environment Working Group. CCAR is a member of COEJL.