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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 26, 2007 / 7 Nissan, 5767

Global threats

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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What does the Torah say about pollution when there is no effective communal authority to regulate it?


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: You recently wrote that pollution is not an inherent case of "damage" but a kind of nuisance which the community must weigh against cost of control. What about global dangers where no meaningful community control exists?


A: I received many thoughtful replies to the pollution column, which was intentionally meant to open the topic for further discussion. The most common question was the one above. If one neighbor engages in an activity which causes a nuisance to others in the neighborhood, then the entire neighborhood can establish mutually acceptable binding guidelines. This approach gives a satisfactory solution for many kinds of pollution. Municipal councils may often function reasonably well, and the same goes for state and national governments.


However, even in some localities there is no meaningful collective authority, and certainly it is extremely difficult to get whole nations to limit their sovereignty even in the face of very frightening environmental threats.


The question then is, what does the Torah say about pollution when there is no effective communal authority to regulate it?


Logically, we should break this question down further. First, what guidelines exist for acting in the absence of authority? Second, what does our tradition teach us about how to create effective authority to obtain a truly consensual solution?


This column will deal with the first question.


The Mishna presents the following disagreement: "A tree must be distanced at least 25 cubits from a well. . . If the well preceded the tree, the tree is cut down and he [the owner of the well] pays., but if the tree was there first it is not cut down. If there is a doubt which was first it is not cut down. Rabbi Yosi says, even if the well preceded the tree it is not cut down, since this one dug in his own property and this one planted in his own property." (1) The Talmud explains that according to Rabbi Yosi, it is in general the responsibility of the injured party to take care, not that of the injuring party. (2) Of course this is not true in ordinary tort law where damage is strictly forbidden. This is his opinion only in the context of "nuisance" law, where the loss to one neighbor from refraining from planting may very well be commensurate with the loss to another from refraining from digging a well. In this case there is no justification for the law to take sides.


However, the Talmud concludes that even Rabbi Yosi concedes that it is forbidden to engage in activities which cause some kind of immediate or direct damage to the neighbors. The example is someone who has a factory for making sesame oil where the pounding shakes the ground and undermines an adjacent home. This kind of damage is called giri dilei. This is usually translated "his arrows"; some authorities translate it as "his causality". (1)


The distinction between immediate or direct damage and delayed or indirect damage is a subtle one, and much judgment and experience is needed in a leader or judge to determine exactly where it is appropriate to draw the line. The line is clearly drawn when one neighbor's actions make it impossible for other neighbors to engage in normal everyday activities. This is the case with the oil factory. By contrast, when the "damager" is himself engaging in a normal activity but this makes it difficult for the "victim" to engage in something unusual, then this would not be considered a case of direct damage. The Talmud gives the examples of beekeepers who find that the honey is worse when the bees feed from certain common flowers. Growing such flowers does not thus become defined as a damage; rather, the beekeepers have to figure out how to keep their bees from encountering the problematic plants. (2)


I think that we have to acknowledge that most kinds of pollution don't fall into the category of giri dilei, something which causes direct and immediate damage which keeps others from engaging in normal activities. Even if the ultimate result of these activities is truly catastrophic, the only way to deal with them is through collective action. Otherwise there is no way of establishing meaningful guidelines. Every time we breathe we contribute to global warming, through the heat generated by our metabolism and the carbon dioxide created by our respiration. We don't want people to stop breathing, yet we do seek a way to limit the much greater and also much less vital atmospheric heating caused by cars and industry.


Long-term environmental threats, as important as they may be, cannot be effectively battled by individuals; it is necessary to create a neighborhood, a context in which very large groups of people, perhaps the entire industrialized and industrializing world, can work together to limit damage.


SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud, tractate Bava Basra page 25b. (2) Ibid page 18b

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.

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