Rabbi Marvin Hier Should Urge Environmental Stewardship on Inauguration Day

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, is one of six diverse faith leaders asked to read passages and be a part of the benediction at President-elect Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20. He is the head of the Museum of Tolerance and Human Dignity, soon to be built in Jerusalem, and is a strong advocate for the dignity of all peoples and a respected colleague.

Because I am concerned that many in the new administration may put business and commerce success ahead of human suffering caused by environmental degradation, I have asked Rabbi Hier in a personal letter to take his “sharing of prayer” time and, in part, offer a message of priority for keeping our air clean, our water pristine, and for protecting the public lands and parks that provide us access to the best nature experiences America has to offer.

In addition, together with four other religious leaders — Bishop Carroll Baltimore, Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, Kyle Meyaard-Schapp, and Sister Patricia McDermott — a letter was sent to Rabbi Hier and three other inaugural speakers, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York; Rev. Samuel Rodriquez, President of the Hispanic Leadership Conference; and Rev. Franklin Graham, President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, asking them to share the spiritual message of caring for God’s creation and protecting future generations. We, the signers, represent a broad spectrum of faith traditions including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Evangelical, who are asking that these faith leaders “honor our Creation by conveying the true meaning of environmental stewardship as a God-given moral responsibility.”

The references to environmental protection in the Bible and the Torah are easy to find. In the Jewish view, nature is a manifestation of God’s Majesty, the land is God-given, belongs to God and is subject to God’s orders. For example, God tells us in Leviticus 19:9-10: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.”  This is wonderful instruction for not abusing the environment or exhausting God’s resources and to seek environmental justice for those less fortunate.

Other religious leaders share the common desire to care for God’s creation. Pope Francis, in his encyclical letter “Laudato Si’” repeatedly calls for protection of the environment referring to it as “our common home.” And in a recent letter to congressional leadership, more than 40 religious organizations called “stewardship of our national public lands … an important part of our responsibility as caretakers of our heritage for the next generation.”

Rabbi Hier has been called the “Most Influential Rabbi in America” and his views appear in newspapers in the U.S and Israel. The words he chooses to share at the inauguration will carry weight and his counsel will go far. He has a great opportunity bestowed upon him to bring to the Administration on Day 1 a powerful and positive message of dignity for the earth, our lands and waters, and for respecting the health and welfare of the people who share this bounty from God.


Rabbi Steve Gutow is the former president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and chair of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment

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