Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Lag Ba'omer bonfires 'ecological disaster'

Reform rabbi slams ritual lighting of bonfires during holiday that causes massive air pollution each year, calls on haredi rabbis to issue clear instructions on matter

Kobi Nahshoni

Published: 05.07.07, 03:12 / Israel Jewish Scene

"This is an ecological disaster, it's virtually rabbi-sanctioned vandalism," Reform Rabbi Levi Weinman Kalman said Sunday, referring to the Lag Ba'omer bonfires that were lit across Israel Saturday night and caused massive air pollution throughout the country.

Weinman-Kalman, head of the Kol Haneshama congregation in Jerusalem, is a staunch opponent of the ritual Lag Ba'omer celebration, and claims that the "Bal tashchit" prohibition, which bans destroying anything that is of value to man, is a prominent mitzvah that applies in this case.

The rabbi, along with environmental organizations, does not expect Israelis to refrain from lighting the traditional bonfire on the holiday, but recommends to light less bonfires.

"Nowadays there is competition between yeshivas and families on who has the biggest bonfire. The rabbis should issue a clear instruction to those who celebrate that it is quality – not quantity – that matters," he stated.

Regardless of Lag Ba'omer, the rabbi believes that the concern for the environment can lead to rare cooperation between rabbis, including haredi ones, and the green organizations. For instance, he suggests to declare one Shabbat a month as a "car-free day".

"A car-free day and such cooperation certainly seem far-fetched, but creative thinking can lead to cooperation between sectors who usually don't meet," he stated.

Rabbi Aviner: Green organizations exaggerate

In response to Rabbi Weinman-Kalman's suggestion, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the rabbi of the Beit El settlement and head of the Ateret Kohanim yeshiva told Ynet that rabbis were aware of damages to the environment.

"Not everything we do gets media attention, and therefore I warn again of 'Bal tashchit' and of damages that may be caused to people and the environment," he said.

However, Rabbi Aviner said that as a former scientist, he knew that green organizations usually exaggerate the importance of ecological issues.

"It's true that we only have one planet Earth, and that without it there would be no Eretz Israel, Torah and mitzvot, but the damage caused

to it is minor… The money and resources that go into preserving the environment should be invested in more important things," he said.

Rabbi Aviner said that he believes that in the war for the environment, the consideration of gain versus loss should be kept in mind. "Disposable diapers are also bad for the environment, but no one thinks of returning to cloth diapers, because there are other needs as well," he explained.

According to the rabbi, although bonfires have no religious justification, if they meet the need for stress relief, entrainment or even pyromania, then they are legitimate.

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