Laudato Si and the Sages

Five years ago, in advance of 5776, and following the September 2015 publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si (addressed to all people in advance of the United Nations meeting and the Climate March) Rabbi Daniel Swartz prepared a text study to use on Yom Kippur or any time through the year.

On Yom Kippur at the fifth anniversary of the both the encyclical and the study, we are re-publishing this resource. Find the downloadable study here, and the opening letter republished below.

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Dear Colleagues and Friends,
Shanah Tovah! As you prepare to welcome 5776, I invite you to connect with one of the most notable faith events of the year – Pope Francis’s visit to the United States just after Yom Kippur, during which he will speak about his encyclical on climate change and justice, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. At this time of year, as we reflect on how we have treated our fellow human beings and how we might better live up to God’s expectations of us, we have a special opportunity to examine our relationship with all of God’s creation– and the Pope’s encyclical provides us with an excellent way to do just that.

To that end, I’ve selected a number of excerpts from the encyclical and paired them with Jewish sources ranging from the Tanakh, to midrashim, to Heschel, to rabbis of today. Here at Temple Hesed in Scranton, PA, I will be using this text study, “Laudato Si and the Sages: Reflections on Climate Justice,” on Yom Kippur afternoon, and we have invited the press and other faith communities as well. Please use it however it might work best for you: at High Holy Day Services, at a multi-faith gathering, at a social action weekend etc.

The texts are presented in two formats. The first is a more complete four-page selection, designed for in-depth or multi-session discussions; it can be studied in a larger group setting, in hevruta, in small groups or in some combination. The second is a single page of texts, meant to serve as a ready-made one-hour program. In both formats, I’ve included questions on each topic highlighted by the texts, as well as some summary questions. I’d love to hear how you’ve used it or if you have any questions – drop me an email.

I also hope this text study will inspire further action to combat climate change. (To help with this, some “next steps” are presented at the  end of each discussion guide) I present it in my role as board president of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, one of 40 IP&L affiliates, each of which works with communities, organizations, and individuals of faith to address climate change as a moral issue. If  you’d like to learn more about PA IPL, please feel free to email me or our Executive Director [2020 edit: Executive Director Daniel Heayn-Menendez, or rising Board President Rabbi Nathan Martin]

Lastly, I’d like to thank colleagues who reviewed this text study and made suggestions: Rabbi Malkah Binah Klein of Philly IPL, Rabbi Larry Troster of GreenFaith, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center.
In Hesed,
Rabbi Daniel Swartz

Before becoming the spiritual leader of Temple Hesed, Rabbi Daniel Swartz was the coordinator of Greater Washington IPL, executive director of the Children’s Environmental Health Network, Associate Director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, and Congregational Relations Director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where he was the lead author of To Till and to Tend: a Guide to Jewish Environmental Study and Action.