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Valuing Nature

In a provocative 1997 article for the journal Nature, Rob- ert Costanza and 12 colleagues calculated that the Earth’s ecological systems and natural resources contributed “eco- logical services” valued at an average of U.S. $33 trillion per year. The calculations included all renewable eco- system services but excluded non-renewable resources, such as fuels and minerals. In their valuing of nature, Cos- tanza et al. attempted to be comprehensive, estimating and including values for ecological services that are excluded by market processes but nonetheless provide important benefits. Their estimations of value even included “aes- thetic” and “spiritual” services provided by nature. In their article, the Costanza group admitted “there are many con- ceptual and empirical problems inherent in producing such an estimate” (253). However, they also noted that whenever humans make decisions about ecosystems, we are inevitably making decisions about the value of nature, even if only implicitly. Thus, for Costanza et al., it is important to determine explicitly the monetary value of nature for public policy making, despite the difficulties with such financial calculations. Most contemporary religions also affirm the import- ance of valuing nature. Such perspectives from religions could also validate the work of Costanza et al. to ascertain financial values for public policy making. Yet, from the perspective of contemporary religions, the assignment of financial worth cannot adequately capture the full value of nature. For example, how is it possible to assign a financial value for spiritual ecoservices provided by nature? Rather, financial valuing of nature would be subsumed under a broader, overarching valuation. In the creation story of Genesis 1 – which is shared as sacred scripture by the three Abrahamic traditions of Juda- ism, Christianity, and Islam – God follows a pattern of creating, then seeing and judging that what has been cre- ated is good. The chapter concludes with God’s final evaluation: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Gen. 1:31, NRSV) Thus, from the perspective of the Abrahamic traditions, creation is valued because God has judged it good. Despite this scriptural warrant that nature is to be valued, Christianity – especially the Western Christianity of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism – has been harshly criticized for devaluing nature. Representative of this critical view is the essay, “The Historical Roots of Our

Ecologic Crisis,” by Lynn White, Jr. In this 1967 essay, White acknowledges that, historically, humans have

always modified their environment for their own benefit. While this power was limited in the past, White argues that twentieth-century humans now have the scientific and technological power radically to transform ecological sys- tems. This profound power appears to be out of control, and “Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt” for the ecological damage incurred, since it has been the domi- nant cultural paradigm where science and technology have experienced rapid advances. White bases his contention on the foundational assumption that humans’ attitudes toward nature derive from their religious beliefs and perspective. He observes:

“What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around


that is, by religion” (19). As we have seen, the

creation story in Genesis 1 appears to value nature highly. Yet, White observes that this creation story also elevates humans above the rest of creation in a monarchical role, when it claims that humans are created in the image of God.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the Earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the Earth” (Gen. 1:26, NRSV).

White claims that this elevation of humanity serves to devalue the rest of creation, thus giving humans an

implicit permission to degrade the environment as they

please. As White observes, “Christianity

lished a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends”


There are some obvious flaws in the harsh critique of Christianity represented by White. For instance, if Western Christianity is the principal factor creating attitudes that devalue nature and lead to its degradation, then logically we would not expect ecological crises to occur in areas informed by other cultural paradigms. Unfortunately, this is not the case and other areas that are not predominantly Christian have also had ecological crises. Despite such flaws in the position represented by White, many Christian thinkers have taken the broad criticism seriously. In his book, The Travail of Nature, Paul Santmire

not only estab-

1690 van der Post, Laurens

provides one of the most thoughtful treatments of White’s thesis. Santmire argues that there are two competing theo- logical motifs present throughout the historical develop- ment of Christian thought. On the one hand, Santmire finds an ecological motif that grounds a strong steward- ship ethic calling upon Christians to care for God’s crea- tion. Yet, on the other hand, Santmire also finds evidence for a spiritual motif that emphasizes a spiritual salvation in such a manner that the physical environment becomes significantly less important. If not properly balanced by the ecological motif, the spiritual motif could indeed jus- tify a boundless exploitation and degradation of the environment as White claims for Western Christianity. Santmire argues that both of these theological motifs are present throughout the historical development of Christi- anity, and that they may even be simultaneously present in the same theologian or theological concept. Our rather close examination of Western Christianity suggests that there is a diversity of perspectives on the value of nature. Whereas most religions would affirm the importance of the ecological services provided by nature, many religions would assert that the value of nature extends beyond – and subsumes – a mere financial accounting. For Christianity, the value of nature occurs because God created and saw that it was good. Yet within Western Christianity, there can be profound disagreement as to what the implications of valuing nature mean for faith and life.

Richard O. Randolph

Further Reading Costanza, Robert, et al. “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Service and Natural Capital.” Nature 387 (15 May 1997), 253–60. Santmire, Paul. The Travail of Nature, The Ambiguous Eco- logical Promise of Christian Theology. Minneapolis:

Fortress Press, 1985. White, Jr., Lynn, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” Science 155 (1967), 1203–7. Reprinted in Louis P. Pojman, ed., Environmental Ethics, Readings in The- ory and Application (2nd edn). Belmont, California:

Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998. See also: Christianity (various); Economics; Environmental Ethics; White, Lynn – Thesis of.

van der Post, Laurens (1906–1996)

Sir Laurens Jan van der Post was born in the Orange Free State of South Africa on 13 December 1906 and he died shortly after his 90th birthday in London. His was a life of travel to the far reaches of the Earth, an Earth he loved and fought hard to preserve: his long and creative life as a soldier, journalist, author, explorer and conservationist

earned him a knighthood and the honor of Commander of the British Empire. Sir Laurens spent the 1930s writing and farming in

England and his first book, In a Province, was pioneering

in its dealing with the tragedy of apartheid. After the out-

break of World War II, he enlisted in the British Army and

served until 1942 in Abyssinia, Syria and Southeast Asia, where he was then captured by the Japanese Army on the

island of Java. During the ensuing three and a half years in

a prisoner-of-war camp, he was instrumental in organ-

izing extensive educational efforts among his fellow prisoners. The experiences of this camp were described in his two books, The Seed and the Sower (later made into the film, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”) and The Night of the New Moon. All told, Sir Laurens wrote more than two dozen novels, along with countless short stories, memoirs and essays dealing with psychology, the nature of prejudice and good and evil, the environment and the importance of story in our lives. One of his many talents was the ability to weave these themes together into one and the same character or work, for example in his telling of the Bushmen stories in ways that illustrate basic human psychology and inspire a love for nature. The best known of his books are The Lost World of the Kalahari and The Heart of the Hunter. He also made numerous films for the BBC, including All Africa Within Us and Jung and the Story of our Time. His encounter and ensuing friendship with the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung shortly after his return from the war was decisive and marked the beginning of his striving to understand outer and inner nature, macrocosm and microcosm. He combined Jung’s philosophy with his own that had been formed from his African and Asian jungle experiences, and shared it widely with readers, viewers and friends for the rest of his life.

As a result of talking to Jung about the Africa I had within myself, I was re-confirmed into a new area of the human spirit which had been singularly mine intuitively ever since I was born. Nothing seemed to me more wonderful than the prophetic observation by Sir Thomas Browne, the intuitive alchemist figure of Norwich in the Elizabethan age: “We seek the wonders without that we carry within – we have all Africa and its wonders within us” (van der Post 1998: 311).

Sir Laurens lived his life with passion, and one of his greatest passions was the preservation of the Earth, our environment. Gifted storyteller that he was, he spent much of his time and energy in the last years of his life telling stories about the creatures of the Earth and pleading that more attention be given to our environment. He freely shared his views with gatherings of people large and small, in interviews and in his books and other writings. In an

interview conducted for Earth Day in 1990, he responded to a question about why it is more important today than ever for people to experience nature and wildlife first- hand, a primary goal of an organization he championed, The Wilderness Foundation:

We are trying to conserve the spirit of the conser-

vationist in people

to the initial blueprint of creation as you can, and you bring a person into contact with it, a person who is not whole, from a lopsided society, poof, that person changes. I’ve never known it to fail. Problem children, all sorts of people who have lost their way in life, once they’ve had this experience, they’re dif- ferent (van der Post 1998: 311).

If you keep the Earth as close

In his 1985 essay entitled, “Wilderness – A Way of Truth,” he wrote:

Some of our scientists talk about “managing wilder- ness” and this worries me a bit. It is like saying they want to control revelation. But the moment you try

to control it, there is no revelation

it elaborate definitions, but we all know what wil- derness really is, because we have it inside our- selves. We know it is a world in which every bit of nature counts and is important to us, and we know when it is not there (van der Post 1985: 47).

We try to give

Sir Laurens spent the final decades of his life not only continuing to write both fiction and historical pieces, but also speaking widely throughout the world promoting the importance of nature and our environment.

Robert Hinshaw

Further Reading van der Post, Laurens. “Introduction: A Word from Laurens van der Post.” In Robert Hinshaw, ed. The Rock Rabbit and the Rainbow: Laurens van der Post Among Friends. Einsiedeln: Daimon, 1998. van der Post, Laurens. “Wilderness – A Way of Truth.” In Robert Hinshaw, ed. A Testament to the Wilderness. Zurich: Daimon, 1985, 47. See also: Prince Charles; Wilderness Religion; World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Vegetarianism and Buddhism

Buddhist outlooks toward the eating of meat vary by his- torical periods and traditions, and they often reflect the influence of local cultural practices and social ethoses. Generally speaking, Buddhist attitudes toward animals are shaped by the ethical principle of non-injury to others

Vegetarianism and Buddhism


(ahimsa), and by the virtues of compassion, respect, and love that extend toward all beings. The principle of non- injury was shared by Buddhism and other religious tradi- tions in ancient India, and is a core ethical virtue of Indian religions. Its importance in Buddhism can be seen from the fact that the first of the Five Precepts – which define the ethical foundation of Buddhist life and serve as the basis for other forms of spiritual cultivation – is the injunction not to kill any living creatures. While Buddhist texts and leaders often try to discourage the killing of animals, in actual practice there is a wide range of attitudes toward the practice of vegetarianism among different Buddhist groups and traditions, ranging from strict adherence to vegetarian diets to conspicuous consumption of meat by the clergy. The texts of the monastic code of discipline, the Vinaya, indicate that the early monastic order did not adopt a strictly vegetarian diet. According to these sources Bud- dhist monks were allowed to eat meat provided it was “pure” by fulfilling three requirements: that a monk who is given a meat dish has not heard, seen, or become suspi- cious that the animal was specifically killed for him. Monks were of course prohibited from killing animals, or even small creatures that might reside in water used by them. Because for their food they relied on alms received from the faithful, monks were supposed to eat whatever they were offered while practicing detachment from the sensual pleasures associated with eating. In the Vinaya there is also the story of the Buddha’s refusal to make vegetarianism compulsory for all monks, when that was proposed by his evil cousin Devadatta as part of a request to institute a range of new rules initiated by him in order to create schism within the monastic community. While monks were absolved from any transgression if they consumed meat that fulfilled the three requirements, in early Buddhism, killing of animals was regarded as an unwholesome act and was proscribed by Buddhist moral values. It was believed that for lay people the killing of animals brought about negative karmic consequences, while the sparing of animal lives became a cherished Bud- dhist ideal. The positive regard of animals was reinforced by Jataka stories, which depict previous lives of the Bud- dha. In a number of these stories the Buddha is depicted as being reborn in a previous lifetime as an animal, and noble feelings and actions are attributed to wild animals such as elephants. A similar point of view was adopted by the famous Buddhist monarch As´oka (r. ca. 265–238 B.C.E.), who recognized the sanctity of animal lives and instituted official days when animals were not to be killed. In one of his inscriptions the Emperor states that he has conferred many boons to animals, birds, and fish, including the sav- ing of their lives. As´oka himself abandoned hunting and eventually prohibited the killing of animals in order to supply food for the court and the imperial household. As´oka’s example was followed by a number of Buddhist

1692 Vegetarianism and Buddhism

monarchs, such as Sri Lankan kings who prohibited the slaughter of animals, and Emperor Wu of the Liang dyn- asty (r. 502–549) in China, who practiced vegetarianism and issued decrees that restricted the killing of animals. Adoption of vegetarianism became more prevalent with the emergence of the Mahayana tradition. That was largely motivated by an increased emphasis on compas- sion as a prime Buddhist virtue, although external criti- cisms of Buddhist meat eating might have also played some part. Mahayana promoted universalistic ethics that was predicated on the notion that the pursuit of the bodhisattva path is to be undertaken for the sake of bene- fiting all beings. Since animals, like all other creatures, were objects of the bodhisattvas’ compassionate regard and selfless salvific acts, it was deemed improper for Mahayana practitioners to consume their flesh. Explicit critiques of meat eating appear in a number of Mahayana scriptures and other texts composed by leading figures of the movement. Arguably the most trenchant critiques can be found in the Lankavatara Scripture, which presents a series of arguments that highlight the evils of meat eating and includes a call to disallow the practice. According to the scripture, eating of animal flesh is disgusting, creates hindrances to spiritual progress, contributes to bad health, and leads to unpleasant rebirth. Conversely, in addition to being healthy, the adoption of a vegetarian diet accords with Buddhist values and ideals, aids spiritual cultivation, and helps one to avoid the negative karmic consequences of meat eating. The scripture also takes to task the per- missive attitudes of earlier Buddhist texts and traditions, proclaiming that arguments made in support of meat eating, including the notion that meat is pure if it fulfills the three requirements, are spurious. The text also states that the Buddha never permitted the eating of meat, and for good measure it also explicitly prohibits the eating of meat by all disciples of the Buddha under all circumstances. With the transmission of Mahayana forms of Buddhism to China, vegetarianism became a characteristic feature of Chinese Buddhism. From the medieval period onward meat eating was prohibited in Buddhist monasteries, and Chinese monks and nuns adopted a strict vegetarian diet that also precluded the consumption of eggs, diary prod- ucts, and certain types of leeks (which more or less amounted to veganism). Vegetarianism was given addi- tional canonical legitimacy by the Brahma Net Scripture, an apocryphal text composed in China, which contains a series of bodhisattva precepts that became accepted as normative by Chinese Buddhists. Since this text prohibits the eating of meat, abstinence became binding for all monks and nuns who received bodhisattva ordinations as part of their entry into the monastic order. Vegetarianism was, and still is, practiced by lay Buddhists as well. Vege- tarian feasts are a common feature of Chinese Buddhist festivals, and lay devotees who have not adopted a vege-

tarian diet often abstain from meat eating on certain observance days, such as festivals dedicated to popular bodhisattvas. Vegetarianism also had a broad effect on traditional Chinese society. Under Buddhist influence, dur- ing the medieval period the imperial government issued decrees that restricted or prohibited the slaughter of ani- mals on certain dates, and vegetarianism was also adopted by Daoist monastic orders. Vegetarianism continues to be a basic feature of Chinese Buddhism, which remains dis- tinct among the Buddhist traditions by its stress on the injunction against the eating of meat. The practice of vegetarianism was also transmitted to other areas of Asia that adopted Chinese forms of Bud- dhism, viz. Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. In Japan that influence extended until the onset of the modern period, as by and large in traditional Japanese society most people lived on a largely vegetarian diet (although they con- sumed fish). Meat eating became more prevalent from the late nineteenth century onward with the greater emphasis on modernization and the acceptance of Western mores. With the increased secularization of the Buddhist clergy, the various Buddhist sects abandoned the age-old prohibi- tions against meat eating, although training monasteries, especially ones belonging to the Zen sects, formally retain vegetarian diets for priests undergoing formal training. Among other Mahayana traditions, vegetarianism is not widely practiced in Tibetan Buddhism. Although compas- sion and love for all beings are regarded as cardinal vir- tues by the Tibetans, the widespread meat eating by the clergy is largely explained by the difficulty of practicing a vegetarian diet in Tibet’s harsh climate. Although the prohibition against killing and the call to adopt attitudes of kindness toward animals are accepted as normative by the contemporary Theravada traditions, the practice of vegetarianism is a rare occurrence in all Thera- vadin countries. In Sri Lanka most Buddhists avoid killing animals (which often does not extend to fish), and most butchers are Muslims. The Buddhist concern with killing is also reflected in the relatively low consumption of meat and the rarity of making offerings of red meat to the monks, although few Buddhists identify themselves as vegetarians. Meat eating is much more prevalent in other Theravada countries such as Thailand, where the vast majority of monks engage in conspicuous consumption of large quantities of meat. There vegetarianism is often frowned upon, although there are a few monks who are trying to promote the idea of vegetarianism. Vegetarian- ism is much more widespread among Western Buddhists. That seems to be influenced by a number of disparate fac- tors, including increased interest in vegetarianism by the general society, adoption of specific views about Buddhist values and lifestyles, and adherence of ethical principles informed by ecological concerns.

Mario Poceski

Further Reading

Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Cam- bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 156–70. Walters, Kerry S. and Lisa Portmess, eds. Religious Vegetarianism: From Hesiod to the Dalai Lama. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000, 61–


See also: Animals; Buddha; Islam, Animals, and Vegetarianism; Jataka Tales; Vegetarianism and Judaism.


Vegetarianism and Judaism

In traditional Jewish thinking, not only are normative

laws regarded as binding solely upon the authority of di- vine revelation, but ethical principles as well are regarded as endowed with validity and commended as goals of human aspiration only if they, too, are divinely revealed. Accordingly, the value of vegetarianism as a moral desid- eratum can be acknowledged only if support is found within the corpus of the Written or Oral Law.

A proof-text often cited in support of vegetarianism as

an ideal to which humans should aspire is a statement

recorded in the Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 59b):

Rav Judah stated in the name of Rav, “Adam was not permitted meat for purposes of eating as it is written, ‘for you shall it be for food and to all beasts of the Earth’ (Gen. 1:29), but not beasts of the Earth for you. But when the sons of Noah came [He] permitted them [the beasts of the Earth] as it is said, ‘as the green grass I have given you everything’” (Gen.


Some writers have regarded this statement as reflecting the notion that primeval humanity was denied the flesh of animals because of its enhanced moral status. Permission to eat the flesh of animals was granted only to Noah

because, subsequent to Adam’s sin, mankind could no longer be held to such lofty moral standards. Nevertheless, they argue, people ought to aspire to the highest levels of moral conduct and eschew the flesh of animals.

In point of fact, this talmudic dictum is simply a terse

statement of the relevant law prior to the time of Noah, but

is silent with regard to any validating rationale. The clas- sic biblical commentators found entirely divergent explanations for the change that occurred with regard to dietary regulations. An examination of the writings of rabbinic scholars reveals three distinct attitudes with regard to vegetarianism:

1) The Gemara (BT Pesachim 49b) declares that an ignoramus ought not to partake of meat:

and the fowl” (Lev.

11:46): whoever engages in [the study of] the Law is

“This is the law of the animal

Vegetarianism and Judaism


permitted to eat the flesh of animals and fowl, but whoever does not engage in [the study of] the Law may not eat the flesh of animals and fowl.

This text should certainly not be construed as declaring that meat is permitted only to the scholar as a reward for his erudition or diligence. Maharsha (Rav Shmuel Eliezer Halevi Eidels, fifteenth century) indicates that this text simply reflects a concern for scrupulous observance of the minutiae of the dietary code. The ignoramus is not pro- ficient in the myriad rules and regulations governing the eating of meat, including the differentiation between kosher and non-kosher species, the purging of forbidden fat and veins, the soaking and salting of meat, etc. 2) A number of medieval scholars, including R. Isaac Abravanel (also spelled “Abarbanel,” 1437–1508) in his commentary to Genesis 9:3 and Isaiah 11:7, and R. Joseph Albo (c.1380–1444) in Sefer ha’Ikarim, Book III, chapter 15, regard vegetarianism as a moral ideal, not because of a concern for the welfare of animals, but because of the fact that slaughter of animals might cause the individual who performs such acts to develop negative character traits, viz., meanness and cruelty. Their concern was with regard to possible untoward effect upon human character rather than with animal welfare. Indeed, R. Joseph Albo maintains that renunciation of the consumption of meat for reasons of concern for animal welfare is not only morally erroneous but even repugnant. Albo asserts that this was the intellectual error committed by Cain and that it was this error that was the root cause of Cain’s act of fratricide. Albo opines that Cain did not offer an animal sacrifice because he regarded humans and ani- mals as equals and, accordingly, felt that he had no right to take the life of an animal, even as an act of divine worship. Abel maintained that humans were superior to animals in that they possessed reason as demonstrated by his ability to use intellect in cultivating fields and in shep- herding flocks. This, Abel believed, gave human beings limited rights over animals, including the right to use animals in the service of God, but it did not confer upon him the right to kill animals for his own needs. Abel’s error was not as profound as that of Cain, but it was an error nonetheless. And, declares Albo, because Abel shared the error of his brother, he was punished by being permitted to die at the hands of Cain. Cain’s error was egregious in the extreme. Hence he was so lacking in favor in the eyes of God that his sacrifice was rejected. Although he was also guilty of error, Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God because his error was not as serious as that of his brother. According to Albo, Cain failed to understand the reason for the rejection of his sacrifice and assumed that, in the eyes of God, animal sacrifice was intrinsically superior to the offering of produce. Since Cain remained confirmed in his opinion that humans and animals are inherently equal, he was led to the even more grievous conclusion that just

1694 Vegetarianism and Judaism

Vegetarianism and Kabbalah Abstinence from the flesh of animals is also the subject of scattered comments in kabbalistic writings. R. Moses Cordovero, Shi’ur Komah (Warsaw 1883: 84b), advises that a person seeking spiritual perfection should “dis-

tance” himself from eating meat. Accepting the principle of transmigration of souls, R. Moses Cordovero expresses the concern that the soul of a wicked human being may be present in a slaughtered animal and exert

a deleterious influence over the person who consumes

its flesh. In a footnote appended to that text, the editor remarks that, according to this thesis, one who is imbued with the Divine Spirit, and hence capable of determining that no such soul is incarnated in the ani- mal he is about to eat, has no reason to refrain from eating meat. A similar position is attributed to R. Eliyahu de Vidas’ Reishit Chokhmah (sixteenth century) in S’dei Chemed (an encyclopedia of Jewish Law by R. Chayyim Chizki- yahu Medini, nineteenth century), “Ma’arekhet Akhilah” sec. 1. Reishit Chokhmah is cited as stating that one should not eat the flesh of any living creature. The refer- ence appears to be to the Amsterdam, 1908 edition of Reishit Chokhmah. However, an examination of pp. 129b–30a of that edition reveals that, rather than advis- ing total abstinence from the flesh of living creatures, Reishit Chokhmah offers counsel with regard to the time of day most suitable for the partaking of meat. Opposition to the consumption of meat appears to be

a narrowly held view even within the kabbalistic tradi- tion. A number of kabbalistic sources indicate that, quite to the contrary, the doctrine of transmigration yields a positive view regarding the eating of meat. According to these sources, transmigrated souls present in the flesh of animals may secure their release only

when the meat of the animal has been consumed by a man. The mitzvot performed in preparation and partak- ing of the meat and the blessings pronounced upon its consumption serve to “perfect” the transmigrated soul so that it may be released to enjoy eternal reward. See, for example, Shevet Musar (by R. Eliyahu Hakohen of Izmir, d. 1729), ch. 36 and R. Tzvi Elimelekh of Dinov (1783–1841, also spelled “Elimelech”), B’nei Yissaskhar, Ma’amarei haShabbatot, Ma’amar 10 sec. 4, and Sivan, Ma’amar 5, sec. 18. Scripture speaks of fish as “gath- ered” rather than as slaughtered and similarly speaks of the righteous as being “gathered” to their forebears rather than experiencing the throes of death. Righteous individuals who must undergo transmigration in expi- ation of minor infractions are incarnated in fish in order to spare them the pain of slaughter. See also R. Moshe Teitelbaum (1759–1841), Yismach Mosheh, Parshat Vayeira, s.v. vayikach chem’ah v’chalav [Gen. 18:8]. R. Yechiel Mikhel Halevi Epstein (1829–1908), Kitzur Sh’lah (Jerusalem, 1960: 161) advises that particular effort be made to eat fish on Shabbat so that the souls of the righteous which may be incarnated in the fish be “perfected” through consumption of the fish by a righteous and observant Jew. R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the Lubavitcher rebbe, 1902–1994) is quoted as having expressed oppos- ition to vegetarianism, at least tentatively, on kabbalistic grounds. He is reported by R. Shear-Yashuv Cohen (chief rabbi of Haifa and lifelong vegetarian) to have voiced the concern that refraining from consumption of meat will prevent the “elevation of sparks,” a goal that is cen- tral to the kabbalists’ view of the human purpose in life (Slae, Min hattai, Jerusalem, 1988).

J. David Bleich

as one is entitled to take the life of an animal so also he was entitled to take the life of a fellow human being. This position, Albo asserts, was adopted by succeeding genera- tions as well. It was precisely the notion that humans and animals are equal that led, not to the renunciation of caus- ing harm to animals and to concern for their welfare, but rather to the notion that violence against one’s fellows was equally acceptable. The inevitable result was a total breakdown of the social order, which ultimately culmi- nated in punishment by means of the Flood. Subsequent to the Flood, meat was permitted to Noah, Albo asserts, in order to impress upon humankind the superiority of human beings over members of the animal kingdom. Albo does not explain why the generations after the Flood drew the correct conclusion and were not prone again to commit the error of Cain. There is, however, a rabbinic text that effectively resolves the issue. Genesis 7:23 declares that during the period of the Flood God des-

troyed not only humans but also every living creature. The Gemara, BT Sanhedrin 108a, queries,

If man sinned, what was the sin of the animals? Rabbi Joshua the son of Korchah answered the ques- tion with a parable: A man made a nuptial canopy for his son and prepared elaborate foods for the wedding feast. In the interim his son died. The father arose and took apart the nuptial canopy declaring, “I did nothing other than on behalf of my son. Now that he has died for what purpose do I need the nup- tial canopy?” Similarly, the Holy One, blessed be He, said, “I did not create animals and beasts other than for man. Now that man has sinned for what purpose do I need animals and beasts?”

Those comments serve to indicate that the extermina- tion of innocent animals in the course of the Deluge must

be regarded as proof positive of the superiority of human beings over members of the animal kingdom. Animals could be destroyed by a righteous God only because the sole purpose of those creatures was to serve humanity. Hence, if humankind is to be destroyed, the continued existence of animal species is purposeless. Thus the basic principle (i.e., the superiority of humans over members of the animal kingdom) was amply demonstrated by the destruction of animals during the course of the flood. 3) One modern-day scholar who is often cited as look- ing upon vegetarianism with extreme favor is the late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. It is indeed the case that in his writings Rabbi Kook speaks of vegetarianism as an ideal and points out that Adam did not partake of the flesh of animals. In context, however, Rabbi Kook makes those comments in his portrayal of the eschatological era. He regards man’s moral state in that period as being akin to that of Adam before his sin and does indeed view renunci- ation of enjoyment of animal flesh as part of the height- ened moral awareness which will be manifest at that time. But Rabbi Kook is emphatic, nay, vehement, in admonish- ing that vegetarianism dare not be adopted as a norm of human conduct prior to the advent of the eschatological era. Rabbi Kook advances what are, in effect, four distinct arguments in renunciation of vegetarianism as a goal toward which contemporary man ought to aspire:

i) Rabbi Kook remarks almost facetiously that one might surmise that all problems of human welfare have been resolved and the sole remaining area of concern is animal welfare. In effect, his argument is that there ought to be a proper order of priorities. Rabbi Kook is quite explicit in stating that enmity between nations and racial discrimination should be of greater moral concern to humankind than the well-being of animals and that only when such matters have been rectified should attention be turned to questions of animal welfare.

ii) Given the present nature of the human condition, maintains Rabbi Kook, it is impossible for humans to sublimate their desire for meat. The inevitable result of promoting vegetarianism as a normative standard of human conduct, argues Rabbi Kook, will be that humans will violate this norm in seeking self- gratification. Once taking the life of animals is regarded as being equal in abhorrence to taking the life of human beings, it will transpire, contends Rabbi Kook, that in pursuit of meat, people will regard can- nibalism as no more heinous that the consumption of the flesh of animals. The result will be, not enhanced respect for the life of animals, but rather debasement of human life.

iii) Human beings were granted dominion over animals, including the right to take animal lives for their own benefit, in order to impress upon human beings their

Vegetarianism and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook


spiritual superiority and heightened moral obliga- tions. Were they to accord animals the same rights as human beings they would rapidly degenerate to the level of animals in assuming that humans are bound by standards of morality no different from those acted out by brute animals. iv) In an insightful psychological observation, Rabbi Kook remarks that even individuals who are morally degenerate seek to channel their natural moral instincts in some direction. Frequently, they seek to give expression to moral drives by becoming particu- larly scrupulous with regard to some specific aspect of moral behavior. With almost prescient knowledge of future events, Rabbi Kook argues that, were vege- tarianism to become the norm, people might become quite callous with regard to human welfare and human life and express their instinctive moral feelings in an exaggerated concern for animal welfare. These com- ments summon to mind the spectacle of Germans watching with equanimity while their Jewish neigh- bors were dispatched to crematoria and immediately thereafter turning their attention to the welfare of the household pets that had been left behind.

Despite the foregoing, vegetarianism is not rejected by Judaism as a valid lifestyle for at least some individuals. There are, to be sure, individuals who are repulsed by the prospect of consuming the flesh of a living creature. It is not the case that an individual who declines to partake of meat is ipso facto guilty of violation of the moral code. On the contrary, Scripture states, “and you will say: ‘I will eat meat,’ because your soul desires to eat meat; with all the desire of your soul may you eat meat” (Deut. 12:20). The implication is that meat may be consumed when there is desire and appetite for it as food, but may be eschewed when there is no desire and, a fortiori, when it is found to be repugnant. The question is one of perspective. Concern arises only when such conduct is elevated to the level of a moral norm.

J. David Bleich

Further Reading

Bleich, J. David. Contemporary Halachic Problems, v. 3. New York: Ktav Publishing/Yeshiva University Press,


Cohen, Alfred S. “Vegetarianism from a Jewish Perspec- tive.” Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 1:2 (1981), 38–63. Rosner, Fred. Biomedical Ethics and Jewish Law. Hoboken, NJ: Keav Publishing House, 2001. See also: Animal Rights in the Jewish Tradition; Judaism; Kabbalah and Eco-theology; Vegetarianism and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook; Vegetarianism, Judaism, and God’s Intention.

1696 Vegetarianism and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

Vegetarianism and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook


Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, often referred to by the Hebrew title Rav Kook, was the leading Orthodox Jewish thinker of the Zionist movement. Born in Griva, Latvia, Kook was a leading Talmudic scholar and expert in Jewish law, while also deeply influenced by Jewish mysticism and Hasidism. After serving as rabbi to two Eastern European towns, in 1904 Kook immigrated to Palestine to serve as rabbi of Jaffa. While attending a convention in Europe in 1914, Kook found his return route to Palestine cut off by the outbreak of World War I. He spent the duration of the war in a temporary rabbinical position in London, and afterwards returned to Palestine to serve as Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. In 1921 he was elected first Ashkenazi (European) Chief Rabbi of Palestine. Kook’s prolific writings meld traditional Jewish philo- sophical and mystical ideas with elements of modern European philosophy to create a comprehensive Jewish worldview. He viewed history as the dialectical unfolding of a cosmic drama of redemption, encompassing processes ranging from biological evolution to the spiritual advancement of humanity. At the center of this drama stands the Jewish people, whose own historical develop- ment serves as a catalyst for, and harbinger of, the perfec- tion of humanity as a whole, bringing about, ultimately, the perfection of the entire universe both in its material and spiritual aspects. In this context, the return of the Jewish People to Pales- tine may be seen as aimed at achieving its rapprochement with physical nature. Kook taught that an unbalanced attachment to nature invites the dangers of idolatry and pantheism. The Jewish people had been exiled from their land in order to distance Judaism from nature and purify Jewish monotheism of idolatrous and pantheistic tenden- cies. Now that those dangers had been dealt with, the time had come for the Jewish People to return to its land. Immunized against idolatry and reestablished in its home soil, Judaism can safely engage with the physical world in order to perfect and bring to light the holiness implicit in all of reality, including inorganic matter. Building upon earlier traditions, Kook claimed that the Land of Israel (Palestine) is peculiarly endowed with a unique spiritual quality whose influence is necessary for the Jewish People to fulfill their spiritual quest. Reflecting his belief that every part of the Jewish people plays an essential role in the redemptive process, Kook sought ties with people from all sections of the Jewish population, from the radically anti-religious socialist- Zionists, to the Ultra-orthodox anti-Zionist pietists of Jerusalem. He was something of a controversial figure, antagonizing modernists with his insistence on the abso- lute centrality of religion in Jewish life, and scandalizing traditionalists by embracing Zionism. True to his belief in

the inherent goodness within all phenomena, he viewed secular atheism as a spiritually profound and ultimately beneficial challenge to traditional religiosity. Modernist atheism would catalyze monotheism’s final purification. Similarly, Kook found in the theory of evolution an expression of the cosmic drive toward perfection that informs all created beings. Kook’s writings on vegetarianism, collected in a pamphlet entitled Hazon HaTzimchonut v’haShalom miV’khinah Toranit (The Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace from a Torah Perspective), have been the subject of great interest and misunderstanding. On the one hand, Kook addressed the morality of human/animal relations in remarkably radical terms. Judaism has traditionally objected to unnecessary animal suffering and to the wan- ton destruction of nonhuman life. However, these are often regarded within Judaism as spiritually damaging to the human perpetrator, rather than genuinely evil in them- selves. Kook went beyond such considerations to speak of human injustice toward animals. Not only is the slaughter of animals for food wrong, but also even the nonviolent exploitation of animal products such as wool and milk constitutes a form of theft! Kook was careful to explain that full moral considera- tion for animals should only be implemented when humanity achieves its highest spiritual development in the messianic era. His view is rooted in the ancient Jewish notion that while God originally forbade humans to eat meat (“Behold I have given you every seed-bearing plant upon all the Earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food” [Gen. 1:29]), after the Deluge God permitted it as a concession to human weak- ness (“Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these” [Gen. 9:3]). Kook claimed that while the earlier ban on meat would be reinstated in messianic times, a premature demand for vegetarianism and full justice toward animals would be spiritually destructive. In their present fallen state, people would understand such a demand as implying the essen- tial equality of humans and animals. They would forget humanity’s unique spiritual vocation and lapse into a bru- tish and purely corporeal existence. Tyrannical govern- ments would use radical campaigns for animal protection as tools for the oppression of humans, and as a propagand- istic distraction from the injustices they perpetrate against people. Kook argued that absolute justice for animals should be demanded only after inter-human relations are free of violence, oppression and injustice. For the time being, Kook taught, many biblical com- mandments serve to remind us of the present imperfect state of human attitudes toward animals. Jewish laws including careful ritual guidelines for humane slaughter, and the prohibition against eating blood (Deut. 13:23) serve to prepare us for the day when vegetarianism will be required of humans. The law stating, “You shall not boil a

kid in its mother’s milk” (Ex. 23:19) reminds us that by right the milk belongs to the kid. The prohibition against wearing “cloth combining wool and linen” (Deut. 22:11) reminds us that, in terms of absolute justice, each sheep is the genuinely legitimate owner of its own wool.

Berel Dov Lerner

Further Reading Agus, Jacob B. Banner of Jerusalem. New York: Bloch Pub- lishers, 1949. Reprinted in 1972 under the title High Priest of Rebirth. Ben Shlomo, Yosef. Poetry of Being: Lectures on the Phi- losophy of Rabbi Kook. Shmuel Himelstein, tr. Tel-Aviv:

MOD Books, 1990. Ish-Shalom, Benjamin. Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook: Between Rationalism and Mysticism. Ora Wiskind-Elper, tr. Albany: SUNY Press, 1993. Kook, Abraham Isaac. Rav A.Y. Kook: Selected Letters. Tzvi Feldman, tr., ed. Ma’aleh Adumim, Israel: Ma’aliot Publications of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe, 1986. Kook, Abraham Isaac. Hazon HaTzimhonut v’HaShalom miVekhina Toranit (The Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace from a Torah Perspective, Hebrew). Rabbi David Cohen, ed. Jerusalem: Nezer David Publications, 1983. Kook, Abraham Isaac. Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principle, Lights of Holiness, Essay, Letters, and Poems. Ben Zion Bokser, tr. New York: Paulist Press, 1978. This book includes the essay “Fragments of Light,” which constitutes the final sec- tion of Hazon HaTzimhonut, and which summarizes much of its content. See also: Animal Rights in the Jewish Tradition; Judaism; Kabbalah and Eco-theology; Paganism and Judaism; Paganism – A Jewish Perspective; Vegetarianism and Judaism (and adjacent, Vegetarianism and Kabbalah); Vegetarianism, Judaism, and God’s Intention.


Vegetarianism, Judaism, and Gods Intention

And God said: “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the Earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit – to you it shall be for food” (Gen. 1:29).

God’s initial intention was that people be vegetarians. The foremost Jewish Torah commentator Rashi states the fol- lowing about God’s first dietary regime: “God did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature to eat its flesh. Only every green herb were they to all eat together” (Rashi’s commentary on Gen. 1:29). Most Torah commen- tators, including Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, Nachmanides, and Rabbi Joseph Albo, agree with Rashi.

Vegetarianism, Judaism, and Gods Intention


The Talmud also asserts that people were initially vege- tarians: “Adam was not permitted meat for purposes of eating” (BT Sanhedrin 59b). The great thirteenth-century Jewish commentator Nachmanides indicates that one reason behind this initial human diet is the kinship between all sentient beings:

Living creatures possess a soul and a certain spir- itual superiority [to non-human creation] which in this respect make them similar to the possessors of intellect [human beings] and they have the power of affecting their own welfare and their food, and they flee from pain and death (commentary on Gen.


God’s original dietary plan represents a unique state- ment in humanity’s spiritual history. It is a divine blue- print for a vegetarian world order. Yet millions of people have read this Torah verse and passed it by without con- sidering its meaning. After indicating that people should consume only plant-based foods, God saw everything that he had made and “behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Everything in the universe was as God wanted it, in complete harmony, with nothing superfluous or lacking. The vegetarian diet was a central part of God’s initial plan. The strongest support for vegetarianism as a positive ideal in Torah literature is in the writing of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook (1865–1935). Rav Kook was the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi (Rav) of pre-state Israel and a highly respected and beloved Jewish spiritual leader and thinker. He was a writer on Jewish mysticism and an out- standing scholar of Jewish law. In the early twentieth cen- tury he spoke powerfully for vegetarianism, as eventually recorded in A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace (1961). Rav Kook believed that the permission to eat meat was only a temporary concession to the practices of the times, because a God who is merciful to his creatures would not institute an everlasting law permitting the killing of ani- mals for food. People are not always ready to live up to God’s will. By the time of Noah, humanity had morally degenerated. “And God saw the Earth, and behold it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the Earth” (Gen. 6:12). People had degenerated to such an extent that they would eat a limb torn from a living animal. So, as a concession to people’s weakness, God granted permission for people to eat meat: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; as the green herb have I given you all” (Gen. 9:3). According to Rav Kook, because people had descended to such an extremely low spiritual level, it was necessary that they be taught to value human life above that of ani- mals, and that they concentrate their efforts on first work- ing to improve relations between people. He writes that if people had been denied the right to eat meat some might

1698 Vegetarianism, Judaism, and Gods Intention

eat the flesh of human beings instead, due to their inability to control their lust for flesh. Rav Kook regards the permis- sion to slaughter animals for food as a “transitional tax,” or temporary dispensation, until a “brighter era” can be reached, when people will return to vegetarian diets. Just prior to granting Noah and his family permission to eat meat, God states:

And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the Earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all wherewith the ground teems, and upon all the fish of the sea; into your hands are they delivered (Gen. 9:2).

Now that there is permission to eat animals, the previ- ous harmony between people and animals no longer exists. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch argues that the attachment between people and animals was broken after the flood, which led to a change in the relationship of people to the world. The permission given to Noah to eat meat is not unconditional. There is an immediate prohibition against eating blood: “Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall you not eat” (Gen. 9:4). Similar com- mands are given in Leviticus 19:26, 17:10 and 12, and Deuteronomy 12:16, 23 and 25, and 15:23. The Torah identifies blood with life: “for the blood is the life” (Deut. 12:23). Life must be removed from the animal before it can be eaten, and the Talmud details an elaborate process for doing so. When the Israelites were in the wilderness, animals could only be slaughtered and eaten as part of the sacri- ficial service in the sanctuary (Lev. 17:3–5). The eating of “unconsecrated meat,” meat from animals slaughtered for private consumption, was not permitted. All meat which was permitted to be eaten had to be an integral part of a sacrificial rite. Maimonides states that the biblical sacri- fices were a concession to the primitive practices of the nations at that time: people (including the Israelites) were not then ready for forms of divine service which did not include sacrifice and death (as did those of all the hea- thens); at least the Torah, as a major advance, prohibited human sacrifice. God later permitted people to eat meat even if it was not part of a sacrificial offering:

When the Lord your God shall enlarge your border as He has promised you, and you shall say: “I will eat flesh,” because your soul desires to eat flesh; you may eat flesh, after all the desire of your soul (Deut.


This newly permitted meat was called basar ta’avah, “meat of lust,” so named because rabbinic teachings indicate that meat is not considered a necessity for life. The above verse does not command people to eat meat.

Rabbinic tradition understands the Torah as acknowledg- ing people’s desire to eat flesh and permitting it under proper circumstances, but not as requiring the consump-

tion of meat. Even while arguing against vegetarianism as

a moral cause, Rabbi Elijah Judah Schochet, author of

Animal Life in Jewish Tradition, concedes that “Scripture

does not command the Israelite to eat meat, but rather permits this diet as a concession to lust” (1984: 300). Simi- larly, another critic of vegetarian activism, Rabbi J. David Bleich, a noted contemporary Torah scholar and professor

at Yeshiva University, states, “The implication is that meat

may be consumed when there is desire and appetite for it

as food, but it may be eschewed when there is not desire and, a fortiori, when it is found to be repugnant” (1987:

245). According to Bleich, “Jewish tradition does not

command carnivorous behavior

The Talmud expresses this negative connotation associated with the consumption of meat:

.” (1987: 245).

The Torah teaches a lesson in moral conduct, that man shall not eat meat unless he has a special crav-

ing for it

sparingly. The sages also felt that eating meat was

not for everyone: Only a scholar of Torah may eat meat, but one who is ignorant of Torah is forbidden to eat meat (BT Pesachim 49b).

and shall eat it only occasionally and

Some authorities explain this restriction in practical terms: only a Torah scholar can properly observe all the laws of animal slaughter and meat preparation. While there are few conditions on the consumption of vegetarian foods, only a diligent Torah scholar can fully comprehend the many regulations governing the preparation and con- sumption of meat. However, master kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria explains it in spiritual terms: only a Torah scholar can elevate the “holy sparks” trapped in the animal. How many Jews today can consider themselves so scholarly and spiritually advanced to be able to eat meat? Those who do diligently study the Torah and are aware of conditions related to the production and slaughter of meat would, I believe, reject meat eating. Rav Kook writes that the permission to eat meat “after all the desire of your soul” contains a concealed reproach and an implied reprimand. He states that a day will come (the Messianic Period) when people will detest the eating of the flesh of animals because of a moral loathing, and then people will not eat meat because their soul will not have the urge to eat it. In contrast to the lust associated with flesh foods, the Torah looks favorably on plant foods. In the Song of Songs, the divine bounty is poetically described in refer- ences to fruits, vegetables, nuts, and vines. There is no special b’rakhah (blessing) recited before eating meat or fish, as there is for other foods such as bread, cake, wine, fruits, and vegetables. The blessing for meat is a general

one, the same as that over water or any other undifferenti- ated food. Typical of the Torah’s positive depiction of many non- flesh foods is the following evocation of the produce of the Land of Israel:

For the Lord your God brings you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates;

a land of olive oil and date honey; a land wherein you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not

lack anything in

And you shall eat and be

satisfied, and bless the Lord your God for the good land that He has given you (Deut. 8: 7–10).

Rav Kook believes that there is a reprimand implicit in the many laws and restrictions over the preparing, com- bining, and eating of animal products (the laws of kashrut), because they are meant to provide an elaborate apparatus designed to keep alive a sense of reverence for life, with the aim of eventually leading people away from meat eating. He also believes that the high moral level involved in the vegetarianism of the generations before Noah was a virtue of such great value that it cannot be lost forever. In the future ideal time (the Messianic age), people and animals will again not eat each other’s flesh. People’s lives will not be supported at the expense of animals’ lives. Rav Kook based these views on the prophecy of Isaiah:

And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, And the leopard shall lie down with the kid;

And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them And the cow and the bear shall feed; Their young ones shall lie down together, And the lion shall eat straw like the ox They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy


(Isaiah 11:6–9).

In a booklet which summarizes many of Rav Kook’s teachings, Joseph Green, a twentieth-century South Afri- can Jewish vegetarian writer, concluded that Jewish religious ethical vegetarians are pioneers of the Messianic era; they are leading lives that prepare for and potentially hasten the coming of the Messiah. Although most Jews eat meat today, God’s high ideal – the initial vegetarian dietary law – stands supreme in the Torah for Jews and the whole world to see. Based on the above Torah teachings, and because animal-centered diets violate and contradict important Jewish mandates to preserve human health, attend to the welfare of animals, protect the environment, conserve

Venda Religion and the Land


resources, help feed hungry people, and pursue peace, Jewish vegetarians believe that Jews (and others) should sharply reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal products.

Richard Schwartz

Further Reading

Berman, Louis. Vegetarianism and the Jewish Tradition. New York: K’tav, 1982. Bleich, Rabbi J. David. “Vegetarianism and Judaism.” Con- temporary Halakhic Problems. Volume III. Ktav/ Yeshiva University: New York 1987, 237–50. Cohen, Alfred S. “Vegetarianism from a Jewish Per- spective.” In Alfred S. Cohen, ed. Halacha and Contemporary Society. New York: Ktav, 1984, 292–


Cohen, Noah J. Tsa’ar Ba’alei Chayim – The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Its Bases, Development, and Legis- lation in Hebrew Literature. New York: Feldheim,


Kalechofsky, Roberta. Vegetarian Judaism. Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah Publications, 1998. Kalechofsky, Roberta, ed. Rabbis and Vegetarianism: An Evolving Tradition. Marblehead, Massachusetts: Micah Publications, 1995. Kook, Abraham Isaac HaKohen. “A Vision of Vegetarian- ism and Peace.” In David Cohen, ed. Lachai Ro’i. Jerusalem: Merkaz HaRav, 1961. Robbins, John. Diet for a New America. Walpole, New Hampshire: Stillpoint, 1987. Schochet, Elijah J. Animal Life in Jewish Tradition. New York: K’tav, 1984. Schwartz, Richard H. Judaism and Vegetarianism. New York: Lantern Books, 2001. Sears, Dovid. The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism. Spring Valley, NY: Orot, Inc., 2003. See also: Animal Rights in the Jewish Tradition; Animals in the Bible and Qur’an; Judaism; Kabbalah and Eco- theology; Jewish Environmentalism in North America; Maimonides; Vegetarianism and Judaism; Vegetarianism and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.

Venda Religion and the Land (Southern Africa)

By the combined use of oral traditions and archeology, the oldest Venda clans (mitupo) of the Soutpansberg Moun- tains area between South Africa and Zimbabwe can be traced back roughly 600 years. More recent clans from Zimbabwe settled in the Soutpansberg area roughly 500 years ago and again some 250 years ago. As settled agri- culturists and specialized long-distance traders ruled by

1700 Venda Religion and the Land

powerful chiefs, the various Venda clans were intimately tied to the land and its features. Chiefs enjoyed both political control over decision making and access to high status ancestral spirits. These dual powers of a chief were metaphorically expressed by reference to prominent features on the landscape. The Venda likened a chief’s political power to a mountain, whereas they likened his spiritual abilities, such as being responsible for soil fertility and rain, as a pool. The organization of royal Venda living space also expressed this dichotomy between politics and religion. Stone-walled royal settlements were divided between a low-lying assembly area, or “pool,” and a higher royal living area, or “mountain.” The assembly area was the venue for various fertility rituals, including rainmaking, renewal of the Earth, and pre-marital rites. Various Venda

clans recall that they originally came from a fertile pool in

a mountain, so the rituals within the assembly area

actually reenact the creation stories. The royal living area inhabited by the chief, his coun-

cilors, and wives, was the arena of political decision mak- ing and maneuvering. Reference to this area as a mountain

is metaphorically expressed in oral traditions as a con-

quering chief stepping from mountain to mountain. In the same vein, when a chief dies, it is said, “The Mountain has fallen.” Medicines buried at the entrance to the assembly area,

or “pool,” were intended to protect the royal settlement from invaders. Venda people believed that if invaders crossed this protective threshold, then the assembly area turned into an actual pool. This pool returns to normal once the enemy has been frightened away or drowned. However, if the invaders’ medicines proved too strong, then the assembly area permanently turned into a pool, inundating the royal mountain portion of the settlement. As mentioned above, this is a metaphorical expression of the demise of the chief’s political power. It is abundantly clear from various oral traditions,

however, that a new chief respected or even feared a sub- jugated chief’s intricate spiritual link to the land and its associated ancestors. Accordingly, the new chief almost invariably recognized the spiritual potency, or pool status,

of his predecessor. Even though the subjugated chief lost

his political power, or mountain status, he normally

retained his spiritual potency to make rain and influence soil fertility, or pool status. In some instances the subju- gated chief actually became a ritual specialist to the incoming chief and so increased his prestige as ritual rainmaker. But shifting political fortunes did not end here

as subsequent chiefs in turn established their hegemony. A

new chief became the mountain, his immediate predeces- sor became the pool, and the original chief became a so- called “dry-one” (i.e., his pool status has “dried up”). The “dry-one” label applies to those chiefs who came from a line that formerly had great powers, but due to repeated

political misfortunes were eventually ostracized from the recognized political system. Those in power viewed the formerly influential chiefs on the periphery of the status quo as a threat and conveniently branded them as witches. Yet, since the most current chiefs and their ritual func- tionaries respected the intimate and long-lasting spiritual connection of the first chiefly dynasty to the land, they did not kill their descendants. It was believed that elimination of these ancient people might upset the original spirits of the land. Instead of elimination, the most recent ruling dynasty normally avoided contact with descendants of the original rulers. This process explains the historic distinc- tion between the Singo rulers with their mountain status, the Mbedzi with their pool status, and the Dzhivhani “dry-ones.” According to oral traditions and radiocarbon dates from associated settlements, we know that the Dzhivhani lived in the Soutpansberg at least 600 years ago when they enjoyed mountain status, but possibly also enjoyed pres- tige as being responsible for fertility and rain. Mbedzi immigrants from southern Zimbabwe subjugated the Dzhivhani chiefs some 500 years ago. The Mbedzi immi- grants stripped the Dzhivhani of their political powers, but respected their abilities as pool people, particularly as rainmakers. Approximately 250 years ago the Singo from central Zimbabwe in turn conquered the Soutpansberg. Since that time, the Mbedzi became the official rain- makers, while the Dzhivhani lost their pool status. The different status categories are expressed by the dis- tinctive burial practices of the various clans. Typically, Singo chiefs are buried in mountains, Mbedzi chiefs in pools, whereas Dzhivhani chiefs have no particular burial mode any more. But the importance of the original rulers, such as the Dzhivhani, still resonates in the Soutpans- berg Mountains. Various noticeable locations on the landscape, in particular old stone-walled ruins of royal settlements, pools, mountains, caves, and boulders, are either avoided or treated with respect. These are the loca- tions believed to be portals to the underworld where ancestral spirits reside. Venda people believe that ances- tors send messengers, in the form of dangerous animals and/or distorted mountain and water creatures, to scare disrespectful trespassers. At certain unusual locations, including San rock-art sites, Venda still leave trinkets to appease the original spirits of the land. Another reason for leaving gifts at sacred spots is to obtain fertility from the very old spirits. Although the political clout of the ancient Venda dyn- asties is long gone, their religious legacy lives on in unusual landscape features and in the old ruins. This leg- acy prohibits Venda people from altering the landscape too much. Very old rock art, for instance, is not to be tampered with. Unlike their Sotho-speaking neighbors to the south, Venda people tend not to repaint or scratch the

rock paintings of their San predecessors, to cite one example. Also, “traditional” Venda farm laborers discour- age their European masters from installing mechanical pumps at sacred pools in fear that such alterations might anger the spirits and make them “hot.” Sheet metal roofs and fences are similarly believed to cause spirits to become “hot” and vengeful. In other words, there is a deeply felt and widely shared belief among Venda people that any alterations or modifications at sacred locales would upset the spirits of the land and result in misfortune. Supernatural sanction against killing animals residing in old ruins or in sacred pools can also be linked to respect for the original occupants of the land. In this sense then, the Venda-speaking people from the Sout- pansberg can be considered to be conserving the land, irrespective of the fact that their intensive farming and overgrazing practices have resulted in damaging soil ero- sion. Even those Venda clans that were specialist copper miners or elephant hunters did not exploit the available copper ore deposits or elephant herds to their fullest. Whereas technological inability to exhaust such resources no doubt was a contributing factor, supernatural sanction against overexploitation might have been another. For example, abandoned copper mine shafts in the Limpopo River valley were supposedly haunted by spirits of the Musina clan and considered off-limits to trespassers. Whereas conservation among the Venda was almost cer- tainly not an end in itself, their worldview contributed to the preservation of unusual cultural and natural features of the Soutpansberg.

Johannes Loubser

Further Reading Beach, D.N. The Shona and Zimbabwe 1900–1850. Gwelo:

Mambo Press, 1980. Blacking, J. “Songs, Dances, Mimes and Symbolism of Venda Girls’ Initiation Schools: Part 1, Vhushsa; Part 2, Milayo; Part 3, Domba; Part 4, The Great Domba Song.” African Studies 28 (1969), 28–35, 69–118, 149–99, 215–66. Loubser, J.H.N. “Oral Traditions, Archaeology and the History of the Venda Mitupo.” African Studies (1990),


Ralushai, V.N.M.N. and J.R. Gray. “Ruins and Traditions of the Ngona and Mbedzi among the Venda of the North- ern Transvaal.” Rhodesian History 9 (1977), 1–12. Stayt, H. The Bavenda. London: Oxford University Press,


Van Warmelo, N.J. The Copper Miners of Musina and the Early History of the Soutpansberg. Ethnological Publication 8. Pretoria: Government Printer, 1940. See also: San (Bushmen) Apocalpytic Rock Art; San (Bushmen) Religion (and adjacent, San (Bushmen) Rain- making); Venda Witch Beliefs (Southern Africa).

Venda Witch Beliefs


Venda Witch Beliefs (Southern Africa)

The Venda people inhabit the far northern area of the Republic of South Africa as well as the extreme south of Zimbabwe, bordering on either side of the Limpopo River. In South Africa, they occupy the fertile Soutpansberg mountain range where they were traditionally horti- culturalists and pastoral cattle-keepers, until the discovery of diamonds and gold in the nineteenth century intro- duced migrant labor as a way of life for the menfolk. The Soutpansberg mountain range is a richly forested area whose trees provide wood for ritual, ceremonial, and utilitarian purposes, as well as fruits that are an important source of food. The rivers of Vendaland and especially the sacred lake Fundudzi have a religious and mystical signifi- cance for the Venda people. Rivers flowing through forested areas, such as the famous Phiphidi falls, are associated with the spirits of the VhaNgona, the original inhabitants of Venda at the time of the early Iron Age, ca. 200. To propitiate these spirits, everyone crossing the falls must contribute an offering: a bracelet or piece of broken pot for a woman, a tuft of hair for a man. Cattle are not excluded and some cow hairs must be offered if the animal is not to incur misfortune. The Venda people are made up of various tribal clusters who migrated to the area at different times; some came from Zimbabwe to the north and others from the Sotho- speaking areas to the south and east. The Venda language is unique among South African languages in having links to the early Iron Age (200–800) inhabitants of Southern Africa. Among the important migrations from the Karanga area of southern Zimbabwe were the Vhathavhatsinde people, so called because many families in this group were great medicine men (diviners) who supplied a powerful antidote to evil from the mutavhatsinde tree. The name is said to derive from the word muta, referring to the small enclosure surrounding women’s huts and tsinde, meaning the stem or trunk of a tree. Medicine men or diviners from the Vhathavatsinde still erect poles in the yards of their homesteads to indicate their avocation. I was able to photograph the pole erected by well-known diviner and herbalist, Mr. Nelson Shonisani, at his home in Kubvhi, central Venda in 1988. Much of the work of herbalists (nanga) and diviners (maine, pl. mingoma) among the Venda has to do with protecting people from the machinations of witches (sg. muloi, pl. vhaloi) who seek to kill or harm their fellows, as well as providing charms to protect people against mis- fortune. A simple charm might be a piece of wood taken from a branch of a tree overhanging a well-used pathway. The charm is believed to contain strength given to it by travelers who trod that path without coming to any harm. Most medicine people among the Venda are herbalists who specialize in curing diseases and who are consulted often about ordinary ailments. The mungoma or diviner is

1702 Venda Witch Beliefs

believed to have occult powers and is always consulted after someone has died so that the family of the deceased can discover who the evil person was who caused the death. Like many other African peoples, the Venda believe that death (except in the case of the very old) is not a natural occurrence. Most diviners are maine vha lufhali, diviners who discover the identity of witches who are responsible for most misfortunes and deaths, which are often believed due to the use of sorcery in the form of poi- sons obtained from plants and added to the victim’s food. Among the Venda, a diviner or herbalist may be male or female. A man inherits his knowledge from his father and a woman from her mother. Witches (vhaloi) are believed to be of either gender but are more generally women. They operate at night, sometimes traveling long distances on the back of a hyena or other animal, and they may send snakes, owls or, particularly, a turi (stoat) into the victim’s home to bite him or her and cause disease or death. Wild animals such as snakes, owls, hyenas, and stoats are crea- tures of dark places or the night, like witches, and are known to cause harm either by biting humans and animals as snakes do, or by attacking small stock, like hyenas, or sucking the udders of cows, as stoats are believed to do. Stayt comments that the turi is especially feared, as it is believed the animal can become invisible and in that way enter the body of its human victim and cause a mortal illness (Stayt 1931: 278). There are two distinct types of witch in Venda that cor- respond to the famous distinction made by E.E. Evans- Pritchard for the Azande of Central Africa. The first type are witches who act unconsciously. They are unaware of their evil-doing. The second type corresponds to the sor- cerer among the Azande. This witch uses material means such as spells made from powdered roots and bark or magic, to cause harm. The first type of witch is believed to act during sleep. It is at this time that the witch spirit leaves the body of its innocent human victim and goes out on its evil mission. Other persons sleeping with the muloi are believed to be put into a deep sleep so the witch is never seen, except by the herbalist or diviner. Apart from killing people, the witch also is believed to be very fond of milk and may force a cattle owner, while asleep, to go into his cattle enclosure, milk his animals, and give the milk to the witch. Alternatively, the muloi may send a turi (stoat), well known as a witch familiar, a creature that carries out the bidding of a witch and operates usually at night, to suck the milk from the cows. Protection against witches comes from the mother’s ancestors, and if these spirits are angry with the victim, they may withdraw their protection and allow the witches evil work to proceed. Remedies against the work of witches consist of charms, made, for instance, from the powdered root of the mukundulela tree (Niebuhria triphylla) which translates as “the way of force,” mixed with the powdered bones of a snake, owl, bat’s wing, and stoat. As this mixture is made

up of parts of all the witch’s familiars, it is considered especially powerful in making the wearer invulnerable to attack by witches. The second type of witch, the sorcerer, uses black magic to kill her or his enemies. This magic is known as mad- ambi. Herbalists (nanga) are sometimes suspected of assist- ing a muloi to work harm in this way. Madambi usually works by the witch getting hold of an object belonging to her/his enemy and using it to destroy the person. Thus, nail and hair clippings are carefully hidden. Stayt notes that the most popular madambi is made of sand from an enemy’s footprint, which is mixed with poisonous herbs and through sympathetic magic the owner of the footprint dies from poisoning. Sometimes the evil powder will be blown on, or toward, a hare. The animal will run to the intended victim and look him or her in the eyes and then vanish. The victim is believed to die soon after while the hare vanishes. The herbalist can provide a protective charm against this sorcery, a magic powder mixed with fat, which, when rubbed over the body, envelopes the wearer in a kind of magic coat. Herbalists provide many other charms made from powdered roots or bark that act as antidotes to evil, as spells, or as protective amulets. For instance, the pow- dered roots of the mpeta (Royena pallens) protect against ordinary diseases and keep the ancestral spirits from worrying the wearer. Witch beliefs in Venda are similar to those in other Bantu-speaking societies in Africa, especially those of their neighbors, the Lovedu, who live in a deeply forested area to the southeast of the Venda, and who are famous for their rain-queen, Modjadji. These witch beliefs tend to reflect social strains in predominantly kin-based cultures. That is, those most likely to be accused of being witches are often neighbors or co-wives, in polygamous homesteads. Nowadays, a successful business entrepreneur may find himself the target of malicious accusations, as happened to Isaac Ramakulukusha, a Zionist bishop who owned numerous business enterprises, including butcheries and filling stations in Venda. In 1975, he sued the Commander of the Venda National Force for wrongful arrest and defa- mation. He was accused of being a ritual murderer (mavia vhatu – slaughterer of human beings) after the body of a four year-old girl was found in the Nzehele River in Venda. Forensic science came to the aid of the bishop when the child was found to have drowned and crabs had eaten part of her body. Accusations of witchcraft also have increased in recent years with the change to a democratic majority rule in South Africa. With the power of chiefs and headmen wan- ing, some have resorted to devices like the murder of young children (so-called “muti” [medicine] murders) to prop up their waning influence.

Gina Buijs

Further Reading Evans-Pritchard, Edward. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937. Krige, Eileen Jensen and J.D Krige. The Realm of a Rain Queen. Cape Town: Juta & Co., 1980. Stayt, Hugh. The BaVenda. London: Oxford University Press, 1931. See also: Muti and African Healing; Muti Killings; Venda Religion and the Land (Southern Africa).

Virgin of Guadalupe

On 8 December 1531, the legend goes, the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac north of Mexico City. In 1999, Pope John Paul II proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe the Patron Saint of the Americas. Devotion to the tradition of Guadalupe has been sustained for nearly 500 years and has played a significant role in Mexican history, whether as a symbol for independence, the Church’s resistance to political intervention, the rights of native populations, or for social conservatism and control. Although contentious debates over the historical credibility of the apparition-narrative mark the Guadalupan tradition, the image and legend of the Virgin of Guadalupe has provided a powerful symbol for Mexican nationalism, and by the twentieth century, a symbol of freedom for oppressed native peoples and agrar- ian reform. As a symbol fusing religion and politics, native and Christian images, the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas, remains a complicated symbol embodying conquest, pre-Colombian Earth goddesses, nature, the modern nation, and various, complicated social relations. The first account of the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe was not published until the mid-seventeenth century. This account tells the story of Guadalupe’s appearance in December 1531 to Juan Diego, a poor Chris- tianized native. Speaking to him in the Aztec language of Nahuatl, she asks Juan Diego to tell the bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga, to build a chapel in her honor at Tepeyac. After two unsuccessful visits, Zumárraga instructs Juan Diego to return with signs from the appari- tion. Disconsolate, Juan Diego meets the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe for the third time. Guadalupe tells Juan Diego to climb the hill of Tepeyac and gather roses and flowers as signs for the bishop. When Juan Diego opens his cloak in front of the bishop, the roses tumble out, revealing a life-size image of Guadalupe found miraculously imprinted on the cactus-fiber cloth of his cloak. Realizing that a miracle had taken place, the bishop places the image in the cathedral for public devotion and later brings it to Tepeyac. The painted icon on what is alleged to be Juan Diego’s cloak remains the heart of the cult and tradition of the Virgin of Guadalupe, on display

Virgin of Guadalupe


today in the twentieth-century basilica in Mexico City that serves as the central locus for Guadalupan devotion. Scholars find it significant that the Guadalupan tradi- tion was introduced 35 years after the conquest. Native peoples understandably resisted domination, sometimes overtly through resistance, but more commonly through ongoing practice of traditional religious beliefs and life- ways. Syncretic practices that merged Christian images and ideas with local beliefs and rituals were employed as methods of proselytizing native peoples. In the case of Guadalupe, cults of Mary imported by the Spaniards merged with pre-Colombian Earth deities. Tepeyac had long served as a pilgrimage site for various Earth god- desses referred to collectively as Tonantzin, our “revered mother.” Early veneration of Guadalupe and pilgrimages to Tepeyac, some sixteenth-century priests complained, only continued pre-Christian practices since native wor- shipers still associated her with sacred space and power coming from the Earth. Although Guadalupe may have had an early following among native peoples and been used as a means of evan- gelization by the Catholic Church, by the seventeenth cen- tury Guadalupe became associated with the interests of Mexican-born Spaniards or Creoles. Guadalupe became championed as the American Mary, thus serving Mexican patriotism and nationalism, but also justifying the con- quest. After Mexico City and Puebla were devastated by the plague in 1737, Mexico City claimed the Virgin of Guadalupe as its patron saint, and by 1754 the Pope named her patroness of Mexico. In 1895 the Virgin of Guadalupe was crowned Queen of the Americas. During these centuries of merging religion and patriotism, it should be noted that the image of Guadalupe was not explicitly employed to champion native peoples. The Vir- gin of Guadalupe was important for the Catholic Church and its position in Mexican society, as well as for patriots who employed it to champion Mexican identity. In rela- tion to policies and practices concerning native peoples and their lands however, the cult of Guadalupe was used primarily as a conservative, paternalistic, and exclusion- ary mechanism. It was not until the twentieth century that the image and tradition of the Virgin of Guadalupe became explicitly associated with the rights of native peoples, dis- enfranchised populations, and the land. Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata both used the symbol of Guadalupe dur- ing their revolutionary struggles, thus associating Guada- lupe with social and agrarian reform. Peasant followers of Emiliano Zapata carried banners of Guadalupe through Mexico City following the defeat of General Victoriano Huerta in 1914. These indigenous peasants also visited Tepeyac to venerate Guadalupe who, as both Earth god- dess and patron saint, came to symbolize the protector of damaged land and oppressed peoples. Banners of Guada- lupe regularly appeared in marches organized by Cesar

1704 Virtues and Ecology in World Religions

Chavez and the United Farm Workers beginning in the 1960s. Numerous contemporary Chicana artists now depict Guadalupe in ways that link her to pre-Colombian Earth goddesses, thus championing both native peoples and the land. Contemporary Latina/o theologians claim that both images and fiestas demonstrate Guadalupe’s clear connection to nature. In popular religious images, the sun, stars, moon, and nature surround Guadalupe. Daybreak on December 12, “the time of new beginnings and the rebirth of the sun” is the time of Guadalupe’s feast and celebration and a dawn song, Las Mañanitas is sung to her (Rodriguez 1994: 147). Our Lady of Guadalupe remains a contested symbol – standing at different points in history for conquest as well as indigenous rights; for Earth goddesses and nature as well as the power of the nation-state.

Lois Ann Lorentzen

Further Reading Brading, D.A. Mexican Phoenix: Our Lady of Guadalupe:

Image and Tradition Across Five Centuries. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Poole, Stafford. Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Origins and Sources of a Mexican National Symbol, 1531–1797. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1995. Rodriguez, Jeanette. Our Lady of Guadalupe: Faith and Empowerment among Mexican-American Women. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1994. See also: Ecofeminism (various); Goddesses – History of; Mary in Latin America; Maya Religion (Central America); Mayan Catholicism; Mayan Protestantism; Mesoamerican Deities.

Virtues and Ecology in World Religions

Virtues (commonly understood as excellences of character acquired through self-cultivation) play a role in all major world religions – even as ideals of personal cultivation differ significantly from tradition to tradition. Recent adaptations in religious attitudes toward nature to a large degree involve changes in the perception and cultivation of virtues as well. Across the board, religious environ- mentalists highlight the ecological import of traditional traits of character, such as moderation, humility, and com- passion. However, to speak of a uniform “green” religious virtue ethic would be to deny the varied contexts of religious belief and practice that continue to give these virtues their full meaning. By examining relation- ships between the virtues and ecological awareness in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism we can see the various types of green virtue ethics.

Frugality Under a number of names, frugality has been a promi- nent moral norm and practice in all the great religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucian- ism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Daoism. These tradi- tions often have interpreted frugality as an expression of love or its equivalent – that is, seeking the good of others in response to their needs. Frugality is the virtue of economic constraint – a standard of excellence for both character formation and social transformation in necessary interaction. It con- notes moderation, thrift, sufficiency, and temperance. It demands careful conservation, comprehensive recycling, minimal harm, material efficiency, and prod- uct durability. Frugality is a middle way that struggles against both overconsumption by the affluent and underconsumption by the poor. Frugality, according to its advocates, is an antidote to a cardinal vice of the age, prodigality – or excess in the goods humans take from the Earth, and excess in the wastes and contaminants we return to it. These excesses are unfair and unsustainable. The profligate take more than their due, and thereby deprive others – poor people, other species, and future generations – of their due. In this setting, frugality is a necessary condition of justice and sustainability, seeking a greater thriving of all life together by sparing and sharing global goods. Contrary to some stereotypes, frugality is not gener- ally a world-denying asceticism. On the contrary, the word’s Latin root, frux, defines its essential character:

fruitfulness and joyfulness. Frugality is an Earth- affirming and enriching norm that delights in the less- consumptive joys of the mind and flesh, especially the enhanced lives for human communities and other crea- tures that only constrained production and consumption can make possible on a finite planet. Frugality is regularly defended as a universal norm, not bound to particular religious confessions. Interpret- ers argue that it can be ethically justified, apart from appeals to privileged revelations, as a rational response to economic maldistribution and ecological degradation. For its fans, frugality is the subversive virtue, in rebel- lion against the ethos of excess.

James A. Nash

Further Reading Nash, James. A. “Toward the Revival and Reform of the Subversive Virtue: Frugality.” The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics (1995). Westra, Laura and Patricia H. Werhan, eds. The Business of Consumption: Environmental Ethics and the Global Economy. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Lit- tlefield, 1998. See also: Dirt.

Virtue and Ecology in Christianity In 1976, historian Lynn White charged that the environ- mental crisis will only be reverted if Christians exchange their arrogant attitudes toward nature for St. Francis’ model of humility. Since then, virtues have played a major role in the greening of Christianity. From qualities of char- acter marking a person’s journey to an other-worldly sal- vation, they changed into qualities of character fitting the flourishing of persons-within-ecocommunities in which the immanent Spirit of God is made manifest. As a result, a thoroughly reinterpreted and reshuffled catalogue of desirable traits is emerging. Changes range from simple extensions to radical innovations of meaning. Rather than hope for the salva- tion of human souls only, Christians may now hope (even against all odds) for the liberation of all creation. Rather than humbly consider themselves at the bottom of an ontological ladder, they may humbly accept their place in the web of earthly relations. Rather than practice vigilant control of emotions, they may try to relearn spontaneity. And rather than divert their attention away from the physi- cal details of this world (contemptus mundi), they may practice sensuousness in order to attend properly to this world – following a recast model of Jesus as a teacher with an eye for illustrations drawn from animal and plant life. Some observers doubt whether such attitudinal changes go far enough in addressing ecological problems. They stress the need for complementary social analysis and organized efforts to transform institutions (e.g., Dieter Hessel). Others question whether personal transformation can be thorough enough as long as Christians continue to see themselves as managers of creation (e.g., Elizabeth Dodson Gray). The most radical critics suggest that Chris- tians look outside their tradition toward Eastern and indigenous religions for alternative models of ecological self-cultivation (e.g., Joanna Macy). Christian scholars typically respond to this last charge with a warning against the vice of romanticism.

Virtue and Ecology in Judaism From the rich array of Jewish scripture, legal traditions, stories, rituals, and cultural practices, virtues emerge as those personal character traits that renew and sustain the chosen people’s covenant relationship with God. The Jew- ish community has received many blessings from the tran- scendent Creator of the universe; in return, it must look after creation, following the commandments of the Torah. This covenant bond is especially served by gratitude, responsibility, and repentance for failure. Today, those who interpret the environmental crisis as a sign of coven- antal breakdown find new significance in these traditional virtues (e.g., Eric Katz). Ancient blessings for food, natural beauty, and sea- sonal renewal continue to express appropriate gratitude for the gifts of creation. Entrusted with those gifts, respon-

Virtues and Ecology in World Religions


sible stewards will be caring and compassionate, keeping in mind the suffering of all living beings (tza’ar ba’alei chayim). They will also be in the habit of exercising per- sonal restraint, demonstrated every Sabbath by refraining from nature-altering activities. Following the command- ment not to destroy (bal tashchit), they will be averse to vandalism (including specifically the wanton destruction of fruit trees), cruelty (including animal abuse), and wastefulness. Conflicts of interest they will approach with prudence, new environmental challenges with love of learning. Even responsible stewards may fail, however. They must be able to admit mistakes and repent for their shortcomings. Like Christianity, Judaism has been charged with pro- moting arrogance by putting humans in charge of the Earth. Critics also say that Jewish anti-paganism prevents appropriate reverence for nature. Jewish scholars typically respond that a covenantal life actually inspires humility and awe before God’s marvelous works. Some go further and draw on Jewish mystical traditions (Kabbalah) that do allow full-blown reverence for the Divine Presence in creation (e.g., Arthur Green).

Virtue and Ecology in Islam Although Islamic ethics is especially known for its tradi- tion of law (Shari ‘ah), the life of a Muslim should in all aspects be marked by the cultivation of one main virtue:

surrender (islam) to God (Allah). Each other virtue (fadi- lah), either leads up to, belongs to, follows from, or is perfected by the Muslim’s singular commitment to the transcendent Creator and Sustainer of the universe. While largely remaining within this traditional framework, which is based on scripture (Qur’an), the example and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (Hadith), and the work of great thinkers such as Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), modern scholars of Islam have begun to identify ecologi- cally relevant virtues. Muslims look upon creation as the extended family of God, in which each species forms a community designed to live harmoniously with all other communities. Thus, beneficence toward any creature takes on meaning as an act of devotion by which the believer treats God’s family well. Planting and sowing, insofar as they benefit human and nonhuman communities, are concrete instances of such charity. Respect for the basic needs of others requires vigilant control (jihad) over destructive “lower” desires, especially greed, aggression, and jealousy. The willingness to make such personal sacrifices for the common good, strengthened annually during the fasting month of Rama- dan, again ultimately underscores the believer’s respect for God. Ecofeminists and those who follow Lynn White’s line of reasoning have leveled the same criticism against Islam as against Christianity and Judaism: its belief in a transcend- ent God and its elevation of humans as the viceregents of

1706 Virtues and Ecology in World Religions

creation are likely to engender exploitative attitudes toward nature. Two types of Islamic responses are emer- ging. Most scholars stress that a viceregent (khalifa) should be responsible. They also qualify the implications of divine transcendence (e.g., Al-Hafiz Masri). For example, they highlight scriptural texts that depict crea- tion as a mosque, or as bearing many signs (ayat) of divine grace, and argue that such a sacramental world demands human respect. Some scholars, however, contend that an other-worldly focus on a transcendent and all- powerful God should in fact benefit the environment, insofar as it encourages frugality and deep humility (e.g., Seyyed Nasr).

Virtue and Ecology in Hinduism Within the multifaceted spectrum of Hindu traditions, the ideal of living in mental and bodily harmony with all beings, seen as a divine unity (Vasudeva/Brahman), stands in creative tension with the ideal of self-transcendence. Both ideals require self-cultivation through various forms of meditation and discipline (yoga). However, Hindus seek- ing self-transcendence must ultimately renounce all aspects of the natural world as illusory (maya) to attain an entirely other-wordly liberation (moksha) from the cycle of life and death. Because of these distinct (though com- plexly intertwined) foci, Hindu traditions offer both rich resources and significant challenges for a this-worldly, ecological virtue ethic. Ancient Hindu texts, such as the Gautama Dharmas- utra, already stress the importance of compassion for all creatures. Today, against the backdrop of India’s serious environmental problems, other traditional virtues are reinterpreted within an expanded doctrine of dharma as the duty to act for the entire ecological community (e.g., Christopher Chapple). Those who practice universal veneration (mindful of the interconnectedness and divin- ity of all things, as well as the transmigration of souls) will tend to cultivate an attitude of non-injury (ahimsa) toward other living beings, indeed toward all species, ecosystems, and elements that adorn the divine Mother Earth (Devi Vasundhara). Living a life of nonviolence in turn requires simplicity (restraint of greed), tranquility (restraint of anger and envy), and truthfulness (satyagraha). Through such personal sacrifice (yajna) the environment can be purified – just as, conversely, the vices of selfishness and willful ignorance cause (karma) environmental ravage (e.g., Seshagiri Rao). Despite Lynn White’s doubt whether Eastern traditions could change Western attitudes toward nature, Hindu teachings have helped to shape ecological consciousness in the first industrialized nations. Virtues such as universal respect and ahimsa, as well as the ideal of self-realization (atman moksha) within the context of the oneness of all beings, now also guide many Western people of non- Indian descent.

Virtue and Ecology in Buddhism Buddhist virtue ethics takes its shape from the earliest teachings of the Buddhist monastic community: the uni- versality and inevitability of suffering (dukkha), the impermanence of everything (anitya), the dependence of everything on everything else (pratitya-samutpada), and the absence of an enduring self or soul (anatman). Insofar as Buddhists deny the existence of a self, their efforts at being virtuous cannot be understood in any strict sense as self-cultivation. Yet Buddhist practitioners do cultivate their minds and seek emotional equanimity. Theravada Buddhists tend to do so primarily in expectation of per- sonal release from the suffering inherent in the cycle of life and death (nirvana). Mahayana Buddhists may also focus on relieving the suffering of others, an aim perfected in the life of the bodhisattva. In either case, however, mind and emotions are channeled to enable adaptability to change (impermanence) and awareness of mutual depend- ence (dependent arising). Many observers have noted the remarkable fit between these basic Buddhist attitudes and an ecological worldview (e.g., Stephanie Kaza). Buddhists have long held that those who are mindful of the suffering around them will see the appropriateness of showing compassion to human and nonhuman alike. The Indian emperor Asoka (270–232 B.C.E.), for example, is famous for constructing hospitals for both people and animals. In addition to seeking relief of suffering, Bud- dhists also teach the need for prevention through an atti- tude of non-injury (pranatipata-virmana). The effects (karma) of a nonviolent lifestyle again extend beyond the human community. For example, one will as far as pos- sible avoid slaughtering animals and cutting trees. More- over, by overcoming one’s greed, anger, and delusions through understanding their source in self-clinging, one can avoid the ecologically harmful effects of these vices. Both external and internal critics find a relative neglect of social ethics in some or all Buddhist traditions. How- ever, Buddhism does offer an explicit and scientifically compatible theory of how the personal practice of virtues affects social and indeed ecological systems. According to the doctrine of dependent arising, each person’s way of being and acting in the world affects every other aspect of the world. Thus, the cumulative effects of human virtuous agency should be understood not as a matter of simple addition, but rather as following the mathematics of com- plexity (cf. Stuart Kauffman). Beyond a certain threshold of virtuous people, a web of new social and ecological connections will emerge.

Virtue and Ecology in Confucianism Virtue (de), understood as self-cultivation following the dao (the Way), is the main pillar of Confucian ethics. From the days of classical Confucianism, character formation has been understood in relation to the natural world as an attempt to live in harmony with the ever-changing

dynamism (qi) of Heaven and Earth. Mountains, plants and animals provide helpful analogies for self-cultivation, and the four main human virtues of humaneness (ren), righteousness (yi), propriety (li), and wisdom (zhi) all have cosmological components. Accordingly, various modern scholars (e.g., Tu Weiming, Mary Evelyn Tucker) have identified Confucian tradition as a rich resource for environmental ethics. While the four main virtues and their derivatives are first and foremost understood to guide five spheres of human relationships (parent–child, husband–wife, older– younger siblings, friend–friend, ruler–minister), their implications reach into the nonhuman world as well. Neo- Confucian thinkers of the Song and Ming dynasties already suggested that humaneness (ren) includes con- sideration (shu) for animals, plants and even stones, as all are one body sharing the vitality of qi. And insofar as people are children of Heaven and Earth, it is fitting for them to show filiality and self-restraint toward nature. All in all, the exercise of proper reciprocal relations with “the myriad things” is central to the Confucian conception of the exemplary person (junzi), who seeks to live in accord- ance with the Mandate of Heaven (tian-ming). Critical observers have wondered whether Confucian virtue ethics (like any other religious virtue ethics) may be greener on paper than in practice – a question complicated by the current absence of recognizable institutions to facilitate and represent such practice. Some note the many uneasy compromises within Confucianism between gen- eral teachings and specific (often pre-Confucian ritual) cultural practices (e.g., Donald Blakeley). Confucian hierarchalism may also conflict with ecologically attuned self-cultivation. However, many observers agree that, con- sidering the tradition’s deep-seated holism, the dynamism of yin-yang cosmology, and the appreciation for spontan- eity, deference, and adeptness in living, it contains signifi- cant potential for guiding people toward more ecological ways of being.

Concluding Observations The following general patterns characterize the relation- ship between the cultivation of virtue and ecological awareness in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. 1) Across the spectrum, the ecological import of traditional virtues is assessed and highlighted. 2) Adjustments often involve extending the reach of virtuous acts to nonhuman entities. 3) Radical changes (e.g., a traditional vice, such as sensuousness, being reassessed as a virtue, and vice versa) are rare and most likely to occur in Christian circles. 4) Certain virtues emerge so frequently and universally that they may be considered part of a crosscultural catalogue of ecological virtues, namely: gratitude, respect, humility, caring, com- passion, generosity, gentleness, frugality, and wisdom. 5) Across the world religions, these virtues are more similar



in their outward effects on the environment than in their broader significance, which depends heavily on specific contexts of belief.

Louke van Wensveen

Further Reading Blakeley, Donald N. “Neo-Confucian Cosmology, Virtue Ethics, and Environmental Philosophy.” Philosophy in the Contemporary World 8:2 (Fall–Winter 2001),


Bretzke, James T. Bibliography on East Asian Religion and Philosophy. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press,


Nash, James A. Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991. Pedersen, Kusumita P. “Environmental Ethics in Inter- religious Perspective.” In Sumner B. Twiss and Bruce Grelle, eds. Explorations in Global Ethics: Comparative Religious Ethics and Interreligious Dialogue. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998. Swearer, Donald K. “Buddhist Virtue, Voluntary Poverty, and Extensive Benevolence.” Journal of Religious Eth- ics 26:1 (1998), 71–103. Tucker, Mary Evelyn and John Grim, eds. Religions of the World and Ecology [Series]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997–2004. World Wide Fund for Nature. World Religions and Ecology Series. Cassell Publishers, 1992. See also: Environmental Ethics; Religious Environmental- ist Paradigm; Religious Studies and Environmental Concern; White, Lynn – Thesis of.

Vodou See Drumming; Indigenous Religious and Cultural Borrowing; Trees in Haitian Vodou; Umbanda.


One aspect of the cultural appropriation of nature is the religious appropriation of volcanoes. As part of nature, volcanoes provide various metaphors for religion. The colossal threats and blessings emerging from volcanic activities are made meaningful through cognition and active processes of practical engagement, often by ritual means and sacrifices. Ideas that attribute sacred qualities to mountains, and especially to the peaks of volcanoes, are familiar to many cultures worldwide. This is illustrated in textual and visual imagery; it can be traced in myths and oral traditions and can be observed in ritual practices. Fre- quently the (cosmic, mythological) mountain is the chosen image of analogy between the macro and the micro per-



spective. Volcanoes are believed to be the foci of magical power and supernatural forces. They are considered spir- itually endowed as they are seen as sites where gods and ancestor spirits dwell. These gods and spirits take active part in human affairs. Either they give blessing and fertil- ity or they destroy by volcanic eruptions. This expresses ambivalent experiences as people feel life-giving qualities in volcanoes as well as powerful, awe-inspiring and destructive forces. In most studies of contemporary natural disasters, research includes neither the interpretations of the affected people nor the symbolic and religious meanings in the context of their lives and worldviews. But disasters like volcanic eruptions must also be seen in terms of how they are perceived and estimated by those affected, includ- ing the symbolic basis of human perceptions of nature and natural disasters. Although it is important to note that volcanic eruptions are conceptualized, structured and negotiated in multiple, changeable contexts, there are certain similarities in the ways in which nature is constructed as parallel to human society. Frequently volcanoes are anthropomorphized, and there are close associations between cosmos, morality and social conduct. Due to such analogies of nature and soci- eties, seen as mutually constitutive, in Africa, Asia and Latin America, natural disasters often are not explained by natural causes alone but are traced back to incorrect con- duct of human beings. Thus, in many regions of the world volcanoes are seen, among other things, as natural seis- mographs for social harmony or disharmony. They are sometimes considered as a sign of dissent or conflict between the native people or particular clans that provoke the tempers of the ancestors or of the gods. Based on the idea that the structure of the cosmos is mirrored in the religio-political realm, rulers of ancient Southeast Asian kingdoms constructed their legitimization through mys- tical connections with volcanoes. The mandate for politi- cal authority was connected with the role of the ruler as divine mediator with the whole living universe. But once there were calamities, these were seen as signs for social injustice and connected to political revolts and upheavals, and as a consequence the ruler lost his power. In this con- text it is important to note that supernatural explanations of natural events do not only legitimize but can also de- legitimize political power. In the Vesuv region, the Roman people celebrated every year on 23 August a festival called Volcania, where they threw living fish caught in the river Tiber in the fire to calm down Vulcanus, the god of the fire, who was later treated as equivalent to Hephaistos, the god of the smiths. Fish sacrifices are still today a usual practice at the vol- cano Lewotobi perempuan on the Island Flores in Indone- sia. In general, the more active and dangerous a volcano is, the more elaborate are the sacrificial ceremonies. The offerings sacrificed vary from region to region and are

often accompanied by local dances, prayers and all kinds of ritual activities. In some regions human sacrifice was practiced, such as in Nigeria or Indonesia where some clans sacrificed boys or girls aged around 15 to the moun- tain spirits. Their blood was poured into the volcanoes, whilst their corpses were buried normally. In Tanzania the Maasai at Oldonyo Lengai worship the god Engai (the last elaborate ceremony with about 100 participants took place during an eruption in 1983) in offering him sheep and goats. At the volcano Lewotobi laki-laki (the last extensive ceremony took place during the eruption in 1992), a small goat is ripped apart with bare hands. The Chagga in Tanzania used to hold great ceremonies on the top of the mountain Kifunika, close to Kilimanjaro, during which they offered some pieces of meat and the blood of a cow, goat or sheep, mixed with mbege (local beer) and sale (holy yukka plant leaf ) for the mizimu (spirits). Like in many other regions, the practice of sacrifice did not disap- pear completely after Christianization, but occurs rarely and only in secret. Beyond that, volcanoes are, in almost all regions, con- sidered in gender categories. Sometimes they are deter- mined, either male or female, according to the kinship and political organization of the local population. Occasion- ally women or witches are treated as equivalent to vol- canoes and are seen as responsible for an eruption. There are many stories in the large collection of Icelandic folk- tales concerning volcanoes. One story in the Icelandic Eyrbyggja Saga tells of Katla, a volcano located in South- ern Iceland, and a wicked female cook in the monastery of þykkvabæjarklaustur. After killing a shepherd who had stolen some of her magic trousers, she flung herself into a dark crevasse in the ice cap. Ever since, according to tales, she avenges her fate by pouring fire and water onto the nearby regions. If there are two or more volcanoes located next to each other, the mythology of their origin is often connected with love or war stories, such as the myth about Popocate- petl and Iztaccihuatl in Mexico. Popocatepetl was an Aztec warrior who was in love with Iztaccihuatl, the emperor’s daughter. While Popocatepetl was at war, Iztaccihuatl was mistakenly informed that Popocatepetl had been killed. In despair she killed herself. When Popocatepetl returned and found Itzaccihuatl dead, he was overcome with grief. He built a mound and laid her body on it and vowed that he would never leave her again. Examining the two vol- canoes one will notice in Iztaccihuatl the shape of a woman, lying on her back, covered with a white sheet of snow. At her feet stands Popocatepetl, eternally watching over her. Today the people of Pueblo worship the saint San Gregoria Chino by bringing their offerings such as flowers and fruits to the slopes of Popocatepetl. At times, there are almost exactly the same stories told by people in different parts of the globe that create parallel worlds. This is the case for reports about giants or ghosts,

sitting inside the volcano and cooking meals for the neighbor mountains, their lovers or husbands, as in Indo- nesia on the Island Flores at the volcano Inerie, and in Iceland on the Island Heimaey at the volcano Hekla. There are numerous stories about Pele who has long been the fire-goddess of the Hawaiians. Her home was in the great fire-pit of the volcano of Kilauea on the island of Hawai’i. The word “Pele” has been used with three distinct defini- tions by the old Hawaiians: Pele, the fire goddess; Pele, a volcano or fire-pit in any land; Pele, an eruption of lava. The Kelimutu in East Indonesia is a complex volcano with three crater lakes of different colors. The frequent color changes of the crater lakes are caused by mineral reactions, primarily by iron oxidization. Schooling throughout Indonesia – including the outer islands – has disseminated a knowledge of volcanoes that is indeed limited, yet comparable in part to the European standard. Old Indonesian religious concepts remain nonetheless extremely significant. For inhabitants of the volcano’s vicinity, the Kelimutu is the home of the ebu nusi (ances- tral spirits) and nitu (natural spirits). The ruler of the Keli- mutu is the volcanic spirit Konde, who is the grandchild of Rongge and Ranggo the ancient ancestors of the village Moni. This explanation of their descent – from “spirits of the volcano” – is common to inhabitants of many regions in the world. Konde lives on Kelimutu in a village that looks like Moni. He regularly holds big parties there and tries to take human women as prisoners. The first lake of Kelimutu is called tiwu ata polo (lake of the evil demon) and is the lake in which the “souls” of thieves, murderers and practitioners of “black magic” land after their death, also sometimes called api nereka (fires of damnation). The second lake tiwu koö fai (lake in perpetual motion) is the lake in which the “souls” of deceased children land, and the third lake tiwu ata bupu (lake of very old men) is the lake in which the “souls” of elderly people land after their death. The “reactions” of the volcanoes – be these erup- tions or color changes – are interpreted by the Florinese as emotional gestures – as expressions of sadness or anger about social events – and as a coded symbolism which is of social interest.



Occasions of political and social conflict in Indonesia are often accompanied by debates about volcanic activity. This religio-political meaning is well known for the very active “high risk volcano” Mount Merapi in Central Java. Every year a ceremony is conducted by the members of the Sultan’s palace in order to pacify the destructive power of the spirits residing in the crater. The ceremony acts as a reminder about a mythological promise that the country will always be protected against Merapi’s eruptions because the ruler of the volcano realm will never send the lava toward the Sultan’s palace in the nearby city of Yogyakarta. But in 1994 for the first time an eruption turned to the south, in the direction of Yogyakarta. Many people saw this as a sign that the spirits disapproved of the behavior of Indonesia’s ruling elite. Thus, the symbolic discourse on the Merapi can be instrumentalized not only by the rulers to justify themselves, but also by the oppressed.

Judith Schlehe Urte Undine Frömming

Further Reading Forth, Gregory L. Beneath the Volcano: Religion, Cosmol- ogy and Spirit Classification Among the Nage of Eastern Indonesia. Leiden: KITLV Press 1998. Frömming, Urte Undine. “Volcanoes: Symbolic Places of Resistance. Political Appropriation of Nature in Flores, Indonesia.” In Ingrid Wessel and Georgia Wimhöfer, eds. Violence in Indonesia. Hamburg: Abera, 2001,


Schlehe, Judith. “Reinterpretations of Mystical Traditions:

Explanations of a Volcanic Eruption in Java.” Anthro- pos 91 (1996), 391–409. Trausti, Ari. Volcanoes in Iceland. Reykjavik: Vaka- Helgafell, 1996. Westervelt, William D. Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle, 1963. See also: Aztec Religion – pre-Colombian; Delphic Oracle; Hawai’i; Maasai (Tanzania); Mayan Spirituality and Conservation; Sacred Mountains.