[Haveil Havalim is here!]
I recall that last year an environmentalist group destroyed a lot of paper and expended a great deal of computing power promoting the idea of lighting one fewer candle on Chanukah, or some similar idea.
Regrettably, not only is Chanukah tough on the environment, but the demands of the modern American rabbinate are hard on the environment as well. I have been thinking this through carefully, and I have come to realize that if rabbis were able to relax some of the elements of our jobs, we could do a lot to preserve our environment.
Here are some examples of ways in which rabbis could reduce their carbon footprint and global fingerprint, with only minor losses to their local shulprint:
1. Rabbis are called upon to deliver many classes in the evenings, after people return home from work. This requires a great deal of electrical power. Better for rabbis to stay home at night. Also, rabbis should schedule their weekday classes at times when fewer people can attend, to reduce the amount of driving which will take place as people come to the shiur.
2. Rabbis are expected to attend hospital bedsides and visit shivah homes, as well as participate in happy occasions. Much travel is involved in officiating at everything from a Vachnacht to a Hakamat Matzeivah (unveiling). Perhaps rabbis could just email out guides to special prayers for, and officiating at, religious events, and people could then run their events themselves.
3. Rabbis edit and refine their speeches in order to fit a compressed time frame – but think of the wind power we could generate if we were permitted to speak for thirty or forty minutes! (Of course, this benefit might be offset by the global warming caused by all of that hot air…)
4. Rabbis must be available every moment of every day, which requires great use of cell phones, Blackberrys, Treos, etc. This inevitably translates into a lot of charging time. Rabbis should make themselves available less, and thereby save electricity.
5. Since the days of the Talmud, rabbis have been expected to maintain a clean and orderly appearance, but today some congregants take that requirement to an extreme, catching every small spot and wrinkle. The result is great overuse of dry cleaning chemicals as well as a wasting of water. I would like to see this standard relaxed.
6. And, perhaps most important, rabbis need to recycle more. I propose that rabbis should be permitted - nay, encouraged! - to recycle speeches and divrei torah after allowing them a two-year composting period.
I recognize that not all congregations and congregants value eco-rabbinics as I do, but I trust that, in the interest of our planet, we will be able to find common ground and save the planet, and our synagogues, for generations to come.