Why Jews Should and Are Standing Up for Standing Rock

by Leora Troper

Jews and Jewish communities around the country are standing up to support the Native American Water Protectors and to say no to the Dakota Access Pipeline. It is vital work, and fitting that we do it. There is, of course, what seem like the most obvious reason and most often quoted text – tzeddek, tzeddek, tirdof – “justice, justice, shalt thou pursue.” (Deut. 16.20) In a just country, our government would honor its treaties and respect the sacredness of this land for First Peoples.

But there are more reasons for Jews to stand up against the NDAP. We, too, are a people who are intimately entwined with the natural world. Besides our historical connection to a specific parcel of land in the Middle East, our teachings and commandments repeatedly connect us to the ebb and flow of the natural world in general. We look to the sun, the moon, and the stars to tell us when our holy days begin and end. Annually, we celebrate a new year for trees. Every month, we celebrate the new moon as the marker of a new month. Each week we watch the sun to tell us when the day of rest begins, and count the stars so that we know when to perform the ceremony that marks the end of the day of rest and separates the unique from the everyday.  Our Tanakh, our Bible, repeatedly tells us to care for our land and the animals and plants that exist there. We say the Sh’ma, the oldest fixed daily prayer in Judaism, twice a day, and every time, we remind ourselves that if we “bow down before false gods”, which can be seen as serving the gods of greed and hubris (among other things), our planet will cease to provide us with the sustenance we need to live.

The North Dakota Access Pipeline is one of many constructions and actions that are at odds with a philosophy that respects and cares for the planet. Jews across this country have a duty to stand up and be counted among those who oppose it. The rabbis taught us that the more something is repeated in the Tanakh, the greater its imperative. Thus we should honor and act upon the multitudinous passages that teach us about caring for the land, respecting animals, not wasting resources, ensuring that resources endure for future generations, and giving a “Shabbat”, a day (or year) of rest to the land that supplies us with our sustenance. To ignore them, to ignore the need for action against this unconscionable construction, is to ignore a core value of Judaism.

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