It is hard to believe that Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is just one person. He is only 42 years old but has already authored or edited 24 books on Jewish ethics. He is the founder and dean of the Valley Beit Midrash (a national Jewish pluralistic adult learning and leadership center), the founder and president of Shamayim ((a Jewish animal advocacy movement), the founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek (a Jewish social justice organization), and founder and president of YATOM (the Jewish foster and adoption network). Somehow, he has also found time to actively promote veganism, animal rights, social justice, and environmental sustainability from a very positive Jewish perspective. Because of his amazing record, Newsweek named him as one of the top 50 rabbis in America add the Forward newspaper named him as one of the 50 most influential Jews.
In his latest book, Pearls of Jewish Wisdom on Living with Kindness, Rabbi Yanklowitz shows the major emphasis on Kindness in the Jewish tradition in 40 areas, each in a separate chapter. .The 40 areas the are: visiting the sick, honoring one’s parents, supporting the poor and lifting up the downtrodden, caring for chidden, loving the stranger, burying the dead, caring for vulnerable children, supporting the bride and groom, caring for widows, making peace in the home, respecting the elderly.comforting mourners, judging favorably, speaking kindly, loving one’s neighbor, taking responsibility for one’s community, pursuing peace, providing random acts of kindness, displaying good manners, pursuing truth, being patient, expressing gratitude, reaching out to others, sharing, not taking revenge, not placing a stumbling block before the blind, guarding the earth, treating animals compassionately, walking humbly, emanating joy, avoiding laziness, being hopeful and rejecting despair, living with awe, exhibiting faith and trust, achieving equanimity, striving for courage, constantly learning, and being quick to act on what is right. From this extensive list, it is clear that the book has a comprehensive coverage of the many ways kindness can be exhibited in our very troubled world. The word chesed (kindness) appears 248 times in the Torah.
To strengthen his case, Rabbi Yanklowitz provides many quotes about the importance of kindness in Judaism from Jewish holy books, including:
[God] has told you, man, what is good and what God demands of you: Only to do justice, love chesed (kindness) and walk modestly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
Rabbi Simla deduced: The Torah begins with gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) and ends with gemilut chasadim, as it is written: “God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin and dressed them (Genesis 3:21). It ends with gemilut chasadim, as it is written: God buried him (Moses)in the valley,” (Deuteronomy 34:6; Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 14a)
The rabbis taught: gemilut chasadim is greater than tzedakah (charity) in three ways. Tzedakah is done with one’s money, whereas gemilut chasadim is done with one’s body and with one’s money; tzedakah is for the poor, whereas gemilut chasadim is for the poor and the wealthy; tzedakah is for the living, whereas gemilut chasadim is for the living and the dead (referring to proper burial). (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49b)
Because I am the author of Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing Judaism and Judaism and Global Survival, I am going to discuss just the chapters on guarding the earth (the longest chapter in the book, perhaps reflecting the major threats that the world faces from climate change and other environmental problems) and treating animals compassionately in this review.
There is an early warning in a 5th century midrash (rabbinic commentary on a Torah teaching):
When God created Adam, he led him around all the trees in the Garden of Eden and said to him, “Look at my creations! How beautiful and amazing they are! And everything I made, I created for you. Be careful that you do not spoil or destroy my world— because if you do, there is nobody after you to fix it. (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)
A more recent warning is from the noted naturalist Sir David Attenborough:
Right now, we are facing a man made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.
Rabbi Yanklowitz indicates that there are many Jewish legal and theological models for environmental engagement, including:
- L’ovdah ul’shomrah — the Divine mandate to protect creation (Genesis 2:15);
- Pikuach nefesh — the Torah command to save life (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 150a):
- Bal tashchit— the Torah prohibition against waste (Deuteronomy 20:19, 20);
- Anivut (humility) — not engaging in over-consumption and not being ba’alei ga’avah (filled with arrogance and self -consumption;
- Hakarat hatov (gratitude) — channeling gratitude for our blessings toward environmental responsibility;
- V’ halakhta b’drachav (Imitatio Dei) – Emulating God’s kindness, compassion, and concern for the environment (Psalms 145:9; Leviticus 21:8).
With regard to treating animals compassionately, Rabbi Yanklowitz mentions several Torah teaching, including:
Do not muzzle your ox while it is treading in the field (Deuteronomy 25: 4);
If you see your enemy’s donkey overburdened with a heavy load, if you might hesitate to help, you shall certainly help him unload. (Exodus 23:5)
It is forbidden for a Jew to eat before they have given food to their animals. (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 40a)
Rabbi Yanklowitz sums up the Jewish compassionate teachings about animals:
Each of us must do all we can to ensure that animals are treated more humanely. Treating animals with compassion is perhaps the ultimate measure of one’s attribute of chesed (kindness).
Rabbi Yanklowitz practices what he preaches regarding kindness. He donated a kidney without knowing the identity of the recipient and he an his wife have accepted several foster children.
At a time when the world is facing so much division, polarization, hatred, violence, and environment destruction, the many valuable lessons on kindness in this book, that is written with much clarity and sensitivity, are sorely need. So, I hope it will be widely read and its many valuable lessons widely heeded.
Pearls of Jewish Wisdom on Living with Kindness
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz
Resource Publications (Portland, Oregon)
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-6667-7979-0
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-6667-7980-6
eBook ISBN: 978-1-6667-7983-3