What does Judaism teach us about the environment and what does nature teach us about the Bible?
Jewish educator and environmentalist Baruch Sienna addresses these topics in his first book, The Natural Bible, published by Behrman House, which was launched April 21 at Congregation Darchei Noam. The innovative iBook uses the latest technology for interactive and engaging learning.
“Earth Day certainly seemed an auspicious date for the book launch,” Sienna told some 60 people at the launch. “My book stresses Judaism’s message that all of us must be stewards of the earth and to live sustainably on this planet. The environmental crisis is the defining issue of our age, and we face enormous challenges. We believe that insights from our Jewish textual tradition can instil a respectful and reverent attitude towards the earth. Appreciating the natural world, in turn, helps us understand our sources and reconnect with Jewish tradition.”
The book “explores how religious environmental values can help us have a healthier relationship with the earth, and at the same time, how an appreciation of the natural environment enriches our understanding of the biblical text’s use of metaphors from the natural world,” Sienna writes in his blog on Jewcology.com.
It breaks new ground in the field of Jewish environmental studies for Bible students, nature lovers and anyone concerned about the environment. “Topics include sustainability and stewardship, our relationship with living creatures and God’s creation, and environmental justice. Essays on water, plants and animals explore the symbols from the world of nature, and how the Jewish calendar and holiday cycle are linked to the climate and Land of Israel.
“The… book includes a guide to the many plants and trees of the Bible,” the blog adds.
Guests at the launch commented on the format of the book. “I have already downloaded the book and had a chance to look at it. I am fascinated by the concept of using the iPad as a medium to deliver messages,” guest Paul Robinson said.
It became apparent that readers are beginning to enjoy the advantages of iBooks. For example, in addition to the flexibility of being able to customize the text for your own needs, if a book you purchase is republished with new or additional content, iBooks will let you know. You can then download the updated version for free, and automatically replace the older copy.
In a discussion and demonstration, Sienna shared the innovative technology used in his iBook. “Take it with you, highlight text, take notes and bookmark your favourite passages,” he said. “Search for specific text and tap the audio icon to hear Hebrew titles. There is a built-in glossary and index, multimedia and hypertext links.
“My absolutely favourite page in the book is where I discuss how important the moon is in the Jewish calendar. The moon helps us know what day it is, and I thought it would be nice if I could say to the reader, ‘Here is what the moon looks like today,’ so I have included a picture of the moon. But what is amazing is that every day you look at the picture, it’s different! The iBook allows you to show the changes each day, depending on what the moon looks like on that particular day.”
Donald Schwartz, chair of the adult education programming committee of City Shul, told The CJN he attended the book launch because of “the subject matter of the [book], which is the way in which Jewish law and ethics can help us to understand and mobilize in support of environmental issues at a time when both micro-environment and the larger environment are at risk.”
To see Sienna’s work, go to the iBookstore on your iPad or to http://thenaturalbible.weebly.com.