Rabbi David Seidenberg

David Seidenberg, the creator of NeoHasid.org, teaches eco-Torah, Jewish texts and thought, davening and music, Spirit and spirituality. David has smikhah (ordination) from both the Jewish Theological Seminary and Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, and he also completed a doctorate on Kabbalah and ecotheology. David decided to become a rabbi in 1988 after spending a few years gathering people who wanted to create a Vermont moshav. He also started the first Chasidic egalitarian minyan, the year after Reb Shlomo died. All along the way he's been researching Jewish texts about the earth and connecting them to ecospirituality and the shamanic dimension of religious practice. David teaches throughout North America and through his website, neohasid.org. His teaching focuses not only on science (ecology and cosmology), and on Spirit (Chasidus, Kabbalah, davening and nigunim), but also on embodiment, ritual, and empowering students to create the future of Judaism through communing with texts and tradition.

Rabbi David Seidenberg's Website »

A Tale of Two Covenants: Rainbow Day, Shmita, and the Gulf

The iridescent colors reflected off an oil slick are like a twisted and distorted rainbow.

This coming Monday, May 10th, is also the 27th of Iyyar—the date when Noah’s family and the animals left the ark and received the rainbow covenant.

There is a special correlation between this week’s Torah portion and the rainbow covenant of Noah’s time. And there is a foreboding contrast between the rainbow covenant and what’s happened in the Gulf of Mexico. The tension between these dynamic relationships in many ways defines the predicament of our time.

A Fruitful Lesson

Fig. 10

On Shavuot, when we celebrate receiving the Torah, we also celebrate the offering of the first fruits in the Temple, the bikurim.

The offering was a supremely humble gesture: the fruits which form first on a tree are often smaller, less perfect, only hinting at the abundance to follow. In ancient Israel, these offerings were gussied up, surrounded by the more beautiful fruit which grew later, brought sometimes in gold baskets, accompanied by flutes, processions. All the trappings of art and wealth were used to beautify the offering. Yet without the small, perhaps wrinkled fruit of the bikurim, there could be no offering.

It was at this moment of offering that the Torah teaches us to recite the story of redemption, the same one we now read in our Passover haggadah. The story was also a garland, as it were, for the bikurim offering, connecting our history to the very physical redemption of another spring and another growing season.

Letting the Fruit Ripen: The Blessings of Tu Bish’vat

Tu Bish’vat is here, along with the delightful hunt in the market for new fruits, some exotic, some uneaten since Rosh Hashanah, and the chance to sit around the table and have a seder that is truly free-form and creative, without any rules about what we are supposed to do or say.

One element of the seder is this exuberance of fruit, all of its colors, smells, and textures. There’s even a special blessing to say for the sweet smell of fruit! Tu Bish’vat is not generally a “locavore’s” holiday, especially here in Western Massachussetts, where only a few of the fruits we can buy are local. (Back in Berkeley it was quite different, not only because you can get so many fruits grown locally in mid-winter, but also because you can go to the Berkeley Bowl and experience the most diverse, exuberant and orgasmic produce section that most human beings will every see.)

There is, however, an order to the seder (seder after all means “order”), something to structure this exuberance, moving from the hard shelled fruits (mostly nuts) to the ones with pits to the ones whose seeds and peels can be swallowed and eaten. This brings up some interesting botanical and culinary questions.

Kashroots: An Eco-History of the Kosher Laws*

Peter's vision of the animals

I’ve always believed that keeping kosher was not just a way of creating Jewish identity, but also a way to create a society attuned to the earth. After years of wondering why some animals are kosher and others are not, I found an ecological explanation for these rules (see section VI). I’m sharing it with the hope of getting some feedback.

I. Why do we keep kosher? I want to open up this question by taking a look back to parshat Noach. Usually when we think of the Noah story, we think about how Noah’s family was given permission to eat animals (read more about this on neohasid.org and on jcarrot. ) But parshat Noach is also the first place where we (that is, all humanity) are given laws restricting how and what we eat.[1]

Even though the laws about keeping kosher, kashrut, may seem like the most specifically Jewish of practices, they have their origins in this “Noachide covenant”, where the first restrictions on eating are described. Those restrictions are to not eat a limb from a living animal and to not eat the blood of an animal. Both are the basis of many kashrut rules.

The Noah story is also the first time the distinction between ‘pure’ and ‘unclean’ animals is mentioned (Noah is told to bring seven of the pure (tahor) animals, which are the ones we call kosher.) So even the least universal aspect of kashrut, the “cloven hoof and cud-chewing mouth” requirement, has its roots in one of the Torah’s most universal stories.

That’s a good jumping off point for searching out the universal meaning of these culturally-specific, arguably parochial laws.

Agro About Agri: Can Agriprocessors Do T’shuvah?*

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Agriprocessors just keeps getting better and better. Following on the heels of the recent Forward article about conditions for Brooklyn workers, the Times reports that Agri is asking the Supreme Court to deny workers in their Brooklyn distribution center the right to unionize because they are “not documented workers and not allowed to work.” According to the Times, Agriprocessors claimed “to have just discovered that…the workers were illegal immigrants,” just a few days after the 2005 union vote.(1) An image comes immediately to my mind: Captain Renault in Casablanca declaring, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

I don’t get to geshrei on my own website, so I’m going to let it out here. There’s a level of public lying which is not easily excused. A level which is so lowly and bald-faced that there really can’t be any normal or average t’shuvah process (repentance) for it. I think Agriprocessors may have reached that level a while ago.

The Meat of the Argument: Do Jewish Enviros Have to Be Vegetarians?

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I first started out in the Jewish environmental movement back in 1981 (I was already an environmentalist of the 70’s variety in high school). Back then the majority of Jewish enviros were ideological vegetarians, the backbone of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), people like Richard Schwartz, Jonathan Wolf, and Roberta Kalechofsky. Their zeal for vegetarianism was as strong as any other passion they had for the earth.

Though I empathized with their feelings, they never rang true for me. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 30 years, well more than half my life, and well before I was into Judaism. When people asked me why, I could give a dozen reasons, related to human health, the health of the land, the suffering of animals, etc. But I’ve never been an ideological vegetarian, and I never thought it was my mission to get everyone to stop eating meat.

That’s not to say that I never thought it would be a good idea for more people to “go veg.” Especially now, when we hear about things like what happens on the killing floor at Agriprocessors, vegetarianism looks like the better option.(1) Agriprocessors is not the only great argument for vegetarianism. So is global climate change—a huge percentage of the global warming gases emitted by our civilization come from the two ends of a cow.

To Prey or to Pray? The Lessons of Famine on Tisha B’Av

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Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the month of Av – an annual fast day in the Jewish tradition) can be a meditation on hunger, and even more so on thirst, coming as it does in the heat of summer. Though fasting is not famine, it brings us one small step closer in our bodies and imaginations to what it might have been like during the siege of Jerusalem, or even to what it is like now, whenever famine strikes the victims and refugees of war.

The book we read on Tisha B’Av, Lamentations or Eikhah, is filled with images of hunger and famine, along with all other kinds of tragedy. I first got into Eikhah in a special way. It was shortly after a break-up, and I was aching so much I could hardly stand it. I was doing anything I could to distract myself (even jogging, which is not exactly my thing), but on Tisha B’Av you’re not allowed to be distracted by music or movies, or even by regular Torah study, and exercise on a no-water summer fast isn’t a smart idea. So I decided I would try to translate Lamentations. That led me to many years of engagement with the text, and to composing a powerful translation that I now distribute through my website.

One of the truly difficult passages in Eikhah (4:10) describes cannibalism as a response to famine: