Live Earth: Jerusalem

10 Jul

I for one was quite moved by the Live Earth concerts this past weekend.  Not that I heard much of the concerts themselves, but the idea that 2 billion people were linked together worldwide in concern for Mother Earth just felt good to me.  Despite our cultural differences, we all share the same planet, and therefore we are all inextricably bound together – whether we like it or not!

I was reminded of the major fallout here in Jerusalem at the close of 2006, when grass roots protestors were successful in bringing to a halt the Safdi Plan for the construction of 20,000 housing units in the green open space to the west of the city.  The mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, put a stop to the plan, and requested that housing solutions be found instead through renovations of existing buildings throughout the city. 

On World Environment Day, June 5, 2007, Israel’s Green Globe award was presented to the mayor for his decision to withdraw the support of the Jerusalem Municipality for the Safdie Plan (named after its main architect) and for his request to the National Board for Planning and Building to scrap the plan, based on the professional claims of the “Coalition for the Preservation of the Jerusalem Hills.” This was the critical turning point in the public struggle against the Safdie Plan and an important step in promoting public participation in planning and development processes.

As I see it, this victory was a major kiddush Hashem , a sanctification of God’s name, as well.

In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Ma’asey (my son Akiva’s Bar Mitzvah portion a year from now!), God tells Moses to command the people of Israel that each tribe set aside land for the 48 Levite cities.  The tribe of Levi would not inherit land of their own, so these would become their homes, scattered throughout all of the tribes of Israel.  The construction of the cities is described as follows:

Command the children of Israel to give to the Levites, of the inheritance of their possession, cities to dwell in; and open land around the cities you will give to the Levites. And the cities they will have to dwell in; and their open land will be for their cattle, and for their substance, and for all their animals. And the open land around the cities, which you will give to the Levites, will be from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about. And you shall measure outside the city to the east side two thousand cubits, and to the south side two thousand cubits, and to the west side two thousand cubits, and to the north side two thousand cubits, the city being in the middle. This will be their open land about the cities. (Numbers 35:2-5)

As Rashi spells out for us that the purpose of this green belt around the city was twofold: The first 1,000 cubits was to beautify the city, an open space on which they were not permitted to build, or to plant orchards, or to sow seeds. In addition, another 1,000 cubits beyond that would be set aside for agricultural use.

Aesthetic beauty is not a luxury – it is a commandment.

This may be among the earliest recordings of city planning legislation. Today we understand the importance of maintaining “green space” around a city, allowing the city inhabitants to enjoy the fresh air of the countryside.

The Talmud tells us that these regulations applied not only to the 48 Levite cities, but to all cities that were to be built in Israel.

The defeat of the Safdie Plan was not only a triumph of the environmentalists over the establishment, but it was the fulfillment of the Torah’s teachings.

May God bless all of us to wake up and care more about the environment that surrounds us. 

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One Response to “Live Earth: Jerusalem”

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  1. Resources for Numbers 35:2 - 5 - Monday, March 12, 2012

    […] 1Live Earth: Jerusalem « Tuesdays with Morey SUBMIT […]

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