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Brit HaYam: A Covenant with the Sea

By David Krantz


Just as the majority of all people in the world live near the sea, so too do the majority of Jews. But Jews have a special connection to the sea. Israel, our homeland, has four seas — and they are all in trouble. The Galilee has been so overpumped that the remaining fresh water may become salinated from saltwater springs; about 900 million tons of pollution dumped annually into the Mediterranean has nearly wiped out the Mediterranean monk seal, native to Israel’s coast; higher water temperatures brought on by climate change are bleaching the coral reefs of the Red Sea; and the shrinking Dead Sea is projected to disappear entirely by the year 2050.


It is God’s sea that gives us life. Most of our rain comes from evaporated seawater. Desalinated water is sourced from the sea. And marine plants — most importantly, phytoplankton — produce more than half of the world’s oxygen.


“There is the sea, vast and wide, with its creatures beyond number, living things small and large.” (Psalms 104:25)


Jonah was thrown into the sea to save the ship. But in order to save our ship, the Earth, we must care for the sea.


The prophet Amos said that we should “let justice flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Yet we have been unjust to the water itself, the water that sustains our life. Rising sea temperatures brought on by climate change are killing coral reefs around the world. Overfishing threatens to empty our seas in the coming decades. Plastic debris drifts on seas around the world, with some Pacific Ocean garbage patches estimated to be twice the size of Texas. And we add about 20 billion more pounds of plastic every year.


As Jews, we were given the dual responsibilities of caring for the Earth (Genesis 2:15) and to repair the Earth when it’s in need of repair (Mishna Gittin 4:2). This duty doesn’t just apply to the land — it includes the seas as well. But we have fallen behind on our duties. As Jews, we commit ourselves to renewing our covenant with the Earth, to renewing our covenant with the seas. We recognize that protecting our seas is part of our religious obligation. May the Earth be filled with knowledge of God’s Creation as waters cover the sea.




David Krantz is the president and chairperson of the Aytzim: Ecological Judaism.






"Contemplate the wonders of creation, the divine dimension of their being -not as a dim configuration that is presented to you from the distance, but as the reality in which you live."

- from Orot Hakodesh, by Rav Abraham Isaac Kook

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