Dominionism with Rabbi Matt Rosenberg

Dominionism with Rabbi Matt Rosenberg

Rabbi Matt Rosenberg, community rabbi, geography professor, and more, gives a masterclass on Dominionism from a Jewish, scriptural perspective.

Rabbi Matt Rosenberg audio transcription
interviewed by Rev. Dr. Dan De Leon
episode here:

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Rev. Dan 0:02
Well, hey, good people. This is Dan De Leon. I'm the guest editor for the Spring Equinox edition of all Really glad to be here, selfishly, because I'm with my good friend, Rabbi Matt Rosenberg. This is a bit of a union of sorts. I'm going to introduce him to you more properly here in a second. But I got to indulge a bit and just share with you about why it means so much to me that the two of us are talking together because we've known each other for years. And Rabbi Matt lives out in Sacramento, but we met here in College Station, Texas, where he was serving as the rabbi for Texas a&m Hillel. And I was and continue to be serving as the pastor of friends Congregational Church, and we hit it off so well that we even had a podcast. So Rabbi Matt, good to see you, my friend.

Rabbi Matt 0:58
Good to see you, Reverend Dan. Good to be here.

Rev. Dan 1:01
This is the the Reverend Dan and Rabbi Matt podcast reunion slash all creation. Well, Rabbi, Matt, tell us a little bit more about yourself and practicing as a rabbi out in Sacramento would love to hear a little bit more about your vocational pursuits.

Rabbi Matt 1:24
Yes, so I am here in California's capital, the Golden State and loving it. This is where I grew up. My family moved to Sacramento when I was four years old. It's great to be back, went to college at UC Davis not too far away. And I'm currently serving as the executive director of the Albert Einstein Residence Center, which is a senior community founded by the Jewish community back in 1981. became Executive Director here a year ago and been serving as a community rabbi in Sacramento for for a few years since I left Texas and served as president of the Sacramento board of rabbis. I officiate weddings and funerals and I teach in the community in a variety of synagogues serve as a substitute Rabbi when other rabbis are out of town and just generally being of service.

Rev. Dan 2:18
You got a lot of irons on the fire my friend you are aware the rabbi that on the seventh day, one is required to rest...

Rabbi Matt 2:25
Oh, that's what I do all my reading and relaxing. And I stay as horizontal as possible on on Shabbat, that's, that's what I do. For you.

Rev. Dan 2:33
I'm glad you're taking good care.

Rabbi Matt 2:34
My God, God rested. And so should we.

Rev. Dan 2:37
Amen. Well, let's get into that. Then I was, was wanting to talk with you, in part about the creation stories from Genesis. But, you know, before we go directly to that, I'm just curious about environmental ethics, Stewardship of Creation, taking care of the earth. Is there an environmental ethic in Judaism? What does that look like?

Rabbi Matt 3:03
Yeah, I mean, you know, the theological underpinning of Jewish environmentalism is that God created the universe, and therefore, God has complete ownership over all creation. And humans are God's partners in bettering creation. There is a teaching from what's known as the percaya vote the ethics of our fathers, which is from the the first collection of the oral law known as the Mishnah, codified around the year 200. And it says, in this collection of sayings and wisdom, similar to Proverbs, but a little later than that this is you're not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it. And I think of that in terms of our obligation towards the Earth in the environment. When we say our blood are our main blessing, there's so many blessings in Judaism. I'm thinking of the near the beginning of the play and movie Fiddler on the roof where somebody asked the rabbi, rabbis their blessing for the Tsar, and the rabbi says, Yes, may God keeping the God keep the Tsar far away from us. And there's, there is a blessing of everything, but our ultimate food blessing is a blessing over bread. And when we say Rakatan I'll Hindemith alum, mostly luck. I mean, hearts Blessed are you God, Who brings forth bread from the earth. Well, God doesn't bring forth bread from the earth, God helps wheat to grow. But humans are in partnership with God in making turning that wheat and tilling those fields and turning that wheat into bread. And so with environmentalism and with the environmental ethic, we're God's partners with its hand in hand. And we have been given you know, you might say dominion, mastery of this planet for now. For as long as humans have been around for the past couple, 100 years, 100,000 years. But it's we're stewards. And we have to protect this planet and partner with God to make it a better place and not desist from improving the world, one generation at a time.

Rev. Dan 5:13
So the nature of that Dominionism that mastery that stewardship. Sounds like what I hear it sounding like is bringing the best out of the earth helping the earth to be all that God dreams for it to be just with that example of the wheat. But but I'm, but I'm curious about that, if you could expand on that a little bit more, because one of the things that is a constructive challenge, I guess, you could say, is looking at this idea of anthropocentrism, of humankind being the center of the universe. And that, unfortunately, is a lens through which if we, if we see Dominion through that, then it can be seen that well, then humankind can do whatever it wants, doesn't matter. If if that Dominion means that the Earth is not living to its full potential. It's all about us, extracting whatever we can whatever we want. But I'm curious about looking at it through an anti anthropocentric lens, if that's something that's even possible to do, or if there is a way to look at Dominionism through a lens of anthropocentrism. That is not so narcissistic, right? Yes. Anyway, I didn't I don't know if you can help me with that. Or if that even makes sense.

Unknown Speaker 6:39
Yeah, it does. And I think that I think that it's, it is any religious traditions are human focus, right? They they're not religions, for the whales and the dolphins. But it's our job, according to my understanding to, to maintain the basic balance to this order of creation, we have this ideal of trying to bring the world to this garden of Eden place. And that's only through the appropriate stewardship of resources. In the verses we're gonna be looking at today in Genesis, the Torah teaches that God gave fruit berries, plants and to humans to there was no permission to to eat animals at that point. That didn't happen until after the flood and Noah, where humans began eating meat. The ideal is vegetarianism.

Rev. Dan 7:39
Hmm, okay. That's the ideal. Just out of curiosity, and I'm not trying to be convicting in any way. Are you a vegetarian?

Rabbi Matt 7:50
I'm an aspiring vegan. I'm vegetarian. I, I, I do occasionally eat dairy and eggs. And occasionally pescatarian. But I would love to be vegan.

Rev. Dan 8:02
Yeah, yeah. So to what extent is that rooted in your faith? If not exclusively,

Rabbi Matt 8:07
it's not exclusively, it's also just about humane treatment of animals. And, you know, I understand what happens in the meat, dairy and poultry industries. And so, but, yeah, it is also about this ideal from the first chapter of Genesis two. Yeah, yeah. And it's easy to keep kosher. If I if I don't eat meat, I don't have to worry about two sets of dishes are waiting a certain amount of time between meat and dairy. It makes it makes life so much easier. I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want. I mean, within my, within my rules.

Rev. Dan 8:41
So did you growing up and, you know, through adolescence and into young adulthood? Did you look at the environment? through the lens of the creation stories, you know, did you look at the environment as creation as God made this? Or was that something that could be kind of compartmentalized, where I can keep my spiritual life over here as a Jew? But once I go outside, and I'm in nature or the environment, whatever we human beings want to call it? I can I can. I can leave that back in the synagogue, if you will.

Rabbi Matt 9:22
No, I think it all ties together. You know, I don't believe in the literal seven days of creation, but the seven days of creation follows a geologic path quite nicely. You know, and I feel like there had to be something before the Big Bang with the big bounce 13 So billion years ago, and when I'm out hiking in the Sierra, I, I thank God for the wonders of nature. There's there's a blessing for seeing wonderous objects, but Rakatan Nyla himself alone Oh say ma savory, she Blessed are you Lord our God. Who has created the who creates the question of creation, basically, the beginning that there are these, these wonders that God is continuously creating that, you know, we've had periods of glaciations that carved out Yosemite Valley, for instance, and have built up the the Sierra Nevada and give us this amazing planet that we live on.

Rev. Dan 10:22
So being reminded of creation and what, what another person that we have interviewed for this edition, Dr. Norman worse Bo would say would call our creaturely identity is something that's really healthy through what you just described. I'll call it a spiritual hike and saying prayers like you just said, because it reframes not only what's around us, but our belonging to it, our relationship with it in a way that doesn't just say, Oh, this is, this is nice. This is this is serendipitous, or this is a getaway, right? Where she had that as a getaway, because it's supposed to be a constant reminder of creation and our belonging to it. So I wanted to ask you about that too, with something that I came across and listening to this podcast on Jewish Studies, asking that question about whether there's an environmental ethic and Judaism helped me with the pronunciation "Tu Bishvat".

Unknown Speaker 11:27
"Tu Bishvat," yeah, good job.

Rev. Dan 11:29
I try. I try. But it was suggesting that to be shot is Judaism's environmental holiday or Earth Day for Jews. Right? Tell me a little bit more about that, because I've never heard of this.

Rabbi Matt 11:40
Yeah, so "Tu B-shvat", the name itself just means the 15th of the month of Shabbat. And this is the new year for trees. There are a number of new years in the Jewish tradition of barley. Most of our listeners are familiar with Rashanna, the the new year when we transition to the new number of the year. There's also new year for kings and New Year's for tithing animals. But Trubbish fought in the late winter is the new year for the trees and this is how you count the ages. This is trees birthday. And when I lived in Jerusalem for a year, it was amazing that on or right around to Bish spot is when the almond tree started blossoming, and the olive trees and it was just a beautiful sight. And now to respond has taken on more of a environmental twist. And it's it's celebrated with a special Tu BiShvat Seder where different foods and nuts are eaten representing different aspects of the earth. And it's a beautiful holiday. And this this year, it happened in late January, and every year, of course, moves around based on the Hebrew calendar

Rev. Dan 13:02
Is this so if it's something new, or this is not something that you grew up with?

Rabbi Matt 13:08
It was Shabbat. I remember back even into religious school as a kid that there was some kind of tree planting tree celebration going on with it, but it's the environmental twist is definitely newer.

Rev. Dan 13:21
Okay, all right. Something within that is and I know I can't pronounce this right off the top sheet. But I'll tell you, yes. Okay, I'm not going to try again, you can do a much better than me, but that it prohibits wastefulness and destruction.

Rabbi Matt 13:38
Yeah, the mitzvah, the divine commandment to not destroy. And this comes from the book of Deuteronomy chapter 20, where the Torah talks about if you have to lay siege to a city, you can you can eat of fruit bearing trees, but you cannot cut them down. And what I really like from verse from chapter 20, verse 19, where it has its own commentary in the Torah, are the trees of the field human to draw before you into besieged city? No, like it's asking this rhetorical question. No, of course the trees can take shelter behind the city wall. So who are you to cut them down? Like trees have feelings to trees or people to So later on later in the Jewish, volatile, she comes to prevent and prohibit wanton destruction of anything household goods, clothing, food, just any necessary unnecessary destruction at all?

Rev. Dan 14:39
Yeah, I like that verse a lot to Deuteronomy 2019 Are the trees of this other translation of it are the trees of the field people that you should Besiege them and I was reading that in a way where not only with what you just said about, hey, they can't take shelter leave them alone. It also comes speaks to that idea of the Anthropocene where I almost hear it like human humankind shouldn't be placing itself above trees are assuming that they're better than trees are the trees of the field people that you should perceive them? You? They're better than you. Right? Most. I mean, it's, you can hear it, I can hear it that way. And it also kind of ups the ante on taking care of the biosphere taking care of the environment. When if you're not to cut down trees during war time, which I also came to understand is something that we you shared with our Muslim sibling siblings with Sharia law. If you can't cut down trees in wartime, then what about when we're not in wartime? It's all the more so Right. Right. Right. Sorry. Tell me more about that. I was curious if that was an ethic?

Rabbi Matt 16:02
Yeah, I mean, we have this concept of a call the Homer that like all the more so you know, if you can cut down trees and war time, all the more so so should you not cut down trees, when it's not worth all the more so should you not just toss out extra food? Should you not destroy things that don't need to be destroyed? Reduce, Reuse and Recycle?

Rev. Dan 16:26
Yeah. Would an understanding of to each spot now look at the way that we are treating the earth our relationship with the earth and feel that we're doing enough? I'm thinking about this with this, you know, our, our children's generation, right? You have a 13 year old, 11 year old, I have a soon to be 17 year old and 14 year old. And they you know, my, my son, for example, the soon to be 17 year old will say, Can I recycle this? And if we tell him no, that can't get recycled? He goes, why not? I don't understand. Why can't I? Right? Oh, back to my question is to be shot being observed adequately? Or can we do better,

Rabbi Matt 17:16
I think we can absolutely do better. There's no greater crisis to humanity right now. And there's a lot of crises than climate change. And we should be observing to Vishva every single day, not just in Baltacha heat, and making sure we don't destroy but also reducing and fighting to reduce emissions. And we're, we're on this path of destruction for humanity, the Earth will survive, the Earth is gonna last for billions more years, but will humanity and I think God has put us on this earth, to find this balance to find a role where we can use the Earth's resources and not abuse the Earth Resources. So in addition, one of the additional irons of my fire is that I'm a lecturer in geography. And, you know, I teach my students when talking about human geography, that humans have been living in cities and having writing in careers and cubicles, just to last 10,000 years, but we've been around for 200,000 years, so 95% of human history, we were hunters and gatherers, living in balance with nature, not over exploiting the resources around us, but just living off the land and having balance with the plants and animals around us. Okay, only in the last 5% of human history that we've been. And even much less than that, since the Industrial Revolution, where we've just been going crazy and over utilizing the Earth's resources.

Rev. Dan 18:55
So in the last 5%, of human history, with the Industrial Revolution, and how it just everything changed for the worse. What what changed? Fundamentally, what changed? Do you think? Why can we go from from such a long, rich history of belonging, relationship, good stewardship of the earth to this? What happened?

Rabbi Matt 19:21
Well, one theory is that wheat domesticated us and became a wheat has done a very good job of becoming a very powerful species on our planet, and corn, as well. And here we are kind of serving at the mercy of corn and wheat doing its bidding, propagating it and making it thrive, to be one of the most important species on our earth. So yeah, what happened? What did corn do to us is that high fructose corn syrup that they cut into our blood, but I once we turn from being Hunters and gatherers to settling in cities. We just started using those resources. Change your perspective. Yeah, right and not and not thinking about what what this means long term. And here we are with, with our cars and our airplanes and our, our fossil fuels. And we have but a few years to figure out where we're gonna go from here, and how we're going to protect our planet for our children and our children's children truly, with sea level rise and everything else that's happening.

Rev. Dan 20:33
It gets more and more urgent. And it just seems that the more we talk about it, and the more statistics we point out, it's, it all makes sense. It's logical, but it's also very abstract. The more the more that it becomes particular, the more it becomes something that does affect you is something that you can be as we're, as I'm continue to save you more in relationship with, then yeah, it can affect your view. And this is something where we can't change behavior until our view is changed.

Rabbi Matt 21:09
Right. And this doesn't affect just Jews or Christians or, or Muslims or any other group on the planet is it's affecting us all this climate change knows no boundaries. And it's, it's coming for us.

Rev. Dan 21:24
Yeah, so there's a lot of really good interfaith cooperation opportunities here, my friends.

Rabbi Matt 21:31
Yeah, there should be there should be...

Rev. Dan 21:33
There really should be, right. Well, on that note, just out of curiosity, they're in Sacramento, are there such efforts? Because there certainly aren't inherent here in Bryan College Station, I'd like to get some hope. If there are interfaith relationships toward this effort.

Rabbi Matt 21:50
Probably not enough, I'm not aware of any, but might be something worth starting.

Rev. Dan 21:55
Okay, good. That can be your inspiration. Well, to kind of move to a conclusion with our conversation, I wanted to, you know, ask about a little bit more personal stuff. And let me set it up like this. We've been talking about change of view, change of perspective, in the New Testament, of the Bible, or I should call it the second testament, there's this Greek word metanoia, which means, you know, a change of heart or change of direction. And it has to do with our perspective, our view, how you see things, and how we see the world directly is going to affect how we treat it, right. And so over time, I have had a metanoia when it comes to how I see the Earth. And I like you it's not exclusively rooted in my faith, but a lot of a lot of how it is that I treat the earth is rooted in my faith. Why do I have the diet that I have and strive to have the principles that I have when it comes to conservation, to protecting the biosphere, to raising awareness about this? It's rooted in seeing the world as creation, which is very much a faith imperative. So would that metanoia for you? Is that something that has always been a part of your practicing Judaism? Or has it been something that has been a kind of metanoia something that has been over time, you being able to see the Earth through this lens of faith, where you're able to incorporate it as a piece of a piece of your Judaism?

Rabbi Matt 23:54
I think it's gradually developed over time. I mean, my undergraduate degrees in geography, I didn't get outdoors, in college and beyond as much as I do now. And I think, me being outdoors and also teaching geography to and studying Judaism in Los Angeles as I did, being in California really helped with all of that and led me to where I am today and working to definitely reduce and consumption of Indian especially during the pandemic all these disposable products has just been heart wrenching. And yeah, it's it's it's been a it's been a process that combines my faith with my also observation and work as a scientist and human.

Rev. Dan 24:54
With everything being so heavy, that we're talking about my last Questions got to be what gives you hope? We're Where do you get your hope?

Rabbi Matt 25:09
My hope and the fact that that humans are are creative, and we can come up with solutions and that are our answers to climate change and the problems we see on our planet. And I have, I have faith that my children's generation and their children's generation will will do better. I see this this long, long arc reaching towards towards the betterment of the world.

Rev. Dan 25:41
Amen. Okay, my friend, thank you, Rabbi, Matt Rosenberg for being with us on all creation, and talking with us about Dominionism and giving us a boost of hope and how we can move forward. It's good to be with you, my friend.

Rabbi Matt 25:58
Good to be here. Thank you.


Transcribed by

@BioIntegrity Partnerships