California drought

Drought Shaming Isn’t Jewish

In California, residents are feeling the intensity of their continued drought and subsequent state-sanctioned fines for over-using water. One of the avenues Californians are using to enforce strict water use rules is “drought shaming.” Drought shaming is the practice of publicly tweeting, blogging and sharing images of neighbors and friends “carelessly” using water.

It’s true: the State of California is facing the most serious and most extended drought in its history. In order for all citizens to have equal and easy access to clean water, significant changes need to be made in California and across our country. Perhaps more frightening, the drought California is experiencing is one of the earlier problems we’re facing due to climate change. With rising global temperatures and increased climate disruption, we are likely to see droughts and decreased crop viability more and more frequently in coming years. Our Jewish tradition teaches us to be environmental stewards and to care for the earth in partnership with God. The impacts of climate change affecting California and the entire world population are of great concern for the Jewish community.

However, while climate change does require collective and consistent action, public shaming is not the most productive mechanism towards that action. As Jews, our texts actually speak strongly and directly to phenomena like “drought shaming.” Embarrassing another person publicly is prohibited in Jewish law. According to the Mishnah Bava Metzia (58b), to embarrass someone is to oppress them with words, violating the Jewish obligation: “A man may not oppress his fellow” (Leviticus 25:17). Further, someone who embarrasses another person fails to fulfill the fundamental Jewish value of mutuality and compassion, v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Drought shaming, then, cannot be the appropriate Jewish ethical response to climate disruption and neighbors who flout the rules. How could it be? When someone publicly shames those in their community who refuse to take part in the much-needed collective action to mitigate climate change, the response is unlikely to be positive. What California needs, and what we all need, is a model for collaboration and shared concern that will in turn become action, both individual and communal, towards reducing our water intake, mitigating our carbon emissions and ensuring that our children have a habitable earth. We need to hold our communities accountable, but drought shaming isn’t the road to accountability or to combatting climate change.

If you’re interested in learning more about what you can do to mitigate climate change, talk to your congregation about enrolling in GreenFaith Certification and becoming more energy efficient. You can also check out these tips for staying green during the hot summer months.

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Liya Rechtman

About Liya Rechtman

Liya Rechtman is a legislative assistant from Brooklyn, New York, where she is a member of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. Liya graduated from Amherst College.

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