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 Baba Batra: A Comment on the Order of the Tract

 Baba Batra: A Comment on the Order of the Tract

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454



YISRAEL ROZENSON



the fortification of a society within its own defined and limiting boundary – those

of the land within the land and those of the city within the city – alongside the

demarcation (“a gate or a door,” “a wall around the city, with the doors and the

bolts”) that protects them from the threatening exterior. Simplistically read, the

exterior represents flesh-and-blood enemies; taken on a more symbolic level, it

represents the opposite of civilization, which threatens to intrude upon and

disrupt the daily life of an urban setting. In fact, there is no intention of being

involved in this exterior or to change it, but rather to protect one’s self from it in

the manner in which a civilization normally protects itself. We should reiterate that

protecting civilization from its outside enemies is a task undertaken by force of

mutual responsibility. A society’s self-organization, which is based on the model

of protection and partnership to the point where the means of protection

may be enforced upon the individual (him), may serve as the foundation for

protection against a new enemy of society – the ecological hazard. The walls

that are erected by this protective organization will, of course, be of a totally

different kind, as we will clarify here.

2.2. CHAPTERS 2 AND 3

The tract deals with substantial hazards – one of which will be the topic of our

next section – and the general collaboration for their prevention. In dealing with

the general structure of these chapters, one should stress that the issue of Hazaka

(lit: occupancy), that is, the determination of private ownership over assets, only

arises later on, in Chapter 3: “The law of hazakah is, if one has occupied any

property for three years from date to date … and this applies to houses, pits, excavations, caves, pigeon-coops, bath-houses, press-houses, dry land, slaves, and the

same is with all other articles which bring fruit frequently.” (Baba Batra III, 1)

Thus, the structure is as follows: (1) partnership and its expression in an area; (2)

partnership as a way of dealing with various hazards; (3) occupancy.

We will not deal herein with the actual law, but with the implications of the

arrangement, and we assume – of course – that the literary order of the tract is

manifest and meaningful. The tract is not a coincidental conglomeration of doctrines! And we attach great ideological importance to the precedence of rules of

partnership to those of occupancy – a form of purchase, the formation of private

ownership: first comes the ability to generate a relationship based on responsibility toward one’s fellow man and society, and only then the means of private purchase. Through methodical study of the tract from beginning to end, one

internalizes first the idea of partnership as a prerequisite for ownership; within

this framework and on its basis, communal ability to mobilize for the prevention of

hazards is incorporated; the latter derives from partnership and precedes ownership,

since responsibility precedes ownership.

These simple ideas, entrenched in the tracts formulation, do not directly bear

upon the problems of atmospheric hazards; but they offer a wide ideological basis

for discussing the topic.



GUARDING THE GLOBE: A JEWISH APPROACH TO GLOBAL WARMING



455



3. The “Barn” Doctrine

The principles that may guide an educational discussion on the problem of global

warming can be derived from specific doctrines. Here, we will deal with one of

them “A barn must not be placed within 50 ells of the town; the same is the case

if one wishes to make a barn on his own property – he may do so, provided he has

50 ells of space on each side of it. One must also remove a barn from the plants

and from the newly ploughed field of his neighbor … to prevent any harm to the

plants or the field” (Baba Batra II 8).

This doctrine allows for the following association. On the left, we have

disassembled the doctrine to its elements, and on the right we provide a basic

ecological interpretation to the elements: Thus, the city, which in the previous

chapter – by force of partnership – was enclosed by a protective wall (Baba Batra

I 5), is now protected through entirely different means: not using a physical wall

that may prevent manifestations of external violence, but through the legislative

prevention of a trivial hazard deriving from simple activities – a hazard that is

theoretically unpreventable: who could imagine life without a barn?!3 A barn,

indeed, bears little relationship to global warming; but it presents us with an

ideological basis for comparison, if only thanks to the atmospheric association,

but mainly because the heat is a result of essential circumstances that are

basic benefits to humans, and which – however – need to be distanced from

others (Table 1).



Table 1. Old terms and their meanings.

A barn

must not be placed

within fifty ells of

the town

If one wishes to make a barn on his own property,

he may do so,

provided he has fifty ells of space on each side

One must also remove a barn from the … field of

his neighbor

to prevent any harm to the plants or the field



A sustainable hazard related to the air

An acceptable ecological reality is created

Quantification/explanation of that reality

An inhabited area/civilization

Creating an acceptable ecological reality is

the responsibility of the individual

The terms

The responsibility is on the individual

The rationale



A similar interpretation may also be widely applied to the following doctrine:

“Carcasses, cemeteries, and tanneries must be removed to a distance of fifty ells.

A tannery must not be established except on the east side of the city; R. Akiva,

however, maintains that it may be established on every side except the west, and a

space of fifty ells is to be left” (Baba Batra II 9). However, this is beyond the scope

of this discussion.



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YISRAEL ROZENSON



The structure of this specific doctrine is also noteworthy: in brief, the use of

indicative expressions – “must not be placed,” “if one wishes,” “he has (left) 50

ells of space.” There is a movement from the general to the specific. At first, reference is to the general (public): it “must be placed.” Then, moving on to the private

individual: “if one wishes.” Finally, symmetrically, we return to the distancing,

but in singular: “he has left.” The kernel of the structure is the limitation: “must

not be place;” but this is enveloped in the distancing that indicates the individual’s

ability to restrain and concede.

The movement in the doctrine from the general to the individual (“it must

be” – “he has”) is the same movement that reflects the situation of the individual

within a communal society. Here, we have, not only the obligation that falls upon

some form of communal authority, but also – and perhaps primarily – upon each

of the community members to avoid harming a neighbor or a friend. This is an

individual task and not just a public duty. The structure is conditional upon limiting

personal attributes and psychologically fostering a structure that generates feelings

of closeness and empathy. Under these circumstances, a technical ecological ruling

becomes a means of augmenting membership and communal fraternity.

It is possible to consider the ramifications of the above on global warming. On

the basis of the presentation of the above doctrine, we can imagine a metaphorical

development from a small example to a greater one. The barn is a super-structure that

represents damage to space and air – the atmosphere. But it is also important to

demonstrate that this is a personal problem: each one of us is instructed to distance –

not merely the collective or the central authority. We shall now take a sample

hazard/nuisance and – based on this example – examine the wider implications.

Theoretically, a clearly utilitarian approach is being demonstrated – ecology

for humans, the need to rally around the ecological banner; otherwise human

benefit within the community will not be achieved. We must demonstrate restraint

through partnership, relinquish rights so that others – and consequently ourselves –

will be able to continue existing. Can we, through the power of such ecology,

protect the planet in general? Can the barn represent a different kind of hazard

than that in which its activities are traditionally rooted? This may be the case and

– as in the barn whose basic danger (the chaff) is inherent – the basic fear of

global warming may be raised. Indeed, the inherent danger can be presented as

greater than that of the barn itself. Nevertheless, such greater problems may

require another kind of argumentation.

Here, therefore, we have presented a utilitarian ecology,4 but it is of greater

educational import. It may even be said to have added educational value: through

maintaining the ecological dimension in reality, one may strengthen values of



Regarding related questions, see Shwartz E Response (2002), mastery and stewardship, wonder and connectedness: a typology to nature in the Jewish texts and

tradition. Judaism Ecol 93–108, Cambridge, MA.

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GUARDING THE GLOBE: A JEWISH APPROACH TO GLOBAL WARMING



457



partnership; upon the ecological platform, communal unity is strengthened. However,

this simplistic relationship between education and ecology is insufficient and it lacks

another moral dimension, one which is presented in the story of the Garden of Eden,

and which may serve as a lever for making the world an entirely better place.

4. The Garden of Eden

The primal goal of the edict – “to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis II 15) – has

become a symbol for any discussion on Jewish ecology.5 This goal is defined in

relationship to an environment whose delineated borders are quite clear. This is

a Garden of Eden that was quite prevalent in the castles of kings, and its literary

representations appear in various mythologies. Needless to say, such gardens were

inaccessible to regular people; nor were they permitted to be present therein. In

Genesis, on the other hand, even if a tree or trees within were divinely forbidden

as a food source, this specific Garden of Eden was not holy; it is not the exclusive

abode of a god or a king, but – rather – an effective habitat that offers harmonious

coexistence with nature. This basic situation may lead to varying commentaries

and different educational conclusions. Here, we will adopt the approach that sees

the Garden of Eden as a model for fostering global responsibility, global since –

according to the borders of the Garden as delineated in Genesis by “great rivers”

– it was huge, in a sense covering the entire known world. And thus, a garden that

in earlier traditions was considered holy or royal, bordered off and differentiated

from regular mortals, in Exodus becomes a human habitat.

In reference to this, we should mention that the Garden is clearly defined

botanically as one that contains trees. As stated, the Garden may be presented as

an allegory – not merely as the location of the first human couple, but as an actual

habitat. Nevertheless, in this allegory, the emphasis is on trees, which represent

the environment, in spite of the fact that, ostensibly, one could have referred to

other natural phenomena. For our purpose, the crucial verses are, “The LORD

God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man

whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every

tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food” (Exodus II 8–9). Consider:

“The LORD God planted” stresses God’s action, nature. God creates a natural

environment. And yet, the chosen verb, planted refers specifically to trees. “There

He placed the man”: nature, which God has planted, is a habitat. “The LORD

God caused to grow” is an additional emphasis on the natural disposition. “Every

tree” once again emphasizes trees. Why is it so important to highlight as a

protagonist in the Garden of Eden parable? It seems that there is a cultural

As mentioned in previous notes, we cannot expand here; but any perusal of this

expression in any search engine easily demonstrates the extent to which this has

become a motto for nature preservation in the spirit of Judaism.

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YISRAEL ROZENSON



convention at play. The parable is saturated with the premise that is apparent

at every stage of the Bible – the realization that man and trees are comparable.

The presumption that “man is a tree in the field,” which has so many expressions

in early Biblical culture, guides this parable, and from an environmental aspect,

the conclusion is clear. Man and the environment are very close to one another:

man is as a tree, and the tree is likened to a man; harming the tree is akin to harming

man; an impressive harmony spreads between the natural habitat and those that

inhabit it. True, this basic idea can be developed in different directions, especially

providing it with a psychologistic explanation; however, here too, the idea of

harmony with one’s environment holds true.6

In regard to preservation, this is a fundamental matter, not just applying to

basic hazards7; it also includes the idea of preservation of the species. Man lives in

the Garden and maintains it; thus, consequentially, man-the-guard may also utilize nature to manufacture clothes from fig leaves: “and they sewed fig leaves

together and made themselves loin coverings” (Genesis III 7) – to make, but not

to damage the fig tree itself. This represents proportional usage in accordance

with need and no more; it is somewhat reminiscent of the aforementioned barn,

which is required for maintaining life. Moreover, since the topic is trees, one must

surmise that not only that specific tree must be preserved, but the complex in its

entirety; i.e., to preserve the specific species and avoid the formation of circumstances that will harm it. Anyone who desires to consider the Garden as a symbol

can identify here the warning against harming plants, which are a basis for life;

since the garden is not related to the local community, but rather represents the

global environment, what may harm it is a change in atmospheric conditions or

other global conditions. Each plant requires specific conditions that are related to

specific atmospheric and ground characteristics; any change in these may harm

specific plants no less than direct activities, such as uprooting or fires.8 The simple

conclusion is that maintaining the Garden is equal to maintaining global conditions on all their elements and types.



See also Rozenson (2002b).

Ibn Ezra is often quoted: “to guard – against all animals and prevent them from

entering there and polluting.” The idea is an attractive one of battling pollution

and aspiring to aesthetics, but the separation between plants and animals is not

consistent with profound environmental notions.

8

Although we are dealing here with Genesis, the Book of Ezekiel and certainly

other early cultures recognize the cedar as a central element the Garden of Eden:

“The cedars in God’s garden could not match it; the cypresses could not compare

with its boughs, And the plane trees could not match its branches. No tree in

God’s garden could compare with it in its beauty.” (Ezekiel XXXI 8) It is noteworthy

that the Cedar’s sensitivity to climatic changes, a tree that is primarily endemic to

the Lebanese mountains, is widely resonant throughout our sources.

6

7



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