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Hanukkah’s Lesson on Conserving Energy

It seems each day we hear about the continued consequences of our dependence on oil as a source of energy–the greenhouse gas emissions that come with burning fossil fuels, the devastation to local communities and ecosystems of exploring for and extracting oil, the soaring costs as we pursue increasingly rare stockpiles, and the supporting of brutal regimes to keep the oil flowing.
What are the alternatives? Some trumpet nuclear power as the solution to our clean energy needs, but nuclear fuels also creates greenhouse gases as well as toxic waste byproducts. Some say ethanol is the solution, but this too involves massive carbon emissions in its production and undermines the availability of staple crops. Some promote solar or wind power, but these technologies have proven inadequate and unreliable for our power needs.


What’s the right solution to our energy crisis? That’s a question for scientists and policymakers, not rabbis. But Judaism can bring some insight to bear on the current situation and point a way toward an approach.
Clearly, damaging the world to meet our own needs is morally wrong. As it says in Ecclesiastes Rabbah: “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the garden of Eden and said: Look at my works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. Take care not to spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.” (7.13) Whatever solution we seek must be mindful of our custodial role in creation–using what we need but not despoiling the planet.
The solution, I think, is conservation, using less energy and reducing the amount of fuel it takes to do what we need. The model is Hanukkah where one pitcher of oil–enough only for one day–lasted for eight days. Talk about the purest form of renewable energy! But in seriousness, the miracle of the holiday throws out a challenge to us: How can we make what we use last longer than it otherwise would?
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life is engaged in a campaign to switch to CFL light bulbs that produce the same light on less energy. The Religious Action Center of the Reform movement is promoting tighter fuel efficiency standards for cars and SUV’s that would allow the same gallon of gas to go farther. And many synagogues–including my own–are going green by undertaking the move to lower their carbon footprint and conserve energy within their own four walls.
None of this is easy or dramatic, none of it will allow us to continue consuming energy like business as usual. But if we are to follow on Hanukkah’s mandate of increasing light in the darkness, we must all do our part.

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posted December 16, 2007 at 9:32 pm

Dear Rabbi,
I am a nuclear engineer and I can assure you that greenhouse gasses are not a by-product of the nuclear fuel cycle. All the power reactors in the world today do not produce any more greenhouse gasses than a lit cigarette. Nuclear power, conservation, and renewable power sources are our only hope to cut greenhouse emissions.

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