Opinion: Despite popular belief, ultra-Orthodox society has many more environmental characteristics than we would think. In these days of severe division in Israeli society, looking at the environmental aspect may bring the sectors closer together, and allow us to build a more sustainable future together
As a secular woman who deals with sustainability, it is easy for me to look at ultra-Orthodox society and see it as a society that does not deal with and is not interested in environmental values. However, these days, when intergroup accusations are skyrocketing, it is interesting to discover that in the field of sustainability and the environment we have more in common than is common to think. An in-depth examination of the ultra-orthodox lifestyle, which encourages modesty and simplicity, and where there are sustainable community initiatives such as Gamahim, reveals a variety of values and customs that align with the principles of sustainability, which lead to a reduction in consumption and carbon emissions and promote a greener future.
In certain aspects, there is no doubt that the ultra-orthodox lifestyle conflicts with environmental values. The high birth rate in ultra-Orthodox society, which stands at 6.64 children for an ultra-Orthodox woman - compared to 1.96 for a secular woman, burdens resources, increases the ecological footprint of each family and contributes to the accumulation of waste. It seems that the perception of sustainability and environmental awareness also need improvement in ultra-Orthodox society: for example, In a study conducted in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood In Ashdod, it was found that about half of the residents of the neighborhood do not think that recycling plastic and paper is an important thing, and claim that they do not have time to engage in it. These data are added toThe abolition of the tax on disposable tools Last January, which brought to the headlines the issue of the widespread use of disposable utensils among the ultra-Orthodox community - which presented it, in many cases, as ignoring the climate crisis.
At the same time, and contrary to the prevailing assumptions, the values of the environment and society are reflected in various aspects of the ultra-orthodox lifestyle - and even the secular have a lot to learn from them.
Dense cities - and sustainable
First of all, the ultra-Orthodox cities excel in a number of characteristics that define a sustaining and healthy city, which promotes walking in it. One such prominent feature is high building density and population density. In such a situation, the population is concentrated in the urban area - and the open spaces are preserved. An urban fabric was created that allows the use of public resources such as public transportation, health insurance funds, educational, cultural and public institutions, sports facilities, and more - and thus the amount of infrastructure built for each resident can be more limited. All of these reduce the city's ecological footprint and its impact on the climate crisis.
Accordingly, the population density in ultra-Orthodox cities is among the highest in Israel. If in Tel Aviv, for example, the population density stands at About 9,000 people per square kilometer, in Elad it stands at 14 thousand people per square kilometer - and in Bnei Brak at no less than 29 thousand people per square kilometer.
Another characteristic of sustainable cities is the use of public transportation, which is an environmentally friendly alternative to the private car. In addition to the fact that reducing private car travel reduces carbon emissions, it also helps to ease traffic congestion - which makes cities more sustainable, because a vehicle that stands in a traffic jam, and stops and accelerates repeatedly, burns significantly more fossil fuels in its operation and emits more pollutants.
Thus, ultra-orthodox society makes extensive use of public transportation, especially in densely populated urban areas. Beyond that, the number of vehicles per resident in ultra-orthodox cities is significantly smaller than in secular cities in Israel.
A third sustaining urban characteristic is the mixing of land uses: this is a situation where in the same area there are several different uses, such as residences, commerce, offices and public areas. Such urban planning reduces the amount of travel, as you can easily walk from home to the grocery store, school or public buildings.
The data of the property tax categories in the ultra-Orthodox cities, as well as a simple tour of them, show that the main ultra-Orthodox streets are designed so that the ground floor of a building is on the street line, without separation from it - and is used for commerce and public areas, while the upper floors of the buildings are mostly used for residences. Thus, the ultra-Orthodox population, which as mentioned rarely uses private vehicles, can rely on the local trade and the public services that are close to home.
Drill from GMC
In addition to the characteristics of the sustaining municipality, the data show that despite the widespread use of disposable utensils, an ultra-orthodox resident produces large amounts of waste Significantly lower than in wealthier urban centers: about 2 kilograms of waste per person on average, compared to 6-4 kilograms per person on average produced in affluent cities.
This low amount of waste results both from systems that cultivate a modest lifestyle and minimalist consumption, which by their very nature promote sustainability, and from the activities of charitable organizations. There are GMCs that produce an efficient infrastructure for the reuse of resources (for example, they offer for sale second-hand clothes for children and adults), as well as those that enable shared and efficient use by lending objects, clothes, electrical appliances and tools to residents. So, for example, if a person needs to use a drill once every six months, he does not have to purchase one - but can borrow from a mortgage and return it after use.
Beyond that, even if the awareness of environmental issues is lower among ultra-Orthodox society - it is still there, andAn increasing number of organizations in the ultra-orthodox community Actively involved in promoting existing initiatives. For example, the municipality of Bnei Brak implemented A comprehensive sustainability plan which includes waste management, recycling efforts and environmental education initiatives.
It is important to note that the values of sustainability and environmental awareness are Not strangers to the Jewish tradition. Judaism emphasizes the importance of responsible resource management and the preservation of the quality of the environment through prohibitions and commandments such as "don't corrupt", which forbids the unnecessary destruction of what could be useful, and the shemita, in which the land rests and regenerates and pesticides and fertilizers are not used (except to prevent death of the tree). These principles resonate within the ultra-orthodox community, strengthening their commitment to sustainable operations and emphasizing the compatibility between their religious values and modern environmental concerns.
Bringing hearts together for a greener future
I am a woman married to a woman and together we raise our two children. I have two ultra-Orthodox sisters and a sister who was ultra-Orthodox and came back with the question. Despite my lifestyle that is not acceptable in ultra-Orthodox society, my sisters and I try to find the meeting points between us, and manage to manage the relationship between us with great love, care and see each other. We know that our closeness is very important to my mother, whom we all love, respect and want to make happy. This creates a very strong goal for all nurses to make an effort, to be flexible and not to give up what they have in common.
Precisely in a time of growing rifts in Israeli society, it is essential to find common ground and common goals for future generations. Recognizing the environmental aspects that do exist in ultra-Orthodox society allows us to bridge the gap between us and build a more inclusive society, which strives for cooperation in environmental areas where the values of ultra-Orthodox society intersect with those of the secular world. Together, we can forge a path toward a greener and more sustainable future that honors our shared commitment to the planet.
Dr. Gal Carso Romano is the academic director of the local government cadet program and head of the sustainability and governance division at Tel Hai Academic College. She is a consultant to local authorities and the site manager "Municipal Sustainability".
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