Six Principles of Tel Shemesh

These six principles exemplify the spirituality affirmed by Tel Shemesh, a website and community celebrating and creating earth-based Jewish traditions.

1. Our lives are interwoven with the earth.

A midrash from an ancient rabbinic work called Genesis Rabbah says: “Three things depend on one another: humans, the earth, and rain.” We cannot live without the earth, and we cannot live without the cycles of nature. The earth, in turn, cannot survive unless we rein in our destructive tendencies. Earth-based Judaism honors our interdependency with all of nature. Some earth-based Jews may see the earth as a gift from the Infinite, while others may view it as a living being of whom we are a part, or as an embodiment of the Divine. All of these views remind us to treat our world with care and reverence.

Try: offering thanks at mealtime for the gifts of the earth; taking care to avoid products that harm the environment; taking a nature walk to see how plants and animals interact; learning how your food grows.

2. Natural cycles are a source of spiritual wisdom.

A midrash from Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer tells how the Holy One gave Adam and Eve knowledge of the cycles of nature. Earth-based Jewish practice views cycles like day and night, winter and summer, life and death as part of the spiritual teaching of the universe. Rather than viewing one part of these cycles as good and another part as bad, earth-based Jews might choose to view each part of these natural cycles as having its own wisdom to share.

Try: Planting or composting; learning or inventing a ritual for a season or life-cycle event; talking with your family about the ups and downs of their lives; remembering to rest as well as work; enjoying a rainstorm.

3. We know the Divine through images from nature.

Almost all images of God—father, creator, rock—come from our experience in a physical world. Earth-based Judaism uses balanced images of God inspired by the diversity of nature: mother and father, rock and wellspring, Tree of Life and Infinite Unknown. The use of varied God-images, feminine and masculine, sky-dwelling and earth-dwelling, allows us to see our fellow creatures as reflections of the Divine.

Try: Praying to God as a mother or bride; reading the Psalms to see how varied the images of God are; making up your own list of names for the Divine; going out into nature to see where you find the sacred.

4. The body is crucial to spiritual life.

The body is like a small earth, fragile and miraculous, messy yet sacred. Earth-based Judaism honors our bodies and emphasizes those aspects of Jewish ritual that use the body. Rituals like candlelighting, handwashing, or wearing a tallit all invite us to use our bodies to express our spiritual intentions.

Try: waving a lulav on Sukkot; setting up a homeless shelter; dancing to welcome the Sabbath; immersing in a ritual bath; saying a blessing over a fragrance.

5. All forms of life are holy.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav imagined each blade of grass with its own angel encouraging it to grow. Earth-based Jews might choose to see themselves as one form of sacred creature among many—as beneficiaries of a varied universe rather than as masters of subordinate species.

Try: Reducing your consumption of meat or leather; visiting the sick; celebrating Tu b’Shevat, new year of the trees; singing to welcome the angels on Friday night; caring for a pet.

6. We have much to learn from shamanic and nature-oriented traditions.

Earth-based Judaism draws on Jewish lore related to shamanism (the art of tapping into the spiritual qualities of nature). Legends about King Solomon speaking to animals, the powers of Miriam’s well, or the gifts of the four winds all fall into this category. Earth-based Judaism may also choose to learn from other earth-based traditions around the world. Earth-based Jewish practice helps us to respect other religious civilizations.

Try: Exploring books of Jewish legends; telling a story to a child; choosing a biblical figure, ancestor, or animal as your spirit guide; listening to the stories of someone with a different tradition.

At a winter solstice/Chanukah event last year, Tel Shemesh participants sang, moved and drummed to celebrate the return of the sun’s light. So too, we are celebrating the return of earth-based consciousness to Jewish life. Individuals, families and communities who long to hear the rhythms of the earth in Jewish tradition can join us and the many others who believe we are nature, just as we are spirit.

—from “What is Earth-Based Judaism?,” an article written by Rabbi Jill Hammer for

Rabbi Jill Hammer is the director of Tel Shemesh and the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women.

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