Tu Bishvat, a Super Bowl Ad and Israel’s Soda Water Company

This Shabbat is one of the four Jewish New Years set forth in the Mishna. Tu Bishvat, or Jewish Arbor Day, occurs on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Sh’vat. In addition to being a birthday for trees, the holiday is deeply connected to the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel and in modern days has become a day for celebrating the environment and reminding us of our responsibility as good stewards of the land.

At the core of this ethic for environmental stewardship is the concept of bal tashchit – the ban on wonton destruction of the earth’s resources. This environmental principle, which includes waste reduction, should be a focus on the holiday of Tu Bishvat.

Daniel Birnbaum of SodaStream with Conservative Rabbis in Israel (Masorti Mission 2012)
Daniel Birnbaum of SodaStream speaking to Conservative rabbis in Israel

This value was articulated in a presentation I heard last month while I was visiting Israel. Together with a dozen of my rabbinic colleagues, we toured the headquarters of SodaStream, the makers of consumer home carbonated water products. Daniel Birnbaum, the CEO of publicly traded SodaStream, explained to our group the positive environmental impact of his products. “This is the new way to do soda. We’re revolutionizing it with a smarter way to enjoy soft drinks.”

In his presentation to our group, Birnbaum showed how SodaStream reduces the amount of packaging waste from cans and bottles. The company, he explained, also eliminates much of the pollution caused by the transport of bottled beverages. SodaStream has sponsored initiatives promoting waste reduction and improved quality of tap water. In his PowerPoint presentation, Birnbaum explained the alarming statistic that “460 billion bottles and cans manufactured every year, of which the vast majority are dumped as waste across parks, oceans and landfills.”

SodaStream's Daniel Birnbaum with Rabbi Jason Miller
With SodaStream’s Daniel Birnbaum at the Mishor Adumim production facility

In its most aggressive marketing campaign alerting the international community to the negative effects of plastic bottle waste, SodaStream displayed a 318-square foot cage in several countries. The cage contained 10,657 empty bottles and cans showing that the waste produced by one family over the course of five years from beverage containers can be replaced by a single SodaStream bottle. The “Cage Campaign” has now been on display in over 30 countries.

This aggressive marketing campaign erupted into controversy when one of SodaStream’s cages was erected in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2012. Coca-Cola demanded that SodaStream remove all of the empty products from the cages bearing Coca-Cola’s trademark logos and threatened to sue SodaStream if they didn’t comply. Birnbaum not only rebuffed Coca-Cola’s demands, but he went on the offensive by ordering the display of one of those cages right outside Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta.

Controversy is obviously something Birnbaum isn’t afraid of. Over the years he has taken a lot of heat for the location of SodaStream’s world headquarters in the territories outside of Jerusalem in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumim. The European Union’s highest court ruled in 2010 that SodaStream was not entitled to claim a “Made in Israel” exemption from EU customs payments because of the company’s primary manufacturing plant is technically located outside of Israel. Human right’s groups like Peace Now have long objected to SodaStream’s operations in the territories and publicly disparage SodaStream on the web.

Pro-Palestinian activists who advocate consumer boycotts of goods produced outside of Israel’s green line have protested SodaStream around the globe, saying the company has profited from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. They say Palestinian workers suffer from low wages and poor working conditions at SodaStream, but Birnbaum argues that none of that is true. For his part, Birnbaum claims he is a strong proponent of human rights, and that thanks to SodaStream thousands of local Palestinians in Mishor Adumim have good paying jobs. Those workers, he explains, would not be able to support their families without their jobs in SodaStream’s manufacturing plant.

In an effort to capitalize on SodaStream’s success, Birnbaum will be spending approximately $3.8 million on a 30-second spot during next month’s Super Bowl. Its recent “Setting the Bubbles Free” commercial, showing hundreds of soft drink bottles exploding when a person uses a SodaStream machine, was banned in the UK when television advertising monitoring agency Clearcast argued that it denigrates the bottled drink industry. Birnbaum is considering legal action in the UK and has countered publicly by asking, “Are we really being censored for helping to save the environment? This might be the first time in the world when an environmental approach has been shut down by the media to protect a traditional industry.” It will be interesting to see what Birnbaum and SodaStream have in store for the over 111 million Super Bowl viewers around the world.

I was quite impressed listening to Birnbaum speak passionately about SodaStream’s products and its environmental concern for the global good. The former CEO of Nike Israel (he also gained experience at Pillsbury and Procter & Gamble), was raised in a home in which strong Jewish values were preached. Birnbaum’s father was a Conservative rabbi who emphasized the importance of the State of Israel and philanthropic giving (Birnbaum is a major donor to the Masorti Judaism, the Conservative Movement’s Israeli affiliate). While Birnbaum, a Harvard MBA, is committed to his life as an executive businessman, he also gets a chance to participate as a leader in a synagogue for a few days each year. He travels to Cincinnati to serve as the High Holiday cantor of Adath Israel Congregation each Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur along with his wife Bat Ella, an accomplished Israeli musician.

Daniel Birnbaum, High Holiday Cantor at Adath Israel Congregation Cincinnati
Daniel Birnbaum with the High Holiday choir at Adath Israel Congregation

As Tu Bishvat approaches, I would encourage people to learn more about SodaStream and its positive impact on the environment. Yes, it is a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ with major investors and a goal of becoming a billion dollar company, but it also has a vision based on the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam — improving our earth. SodaStream will never be loved by the BDS (boycot-divest-sanction) movement, pro-Palestinian groups, or the big soda corporations like Coke and Pepsi. However, it is making a great product, putting thousands of at-risk Palestinians into the work force, and trying to make an impact in reducing the world’s waste from bottles and cans.

I guarantee that after SodaStream’s Super Bowl commercial airs, Daniel Birnbaum will be the topic of conversation around the world. He’s a guy who should be admired, not denigrated. So on this Tu Bishvat I hope people drink a soda water L’chayim to Daniel Birnbaum, set the bubbles free, and pledge to help eliminate waste caused by all those unnecessary plastic bottles that are ruining our environment. Happy Tu Bishvat!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

New Leket Israel App Released on Tu Bishvat

It’s too bad that the new movie “The Lorax” (an adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic tale) won’t be released for another month because today is the birthday of the trees! The 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat is known as Tu Bishvat and is the official beginning of the “fiscal year” for harvesting the crops in Israel.

In the Torah, there is a series of mitzvot (commandments) relating to crops and produce that applies to harvesting in the land of Israel. While many think of Tu Bishvat as a Jewish Arbor Day when everyone plants a tree in Israel, it actually is a day dedicated to feeding the hungry. The Torah legislates that once grains and fruit have been gathered in Israel, there is a mandatory gift called terumah that donated to the Kohen (priest). Following this gift offering, there are ma’aser (tithing) gifts that are required to be given including the ma’aser ani, which is a tithe consisting of 1/10th of the remaining crops to be given to poor.

In addition to the tithing requirements, the Torah also mandates that, “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings” (Deuteronomy 24:19). This is known as the gleanings of the field, or leket in Hebrew. In Michigan, we have a wonderful community food bank called Gleaners that supplied over 40 million pounds of food to soup kitchens and shelters throughout the state. Our family spent the recent Christmas morning volunteering at Gleaners Community Food Bank in Detroit and it was a wonderful opportunity for my young children to learn about the concept of gleaning and our responsibility to feed the hungry among us.

In Israel, one of my favorite organizations is Leket Israel (formerly known as “Table to Table”). Every time I visit Israel I make certain to take my group to Leket Israel to volunteer. Serving as the Israel’s national food bank, Leket Israel is the largest food rescue network and works to alleviate the problem of nutritional insecurity among Israel’s poor. Their statistics are staggering: 40,000 volunteers helping to rescue over 700,000 meals and 21 million pounds of produce and perishable goods. Leket Israel supplies over 1.25 million (7,500/school day) volunteer prepared sandwiches to underprivileged children.

Today, Leket Israel released its new iPhone and Android applications, which are available in both Hebrew and English. The new apps help the user find the closest food agency to donate any excess food from an event at a catering hall, an office party or a celebration at home. Leket Israel is the first nonprofit in Israel to design such an application. Some U.S. based food banks offer mobile apps to feed the hungry like the Boston Food Bank’s Give A Doodle app which lets users donate food by simply doodling a picture of food on their iPhone, Android and tablet touch screens.

Leket Israel’s Founder and Chairman Joseph Gitler is proud of the new app. He said, “The Leket Israel App will allow both Israelis and tourists visiting Israel easy access to finding the closest location in need of the surplus food from their event. We are very excited to have created the first of its kind in Israel and to use technology to better serve those less fortunate.” Both the iPhone and Android versions of Leket Israel’s new app are sure to contribute to feeding Israel’s growing poor population.

On this Tu Bishvat, in addition to raising our commitment to protecting the environment and being thankful for the fruit bearing trees that nourish us, let us also bolster our commitment to feeding the hungry in our midst. Support your local food bank and remember to donate your gleanings to vital organizations near you that are doing important work like Leket Israel and Gleaners Community Food Bank.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Ben Stein Sues Kyocera for Religious Discrimination

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

With today’s 10-second tease video with Matthew Broderick hinting at a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” sequel, it is only fitting to take a close look at Ben Stein’s ongoing legal battle with Kyocera. Stein, who played the memorable high school teacher in the 1986 movie (“Bueller? Bueller?”) was set to film a commercial for Kyocera, the producer of cameras, copiers, printers, mobile phones, and the like.

Even though Ben Stein’s lawyer “considered the deal done” according to the lawsuit, it appears there never was a signed contract between Kyocera and Stein. The company is very environmentally conscious and ultimately decided not to use Stein, who is a practicing Jew, upon learning of his anti-science views on global warming. Stein shot back against Kyocera claiming the company is infringing on his religious freedom since he maintains that as a Jewish man he believes that God and not man controlls the weather. Formally, Stein is claiming that Kyocera’s refusal to let him pitch their products constitutes “wrongful discharge in violation of fundamental public policy.”

Ben Stein claims that he is by no means certain that global warming was man-made, a position held by many scientists and political conservatives (Stein was a speechwriter in the Nixon Administration). His argument is that the opinion of whether man makes the weather or God makes the weather is a matter of religious belief and Kyocera has fired him based on that which is a violation of state and federal law.

Ben Stein’s arguments that his religious beliefs were being called into question and his rights were violated did not hold up very well. He then made a different complaint arguing that an actor who looks like him, Peter Morici, ultimately was featured in the Kyocera commercial and he is “an explicit misappropriation of Ben Stein’s likeness and persona, which is an explicit violation of Ben Stein’s rights of privacy and of publicity, barred by California law.”

If anything came out of this lawsuit it is that we now know that name Peter Morici. And if Ben Stein can’t agree to a contract to reprise his role as the boring econ teacher in the “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” sequel, Peter Morici will get another gig.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Big D: Thoughts about Detroit

Two of my friends have recently announced they will be leaving Detroit. Both for better jobs elsewhere — in bigger, more desirable cities. One is originally from suburban Detroit and one is a transplant from the East Coast. One is a single, gay, observant Jewish man who seemed to have singlehandedly changed the narrative about homosexuality in the Jewish community. The other is a rabbi who started a family here in Detroit and left an indelible mark on the Jewish teen community who found him to be a charming, honest, creative and funny young teacher with a heart of gold. This is what we refer to as the brain drain — talented young Jewish professionals leaving Detroit.

The downsizing of the Detroit Jewish community along with the decreased housing rates, the mass unemployment, the auto industry’s woes, and the negative NBC documentary about the City of Detroit by ex-pat Chris Hansen. But other events have left me thinking more positively about Detroit and the future of our community.

JET Theatre – Palmer Park
Intermarriage
Conversation After
T’chiyah – some still live and work in city
Parents

JServe
Greening of Detroit
Downtown Synagogue
Lofts

Come Play Detroit

Backstage Pass

Israel Trip – D on shirts

MC Hammer Performs at Jewish National Fund Party

For generations, fundraising efforts for the Jewish National Fund have centered around dropping loose change into little blue metal boxes. In fact, stories abound regarding the millions of dollars sent to the JNF from Hebrew School children to plant forests and make the dessert bloom in Israel during the first decades of statehood.

Apparently, the Jewish National Fund has now moved on from the little blue boxes (pushkes) and is ready to try something new. If the JNF was able to make the dessert bloom then perhaps it won’t be such a monumental task to revive the career of 1990s rapper MC Hammer. Yes, THAT MC Hammer!

On September 22 in Toronto the JNF will host its Future Party and it will be “Hammer Time.” I’m not sure exactly what the conversation sounded like when the Toronto branch of the JNF was planning this Future Party. What other names were thrown out before they arrived at MC Hammer? Did they consider Bobby Brown or Tone Loc? Maybe Kid ‘n Play would be a bigger draw, I’m not sure.

I certainly hope the crowd will come out for what will definitely be a nostalgic evening for many of the young adults who were in middle school and high school when MC Hammer was turning out hits like “U Can’t Touch This” and “Hammer Time”.

The event benefits a very important cause. Proceeds raised from the Future Party will go toward the development of a sports field at the Yafit Park complex in Kibbutz HaHotrim in the northern Carmel coast. The project will fund a multi-functional sports field where the kibbutz residents can enjoy games of football, volleyball and basketball. In 2000, the kibbutz economy collapsed, and as a result the community underwent radical changes in its socioeconomic structure.

Tickets for the Future Party featuring MC Hammer can be purchased online.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Giving Tree for Tu Bishvat

Ten years ago I was asked by the editor of the journal Conservative Judaism to write about my favorite book from my childhood. There was no question I would write about Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. In honor of the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat — the birthday of the trees — I republish those words on this blog.

The Giving Tree

“And then the tree was happy… But not really.” Ever since I made the decision to become a rabbi several years ago, I have had a recurring vision of my future rabbinate. In this vision, I am sitting in a nursery school classroom at the synagogue reading The Giving Tree, my favorite children’s book, to the class. It is a tender story with many lessons to give about a young boy’s relationship with a tree. Through the years I have discovered many of the metaphors that abound throughout this parable – metaphors about nature, parents, and God.

The tree has a simple goal, and that is to make the little boy happy. When he asks the tree for money, she suggests that he sell her apples. When he asks for a house, she offers her branches as lumber. He keeps asking and she keeps giving, until all that is left of the tree is a stump when the young boy returns as an old man. And he sits on it.

This is a wonderful story for teachers to use when discussing the law of bal tash’chit – the Torah’s ban on wanton destruction of nature. Our role as God’s children is to repair the world (l’taken olam b’malkhut shaddai) and we must be careful not to exploit such precious gifts as trees, and nature’s other resources.

It is telling that as the boy matures into an old man, Silverstein continues to refer to him as the “boy.” This shows that the tree continued to give even as the boy grew, just as this wonderful book continues to give even as the audience of young boys and young girls gets older. People of all ages will appreciate the feelings of both joy and tears that this book elicits. This is why I no longer only envision myself as a rabbi sharing The Giving Tree with nursery school children, but with “children” of all ages as well. Each time I read this story, I am taken away and then I am happy… But not really.

(Originally published in Conservative Judaism, Vol. 53, No. 4, Summer 2001)

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Planting Trees at Summer Camp

In addition to providing kosher supervision for Camp Mass, a Jewish residential summer camp in Michigan run by Tamarack Camps, I also run several informal educational programs. One of my favorite programs is planting trees with the campers and their counselors. I wrote the following article about the importance of trees for the camp’s online newsletter:

Planting Trees

Shimon bar Yochai taught that “if you are holding a tree in your hand, and someone says that the Messiah has arrived, first plant the tree and then go and greet the Messiah.”
(Avot D’Rabbi Natan 31b)

Tonight, as I watched the Second Night Show, my mind focused on the beauty of trees. The entire camp gathered at the Zaks Amphitheatre as each village staff took to the stage to showcase their talents and demonstrate what makes their village special.. I thought of the thousands of trees on our vast camp acreage and how each tree has its own personality just like each village. I thought of the unique gifts that each camper will share this summer at camp and how each tree shares its own gifts with us.

At Tamarack, our campers and staff live on 1,500 beautiful acres of land dotted with trees as far as the eye can see. The campers remind me how important those trees are to our camp on a daily basis. Each village has a chance to plant a tree in one of our lush fields as a way to give back to camp. Before the digging begins, I ask the campers what trees provide for us. Oxygen, paper, fruits, nuts, shelter, shade, and wood for fires are some of the common responses I hear. Some campers have reminded us that chewing gum, medicines, maple syrup, and chocolate also come from trees.

In past years, each camper and counselor has planted an individual tree. This summer, however, as a true sign of community each village will be planting a big pine tree to serve as an enduring reminder of the magic of the summer of 2010. God willing, in the future, the campers will return to Tamarack with their own children to visit the tree they planted this summer.

After the campers have planted their village tree we gather in a circle and listen to the personal dedications. Everyone in the village – campers and staff – share the names of the individuals for whom they planted their tree. Some dedicate it to their parents, siblings, friends or pets. Others have planted the tree in memory of a beloved grandparent. Many campers have dedicated the tree to their counselor or their bunkmates. One camper dedicated his village tree to everyone at Tamarack.

After each camper fills out a keepsake tree certificate, we join together in the Shehechiyanu blessing, acknowledging how grateful we are to partner with God in making our camp look even more beautiful. This is truly a wonderful way for us to give back to our camp. The website of the Jewish National Fund is listed on the tree certificate so families can plant a matching tree in Israel when their camper returns home at the end of the session.

Just as the trees throughout our camp grow and blossom, may our hundreds of campers grow and blossom this summer and may we reap the wonderful gifts they give.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

BP Oil Spill Hits Day 50

If BP was trying to make a Jewish connection to the oil spill off the Louisiana coast, they got it all wrong.

Yesterday marked the 49th day of the BP oil spill. Perhaps BP was going for the Hanukkah story connection, which is “The Oil lasted for 8 days.” Instead, BP got confused with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which is 49 days of counting the harvest and the 50th day (Shavuot) is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

Hopefully this environmental mess will be remedied soon as the effects on wildlife are certainly a violation of the Jewish principle of “tzar ba’alei chayim” — the responsibility to treat animals ethically.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

How Jewish is Avatar?

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed James Cameron’s film “Avatar.” It is unusual for me to enjoy a fantasy movie so much that I have to see it a second time in the theater, but this was the case with this 3-D film about a futuristic planet (Pandora), inhabited by an indigenous population that is destroyed by a human army in its effort to mine a precious mineral called “unobtanium.”

Knowing that the local tribe on Pandora is called the Na’vi, the Hebrew word for prophet, I went into the theater listening closely for other Jewish references or connections. And I found several.

There have been some very interesting articles about the Jewish connections in Avatar. Never one to disappoint with his scholarly understanding of theology and theodicy, Jay Michaelson penned two separate articles about Cameron’s Avatar. In his Huffington Post essay, the author of “Everything is God” explains the theological underpinnings in the film. He writes, “Avatar’s Na’vi subscribe to a combination of pantheism and theism, a view scholars today call “panentheism.” As scholar of religion Gershom Scholem observed, panentheism is usually rooted less in faith, as the New York Times’s Ross Douthat said, than in experience. Like mystics here on Earth, the Na’vi have an experience of unity of consciousness with other beings, all of which (themselves included) are really just manifestations of one Being, which they call Ai’wa.”

In his article in The Forward, Michaelson focuses on the environmentalism theme of the film. He explains that the philosophy of Avatar “is a bit of pantheism, a bit of nature mysticism and a surprising dash of monotheism, as well. In other words, it’s Kabbalah, as filtered through the Hasidism of the 19th century and the neo-Hasidism of the 20th and 21st. “Avatar” tells the story of Pandora – the world of the Na’vi – threatened by human ore mining. Where “Avatar” departs from classical Kabbalah and Hasidism is in its environmentalism. Classical Kabbalah and Hasidism do not speak in “Avatar’s” environmental terms, because “environmentalism” would have made no sense to people living before the Industrial Revolution.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech, on the Aish.com website, covers many of the obvious Jewish themes in Avatar (Na’vi, man versus God, shomrei adama/protectors of the earth, etc.), but adds some fresh ideas as well. I especially like his theory that the mountains that hung over the heads of the Na’vi population are reminiscent of the midrash explaining that God held Mt. Sinai over the heads of the Israelites like an inverted cask (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 88a).

Sergey Kadinsky, writing on Heshy Fried’s “Frum Satire” blog, connects the outsider’s experience of Avatar protagonist Jake Sully trying to fit into the Na’vi community with a convert to Judaism.  He also notes the similarities between the Na’vi method of slaughter and that of the shochet (Jewish ritual slaughterer).

I found several other Jewish connections in Avatar; whether Cameron intended them or not, I don’t know. There are also a lot of connections to other religions including Christianity. In fact, I read an interview with James Cameron in which he said he wanted to have as many different faith traditions represented in the film as possible. Supposedly, the scene in which Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) carries the dead Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) at the end of the film is supposed to be a reversal of Mary carrying Jesus. And I’m sure the name “Grace” is intentional.

Perhaps the main character’s name “Jake” is intended to be like “Jesus” or maybe even the biblical patriarch Jacob. Since Jake Sully is transformed, his character could indeed be a link to Jacob who has to endure a wrestling match with God’s angel (Genesis 32:4-36:43) before his name is changed and he becomes the leader of the people. Jake Sully had to wrestle the toruk to be transformed and accepted by the people. After wrestling the toruk, he is able to connect to the being in a very powerful way. Jacob’s connection with God was bolstered following his transformative wrestling experience.  Additionally, Jake Sully had to go to a holy place (The Tree of Voices) before being accepted and it is in this holy place where he goes to sleep and dreams (When Jake sleeps as the Avatar, he wakes up as his human body). Jacob renamed the place in which he dreamed Beit El (House of God). Both Jake Sully and the Patriarch Jacob didn’t realize the places they were in were holy until they fell asleep there.

The “J” name for Avatar’s protagonist could also be symbolic of other nevi’im (prophets) in the Jewish Tradition, like Jeremiah, Joel, Job, etc. or even biblical kings like Josiah.

In Avatar, a Navi became close to another Na’vi by saying “I See You” or “Oel ngati kameie.” Each time I heard this, I focused on the word n’gati, which could come from the Hebrew nogeah, to touch or become attached. Variations on this word include the Hebrew term “nogeah badavar” (to be involved with) or n’giah (to touch someone).

Blech might be on to something when he reminds his reader that “the root word navi really means seer, someone with the capacity to see more than others. And that is exactly the point of the story.” That is, the Na’vi in Avatar couldn’t predict the future (or they would have seen the impending doom of the human army), but they did understand the power in seeing the “other.”

I’m not sure if the name Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana) has any connection to the Hebrew word neturei, as in Neturei Karta (Guardians of the City), but she certainly saw herself as a guardian of Pandora. I know that James Cameron was advised by many linguists, so any of these connections are possible.

Kadinsky’s comparison of the attack on the Tree of Voices to the Romans breaching the walls of Jerusalem and the ultimate destruction of the holy Temple in 70 CE is apt. There might be some connections as well between Pandora and Eden, with the Tree of Knowledge considered to be off limits and then “attacked” for gain (knowledge of self in the Torah and unobtanium in Avatar). Lastly, I think there is a connection between the name of the Na’vi spirit Eywa and the Tetragrammaton name for God (YHWH).

Sure, it’s possible to just watch Avatar as another Hollywood blockbuster/Oscar nominee and enjoy the beautiful CGI scenery, a simple plot, and a politically charged clarion call to conserve our natural resources, respect indigenous peoples, and protect our environment against big corporations that can afford their own army. But, I think it’s more fun to look for the connections with different faith traditions. Some, like the Pope, will find the religious messages of Avatar problematic. Others, will find deep spiritual meaning in these metaphors.

I ultimately choose to pay homage to the brilliant work of James Cameron. Not only did he create an entertaining epic, he also gave us some challenging topics on which to meditate.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller