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Torah for Our Time
This week I was alerted to an issue that resonated deeply with me. I was asked to sign a petition in support of the Shaar Hagai Kennels, who are facing eviction by the Israel Government Lands Authority. Tied up in this legal battle is the fate of the Canaan dog, a breed of dog most closely related to the dogs depicted in the bible. After reading of how the kennel owner moved to the desolate location 42 years ago as a Zionist seeking to settle the land and breed these dogs, my interest was piqued. Why was the Land Authority threating to evict them, and to what purpose was the Israeli government planning to put the land in question? I dug deeper, and found the website of http://canaandogs.info/ which illustrates the care and dedication that Myrna Shiboleth, the owner of Shaar Hagai Kennels, has put into the breeding of these beautiful dogs. I also read a fascinating article in the Washington Post regarding this story. The article states that, "the Canaan dog — one of the oldest known breeds of pariah dogs — is the focus of a battle that pitches people who believe in the value of preserving the primitive breed . . . against modern bureaucracy. As often is the case in Israel, land use is at the heart of the battle." This article also includes some history of the preservation and restoration of native & biblical species in Israel beyond the Canaan dog. I must admit I am intrigued by the idea of repopulating the Holy Land with the flora and fauna of biblical times, and think that there is much potential for growth by developing a more sophisticated environmental tourism industry in Israel. Can you imagine seeing lions and leopards while on safari in Israel? Ezekiel 34:25 states that G-d will "banish wild beasts from the land", but nevertheless, the idea of the Holy Land being (re)populated with the plants and animals native to the area during biblical times is a praiseworthy goal.
From an Environmentalist perspective, I am concerned about the fate of the Canaan dog, as I am for many native and indigenous species around the globe. Without continued introduction of genetic diversity into the breeding stock from wild sources, the future of the Canaan dog is imperiled. The choices we make as to which species we cultivate and which we attempt to eliminate have profound implications on the health of the ecosystem. Judaism teaches us that all species are to be preserved on the Earth. Nachmanides, in discussing Biblical prohibitions against mixing species ("Kilayim"), slaughtering an animal and its offspring on the same day, taking the mother bird when taking the eggs or young offspring, and castration, suggests that these laws emerge from a concern that all species be preserved and not disappear from this world. (commentary to Leviticus 19:19 and Deut. 22:6) This concern is given pragmatic rationale in the Talmud (Shabbat 77b): "Of all that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He did not create a single thing without purpose..." There then follows a list of medicinal uses for even the lowliest of creatures such as snails, flies and mosquitoes. If all species are to be preserved, how much more so those native to the Holy Land and specifically named in Scripture, like the Canaan dog. Our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were sheepherders, and likely used the Canaan dog's ancestors to help manage the flocks. Canaan dogs are no less useful to us today, where they are used by the Israeli military as guard dogs and to detect bombs. One organization of note that fights on behalf of endangered and threatened species worldwide is the Center For Biological Diversity, who put out a great weekly listserve email, (and who also sell beautiful organic cotton t-shirts for only $12, which make great gifts). Another worthy project is the Israel Longhorn Project, which promotes the breeding of the more robust Texas Longhorn cattle with the more passive European breeds currently in production in Israel in order to create a breed better suited to Israel's desert climate.
From a Zionist perspective, I find it abhorant that the Israeli government should attempt to take the land from its current occupants over what is essentially a lack of a clear Land Title. Land titling is an extremely critical issue globally, as native peoples often passed land to their descendants without any legal documents. In Israel, the history of fluctuating governments in the area have made land titling an especially thorny issue. But in the case of the Shaar Hagai Kennels, is not 42 years of continuous occupancy ownership enough? Squatters have legal rights, often based on the improvements to the land that they have made over time. Adding insult to injury, the only plan that the Israeli government has for the kennel is to demolish it, and the government has been unwilling to enter into mediation to resolve the issue peacefully. Thus it appears that this eviction is a blatant land grab by the government, in total disregard for the rights of the people that have been living there, as well as the needs of the Canaan dog to survive. The actions of the Israeli government seem here to directly oppose our biblical enjoinder to settle the Land of Israel, as commanded in Numbers 33:53 "Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess" and Deut 12:10 "you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around so that you dwell in safety". The Israeli government is not living up to the religious and Zionist ideals of Settling the Land. Instead, they are doing the exact opposite -- evicting and threatening to demolish Jewish homes, as was the case in Gush Katif, Gaza in 2005, as well as the eviction notice facing the settlement of Migron today. This is very sad indeed, and our voices need to be heard. THE LAND OF ISRAEL BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL, NOT TO THE GOVERNMENT.
Clearly, there are many causes in the world, both environmental and political, worthy of our efforts and attention. There is much work that remains to be done in order to protect native species and the habitats that preserve them. There are also many people fighting against the injustices of wrongful evictions, whether in Israel, in America, or in the world at large. As a Zionist and as a Jewish Environmentalist, I feel it is my duty to share my concerns about the pending eviction at the Shaar Hagai Kennels with others in this community, so that we can collectively raise our voices in support of the kennel and the Canaan dogs. In this way, we can demonstrate our desire for an Israel and world more in line with our Jewish, environmentalist, and Zionist ideals. Together, we can create a better world in which people and animals have the right to dwell in the Land in peace, safety, and security.