Learning from a long history of sustainable thought

Dal hosts inaugural Shaar Shalom Lecture

- September 27, 2012

Carols Fraenkel of McGill University delivers the first Shaar Shalom lecture. (Nick Pearce photo)
Carols Fraenkel of McGill University delivers the first Shaar Shalom lecture. (Nick Pearce photo)

If you think that sustainability is only a modern concept, think again.

This past Thursday marked the launch of the Shaar Shalom Lecture Series, an annual event hosted by Dal’s Department of Classics and Religious Studies program with the Shaar Shalom Synagogue as the lecture’s benefactor. The series is part of the academic and outreach program of the Riva and Simon Spatz Chair in Jewish Studies.

The series' goal is to “connect sustainability to a vast scope of time, of culture and of belief.” Its first speaker was Carlos Fraenkel of McGill University, an expert in Jewish and Islamic philosophy, who discussed how ideas from ancient and medieval thought can be applied to modern issues of conservation and environment.

Dr. Fraenkel emphasized the importance of work as well as study and contemplation during his lecture. Creatively, he organized his lecture around a conversation with his young daughter in the year 2020, a year when the environmental issues we are facing today would begin to develop severe consequences.

Beyond discussing topics like recycling, cycling and your more standard environmental efforts, he focused also on studying religion, philosophy, Shakespeare, music, and other cultural elements.

“When one can see the joy that this [learning] offers you just won’t be interested in working overtime to buy the new car or fancier house, expensive designer handbag, bigger flat screen TV,” he said. “[Those are] not going to be interesting for you. You will want the absolute minimal necessary to ensure life without physical discomfort . . . while devoting most of your time to contemplating the choices that you have made.”

In Brazil, for example, philosophy is legislated in high schools in order to encourage critical living and thought.

Given the connection of the event with the synagogue, Dr. Fraenkel tailored parts of his argument towards Jewish attendees: “All members of the Jewish community should spend one quarter of the day working to satisfy material needs, and the remaining three quarters of the day should be spent studying everything from Moses to metaphysics,” he said.

Whether your interests are in religion or physics or music, the lecture encouraged a simpler way of living, thus creating a more environmentally friendly and sustainable future.  

Following the lecture there was a brief question and answer period where many audience members shared their questions and opinions. One audience member called the lecture “beautiful,” a sentiment clearly shared by most of the crowd. It certainly offered plenty to think about.


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