Chanukah and Energy Conservation

By guest blogger, Zachary Sadowski
December 3, 2014

The holiday of Chanukah is intrinsically linked to the idea of energy consumption and conservation. Everyone knows the basic idea of the story: many, many years ago a jug of oil thought to be capable of providing only one day of light miraculously gave eight instead. This is the basic story we grew up hearing, but a more detailed analysis of the events provides several interesting accounts of how and why this happened. Furthermore, these details reveal a very powerful message for us and future generations about our duty to conserve energy.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote that the divine miracle of this conservation of oil can be interpreted to mean that it is a sacred act for one to conserve energy as demonstrated by the actions of Adonai.  Daniel Bloom highlights two ideas regarding how the final jug of oil was used and how this alludes to multiple paths of action on energy use. The first account tells us that the jug was divided into eighths and each of these burnt for a day. Others believe that after the menorah was filled each of the first seven days the oil remained undiminished. The takeaway from these separate accounts is that there are multiple ways to achieve the same outcome. The first account has a clear conservation motif as less was used each night. The second account, however, points to the use of renewable resources that not only do not diminish, but do not add pollutants. 

One final analysis (and the one that spoke the most to me) comes from Josh Boydstun. He emphasizes that it was not a lack of oil that was the issue, but a lack of pure oil (at the time the invading Greeks defiled all but one jug of oil by touching them).  The priests refused to use the spoiled jugs even at the risk of not having enough pure oil for eight days.  Boydstun’s message is about the act of faith the priests took and how we cannot simply sit back and hope for a miracle to end climate change. I believe the more important lesson here is that not all sources of energy are equal. As the worlds traditional oil and coal resources continue to diminish, many corporations and countries are turning to non-traditional fossil fuel sources. In Canada,  this comes in the form of the exploitation of the tar sands and potential offshore mining of deepsea sources. Elsewhere the fracking boom provides an ominous outlook. These sources are like the impure jugs of oil left by the Greeks; they will provide energy, but at what cost? Unfortunately in this case the costs are far more severe than relying on unkosher oil.

While the messages of conservation in the story of Chanukah and from Jewish scholars carry much meaning, what is the modern take on the need to conserve energy?  Two sectors where you can have the most impact are the first and third largest contributors to emissions in Canada- transportation and electricity consumption. Clearly if we are to stop contributing to climate change much progress must be made to reduce our impact in these emission numbers.

           It is also helpful to think of conservation of electricity as an equivalent to adding additional generating capacity. If the system requires 1000kw/h more next year, instead of adding new capacity we can conserve some or all and diminish this need. This is the most cost effective way to reduce emissions. 

           So, what can you do to help conserve energy? Lucky for you there are many options. The government of Ontario offers a variety of programs and rebates you can take advantage of to not only reduce emissions, but save money as well (a list can be found here: For reducing energy use in the home they recommend three general tips:
  • Make a conscious effort to shift as much of your electricity use as possible to off-peak times. (These times can be found here:
  • Unplug your appliances when applicable in order to reduce phantom power. All appliances, when left plugged in, use a baseline of power even when they are off. Unplugging them eliminates this waste.
  • Purchase more efficient products. The best place to start is light bulbs where you can switch to LED or compact fluorescent bulbs. You can also look for Energy Star Appliances for your home.
Last and perhaps most important, be aware and care. In the end our governments and corporations play a huge role in how Canada reduces emissions. Think of these issues when you vote and think of them when you choose which businesses to support. If you show them you care they have no choice but to care as well. Unfortunately, there are no miracle fixes for our climate. But just like our Chanukah story tells us, a small number of people with strong determination can defeat even the mightiest of opponents. So channel your inner Maccabee this holiday season and be aware and care.

Moving Forward with the Kosher Humane Organic Meat Movement in Toronto

A Toronto resident chicken that lives at Bathurst and Eglinton
The word kosher means “fit” -- and so, when applied to food, it means “fit for eating.”  We would all love to believe that kashrut comprises the highest set of standards for our food, and that it is a system which addresses the health of our bodies, a concern for how our food is grown and raised, and the ethical aspect of bringing food to our tables.  Perhaps that was the case before the days of factory farming, and hopefully it will be the case again one day soon, but in the meantime, what is a Jew to do upon discovering that the only kosher meat available in Toronto comes from animals that were raised in crowded, filthy, quarters without enough room to move, fed genetically-modified corn, and were likely unhealthy at the time of slaughter?  There are currently three options:

  1. Stop eating meat: This option requires enduring the Jewish guilt that comes from refusing your grandmother’s brisket, and on a more serious note, may not be the most health-supportive choice for everyone.
  2. Eat high-quality non-kosher meat: When faced with the choice between pasture-raised non-kosher meat and conventionally-raised kosher meat, many Jews who would otherwise keep kosher homes are choosing the pasture-raised option.  For some it is a health choice, for others it is a way to uphold their values in day-to-day life, and for many it is a combination of the two.
  3. Dissociate: Forming a disconnect between the meat on one’s plate and the animal(s) it came from may make eating kosher meat more palatable, but dissociation presents its own set of moral quandaries.
Quite frankly, that embarrasses me.  How can my tradition, which prides itself on its elevated moral standards and foodways, cling to a system in which the only way to eat meat is to defile our bodies, disregard concern for the physical environment, and contribute to a system that dishonours animal life?  I believe that it is possible to create a fourth solution.  Eating meat can -- and should -- be a holy act, an act that brings us to an awareness of the Spirit that connects all living things.  We can bring meat to this city that is kosher, organic, and humanely-treated, and if we take our role as active Jews seriously, then we must. 

It will take a lot of work to turn this vision into reality, and I believe this is a responsiblity that we must saddle as a community.  The first step, which I would like to undertake in the coming months*, is to compile a research report which comprehensively explores the feasibility of different models given Ontario provincial regulations, the structure of the kashrut industry, the practicality of various business models, and the existence and practices of existing growers and purveyors.  The full report will comprise four case studies as follows:
  1. Outsourcing some or all of the production to an existing organic meat company such as Berretta Farms or Tiferet Organic Products
  2. Running an educational shechita at a small farm in our southern Ontario region
  3. Sourcing meat directly from a small farm in our southern Ontario, slaughering it, and selling it: individually-owned corporation and cooperative business models
  4. Raising, slaughtering and selling meat from a small, educational farm in southern Ontario that privately owned but managed by a non-profit organization 

This project is large.  It will require community collaboration in various capacities in addition to a lot of thinking outside the box.  But the time has come to realize this dream, and if we pool our resources we can provide the Toronto Jewish community with meat that satisfies all of our standards: religious, nutritional, ethical, and environmental.

*The scope of this project is large, and I am not currently in a position to give all of my time to its realization. If you are interested in getting involved or supporting the project, please contact me at or at home at 416-651-6059.

Yael Greenberg lives in downtown Toronto and loves exploring the intersection between the hearth, the food system and supportive community. She currently works as the manager and baker at Kavanah Caterer, which brings sustainable food to the Toronto Jewish community.