When he learned in April that Pope Francis was preparing an encyclical on climate change, Rabbi Arthur Waskow was "really inspired."
Then the white-bearded lion of progressive Judaism asked himself, "What next?"
For more than three decades, Waskow, 82, has devoted himself and his Shalom Center in East Mount Airy to peace, civil rights, and the environment. That the leader of the Roman Catholic Church would speak out on what Waskow calls "global scorching" deserved, he decided, "a response from the Jewish community."
"We were once a people of shepherds and farmers," he explained last week. "Being close to the earth is still in our DNA."
What emerged was a unique, interdenominational "rabbinic letter" on global warming, coauthored by Waskow and six other rabbis, and already signed by 330 more.
The Shalom Center is formally releasing the letter to time with Francis' encyclical, "Laudato Si: On the Care of Our Common Home," which the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice is expected to release Thursday in Rome.
Titled "A Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis," the 41/2-page document is addressed "To all the Jewish People, to all the Communities of Spirit, and to the World."
"Our ancient earthy wisdom taught that social justice, sustainable abundance, a healthy Earth, and spiritual fulfillment are inseparable," it declares. "We call on the Jewish people to meet God's challenge once again."
It begins by invoking Psalm 148, Deuteronomy 15, and Leviticus 16, observing that "the Torah warns us that if we refuse to let the Earth rest, it will 'rest' anyway, despite us and upon us - through drought and famine and exile that turn an entire people into refugees."
Later it trades its lyrical tone for an unabashedly liberal, pugnacious voice.
"Great Carbon Corporations not only make their enormous profits from wounding the Earth," it declares, "but then use these profits to purchase elections and to fund fake science to prevent the public from acting to heal the wounds."
It then speaks to what is also expected to be a major thrust of Francis' encyclical. "The poor . . . around the globe are the first and the worst to suffer," it says, "from the typhoons, floods, droughts, and diseases brought on by climate change."
After identifying modern threats to the environment - fracking, coal burning, tar sands extraction, and offshore oil drilling - the letter offers some prescriptions: greater reliance on wind and solar power, imposing "carbon fees," and relocating investments from enterprises that rely on "deadly carbon burning."
"We call for a new sense of eco-social justice," it declares, and invokes the great Jewish ethic of tikkun olam, Hebrew for "heal the world" to include the notion of tikkun tevel, or "heal the planet."
Waskow said he was not at all certain there is any precedent for an interdenominational "rabbinic letter."
Its signers include Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and a few Orthodox rabbis from across the United States, and some from Canada.