Torah For Today: COP26

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Torah For Today: COP26

Rabbi Garry Wayland takes a topical issue and looks at an Orthodox response. This week, following a major international summit in Glasgow, he looks at the climate crisis

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) greets Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow. Picture date: Monday November 1, 2021.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) greets Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow. Picture date: Monday November 1, 2021.

International gatherings to save the world are not new. Many years ago, a group of brave – perhaps brazen – leaders, emboldened by a charismatic and potentially dangerous leader, met.

They feared they were facing another global catastrophe – a flood, perhaps, similar to the one that destroyed their ancestors. After all, their astronomical and astrological calculations suggested such an event was indeed on the cards.

Thus the builders of the Tower of Babel gathered with their plan to save themselves. “Come, let us build a city and a tower, with its head in heaven, let us make a name for ourselves lest we be scattered across the face of the earth.”

We know what became of their plans. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pointed out that this short, enigmatic passage is full of cutting irony, their best-laid plans lain to waste: God “descended from heaven”, instead of them reaching heaven; their unity was met with dispersion, their common tongue with confusion.

What makes this story particularly compelling is that, despite seemingly positive intentions and common cause, festering under the surface were ulterior motives: power plays, hubris and a desire to break free of God.

The world leaders at COP26 perhaps stand at a similar juncture to those gathering before the Tower of Babel.

A sense of impending catastrophe, a chance – perhaps – to make a difference. Gatherings of this scale can be immensely powerful: They are an opportunity to bring together the very best wisdom and resources humanity has to offer; the holiness in such occasions is reflected in blessings upon seeing a monarch (potentially a president!) and, if it ever arises, 600,000 Jews together (perhaps some of the mass funerals of leadings rabbis in Israel in recent years come close).

But this is on condition that the gatherings are “for the sake of heaven” (Pirkei Avot): not for having our heads in heaven, or for making a name, but for the good of all dwellers on earth.

  •   Rabbi Garry Wayland is a teacher and educator for US Living and Learning

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: