Organized recycling is a development of the modern world, and from the current understanding of the concept, is not discussed in the Talmud. After all, in the era when the sages were compiling the Oral Law, most people lived in an agrarian society that naturally reused many of its own byproducts.
Upon further exploration, however, the Talmud reveals a religious version of recycling.
When Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi happened to get hold of a loaf of bread that had been used for an eiruv (perimeter creating a private area in which one would be allowed to carry on Shabbat), they used to say over it the blessing, ‘who brings forth bread from the earth,’ saying, since one religious duty has been performed with it, let us perform with it still another (Berachot 39b).
To this end, many customs have developed in which items that have been used for a holy purpose are reused for other “elevated” purposes. For instance:
1) The etrog (citron), one of the four species of Sukkot, is used by many to produce post-holiday delicacies such as etrog jam. Others use the citron fruit for besamim (spices for havdallah after Shabbat), often sticking cloves into the rind to enhance the scent.
2) The lulav (the palm branch of the four species of Sukkot) is set aside to dry. The dried lulav is then used as tinder to start the fire in which chametz (leaven) is burned before Passover.
3) After Passover, when no one has any desire to eat more matzah, the left over matzah is set aside to be eaten on Pesach Shaynee.
4) Every Shabbat, the mot’zee blessing over the challahs serves as a means of sanctifying the day. Left over challah is often used to feed the birds or to make bread crumbs.
This Treat was last posted on April 24, 2012.
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