By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Svivah is the Modern Hebrew for environment. Aichut Hasvivah, environmental quality, is the name of the government ministry that tries feebly to protect the svivah. It comes from the word savav, to go around or turn.

Interestingly, this is exactly the same verbal picture that underlies environment, which also means what surrounds us, from the French word viron, meaning circuit.

Although environment in its current sense is a 20th-century coinage, svivah is already used to mean a neighbourhood in the Midrash (Numbers Rabbah, 18.) In Maimonidess Aristotelian cosmology, the msavev is the cause that makes the heavenly spheres rotate continuously.

Increasingly, we see that the words svivah and environment do not quite evoke the right mental pictures. In fact, the words themselves are part of our environmental problems. The natural environment is not something that surrounds us from which we stand apart, but is inextricably bound up with our existence, sustenance and survival. Wanted: a new Hebrew word for the environment!

Last updated: 12:32pm, March 6 2009