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    Destroying or dumping – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. I know there is a prohibition of bal tash’chit (wastefully destroying things). I am moving house and I want to discard or dump some things I no longer need. Is this allowed?

    A. The command about not destroying comes in D’varim (20:19). This is the negative side of the principle of ecology, the positive side being the command to tend and protect the earth (Gen. 2:15).

    Many references to not destroying deal with trees and vegetation. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov says, “If a person kills a tree before its time, it is like murdering a soul”.

    Maimonides applies “Do not destroy” to many wider examples: “Not only one who cuts down (fruit-producing) trees but also a person who smashes household goods, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or wantonly destroys food, transgresses the command of ‘Do not destroy’” (Hil’chot M’lachim 6).

    There are of course situations in which destruction has a constructive purpose, being negative in order to be positive. But simply destroying stuff to get it out of the way is problematical and you would do better ethically to look for new homes for things you don’t want.

    How about dumping? The Torah (Deut. 23:13-14) says that refuse should be moved “outside the camp”, which seems to support putting things in a dump. However, the development of the halachah on this rule warns against establishing a dump or placing things there which would affect the environment or harm human life.

    There is a further question: if the items you dump are still usable you should – as suggested above in relation to destroying things – try and find them new homes.

    Unfortunately one of the modern problems is electronic items which are now outmoded, but before abandoning or destroying them you should check whether a charity can do something with them.

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