The Jewish values of appreciating clean water in St. Louis


Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

How often do you think about the water you’re drinking in St. Louis? How often do you think about that same water from a Jewish perspective?  The truth is probably not that much, considering St. Louis has always rated very high in various clean water studies.

But having clean water is an ongoing battle and as we learn from the Torah, it’s an important one.

Appreciating a limited resource

Just imagine our people wandering in a desert, and how important water was to that collective experience. Uncertainty about water resources inspired fear and anxiety for the wandering Jews.

“The Talmud teaches that in the merit of Miriam’s song, a well appeared in the desert which accompanied the Jews wherever they went (Tractate Ta’anit 9a),” wrote Rabbi Yonatan Neril. “G-d gave us this essential resource, without which we could not live for more than a few days, in the water-scarce desert. But in the desert, the long-term security of the resource was never certain.”

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

The experiences of the early Jewish people and water described in the Bible point to the lesson of not taking water for granted.

“The Prophet Jeremiah refers to God as the ‘Source of Living Waters,’ since water is one of the chief means by which G-d provides life to people (Jeremiah 2:12, 17:13),” wrote Rabbi Yonatan Neril. “Thus, at the end of the Jews’ desert experience, they sang an exultant song about their appreciation to G-d for water (Numbers 21:17).

In his 2005 essay, “Forgotten Language of Rain,” Dr. Jeremy Benstein notes that Biblical Hebrew contains at least six different words to describe liquid precipitation (geshem, matar, yoreh, malkosh, revivim, se’irim), which denote different times and intensities of rainfall.

Just turn on the faucet


The recent fiasco in Flint, Mich. showed us clearly, how volatile simply having clean water can be. But it appears St. Louis is making some good moves to ensure our water is safe.

New research findings throughout the country reveal a catastrophic, pervasive picture of emerging contaminants in our environment and our bodies. Early testing conducted by Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper confirms the presence of emerging contaminants in tap water and Missouri’s waterways — the source of most local drinking water.

The battle for clean water continues 

This week, the Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper announced that it received a $584,000 Opportunity Fund grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health. The 36-month grant will support a community-led research project to sample and test water quality throughout St. Louis City and County and understand the prevalence of emerging contaminants.

There are four key phases for this new project:

  • Phase 1: Collect and analyze tap water samples from randomly selected households identified through grassroots outreach.
  • Phase 2: Test for inequities in water systems by collecting samples of targeted source water near water treatment plants throughout the north St. Louis region and collect samples of surface water near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and certain tributaries.
  • Phase 3: Produce a report including university-led analysis of collected samples.
  • Phase 4: Amplify research findings via strategic communications campaign targeting local, state and federal policymakers.

“Water is essential to life. And clean water is vital for healthy people and communities,” said Rachel Bartels, director of Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper. “We are excited for the opportunity to collaborate with the Missouri Foundation for Health as changemakers to advance environmental justice and equitable investments in clean water infrastructure. This funding will serve as a catalyst for our organization’s mission to protect fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for all Missourians.”

For modern use of water to continue in the long-term, we will have to develop a deeper water awareness.

“That is where the teachings of our 3,000-year-old tradition come in,” writes Neril. “These teachings can help us cultivate an appreciation for water and inspire us every day to value and protect our resources — and everything we use.”

You can learn more about Rabbi Yonatan Neril’s work by visiting