Shmita the seventh year – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on August 29, 2021

This Rosh Hashanah, marking the beginning of the Jewish year 5782, will have a special significance. It will be a shmita (sabbatical) year a seventh year, a sabbatical year of rest for the soil.

Shmita literally means renunciation. We renounce the right to work the land, and let it lie fallow. The seventh year shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, (Lev. 25:4) and we renounce our right to collect debts. At the end of every seven years, thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release that which he lent unto his neighbor. (Deut. 15: 1-2)

Seven has always had mystical connotations in Judaism.

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The most beloved generation was the seventh that of Hanoch And Hanoch walked with God.

The most beloved of the Fathers, was the seventh Moses And Moses went up to God.

The seventh son was the dearest: David was the seventh son of Yishai.

The seventh day was chosen above all others to be the Sabbath.

Until the destruction of the First Temple, every seven shmita years, a Jubilee year was sanctified.

Although the laws of the sabbatical remittance of debts apply to Jews everywhere, the obligation to let the land lie fallow is limited to the boundaries of Israel as these laws begin only when ye come into the Land which I shall give you (Lev. 25:2).

After wandering for 40 years through the barren desert, Moses gathered the Israelites at arvei Moav the plains of Moav and gave them a detailed law about the soil. For as soon as they entered the Land of Israel, they were to become people of the land with their whole lives bound up in agriculture.

For many generations (until the system of crop rotation was devised at the beginning of the 20th century), both Jews and gentiles saw the logic of letting the land periodically rest and even unwittingly followed the law of the Torah in agriculture.

There are many reasons for the shmita year. It teaches mankind that the earth does not belong to them, but only to God. It also teaches man to have confidence in God, for even though he rests from his work for a year, the Lord will invoke a blessing for him. Another reason is that once every seven years, man is freed just to study Torah, for he is not preoccupied with working the land.

During the Second Temple period, the Jews rigidly adhered to shmita in the Land. During the Hasmonean War, the fall of Beth Zur was attributed to a famine in the city since it was a Sabbatical year. Julius Caesar exempted the Jews from taxation in a shmita year since they neither take fruit from the trees, nor do they sow.

After the abortive Bar-Kochba revolt, however, the Jews were again compelled to pay taxes, causing grave hardship, which in turn convinced the rabbis to relax many prohibitions. In modern times, the problem of shmita in Israel, with its unbearably heavy economic load, became too much for the young state to bear.

Learned rabbis, like the late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, agreed to the use of a heter (special dispensation) to sell the land to non-Jews during the Sabbatical year, to permit the land to be worked.

In recent years, there have also been perfected other methods of using a heter, such as early sowing of vegetables before the new year (relying on the view of Rabbi Shimeon of Sens) and the growing of crops by hydroponics or soil-less systems.

The Israeli botanist Meir Schwartz was the founder of the first fully automatic hydroponic farm at the Agudat Israel kibbutz Hafetz Chaim. There are now other hydroponic farms at Ein Gedi and Eilat which use water culture. And the prevailing medium used is gravel.

How does the shmita year affect the Orthodox Israeli consumer? Throughout the year, there are regularly published ads in newspapers, lists of shops from whom it is permissible to buy fruits and vegetables and there are chains of shops that market only Arab or imported produce.

Some Jews buy their fruit and vegetables in the Arab market in east Jerusalem, or in the past, they traveled to Arab cities where they were sure that the produce was not grown on Jewish soil, but that can be dangerous in these times.

There is also the option to subscribe to an organization, Otzar Haaretz, where you pay just for labor and maintenance (ukmei) as opposed to acts to enhance the produce. This is based on the following principles: supporting Jewish, Israeli agriculture, cultivating fields in a halachically permissible manner and bringing produce with kedushat sheviit to private consumers.

And six years you shall sow your land, and you shall gather in its produce. And the seventh year ye shall release it from work and abandon it, and the poor among your people eat. And what they leave, the beast of the field shall eat. So you shall deal with your vineyard and your olive grove.

Although different dispensations have been permitted in recent years to make it less difficult, they are really emergency measures as implied by Rabbi Kook in the introduction to his work on the shmita, Shabbat HaAretz (Sabbath of the Land), where he wrote: We today are charged with preserving the memory of the commandment until the time is ripe for it to be carried out with all its minutiae.

The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah.

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Shmita the seventh year - The Jerusalem Post

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