Shmita in Action: Israel

This is one article in a seven-part series, recapping a shmita study group, sponsored by Hazon and Kevah. You can find other posts in the series on the shmita blog.

Certification for Use During Shmita Shmita (the sabbatical year), on the theoretical level, is a radical movement towards social equality, awareness of land ownership, understanding of good agricultural practices, and a major reconsideration of a monetary system.
Sounds like an interesting thought-experiment, right?
Well, Shmita is also a real-life system that is currently implemented in Israel, the only place where following the laws of Shmita are traditionally required.  The various systems in place in Israel right now are quite complex.  There are essentially four options to choose from when a farmer is deciding in what capacity he will follow the laws of Shmita:

  1. Continue life as normal
  2. Use the rabbinical tool of Heter Mechira
  3. Use the rabbinical tool of Otzar Beit Din
  4. Import food from outside of Biblical Israel

For someone just trying to buy food, this could get quite confusing.  Do I follow the laws of Shmita? Do I trust the Heter Mechira certification? Should I just be extremely safe and buy only imported food (despite the harm to the Israeli economy).  Why so many options? Why can’t we just follow Shmita the way the Torah explains it?

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The Sabbatical Debt Release

By Yigal Deutscher


In the third and final mention of Shmita in the Torah, the concept of Shmita expands to directly influence economic and monetary systems. Until now (sources in Shemot & Vayikra), Shmita texts have been specifically in reference to land, agricultural practices, and annual harvests. Here, with the text of Devarim, the picture and implications of the Shmita Year is complete: Along with the practices of leaving land fallow, opening private lands as commons, collectively sharing the harvest, we are also to synonymously forgive debts. Once the Seventh Year arrives, all loans which are outstanding are released and all debts are cancelled. Here are some thoughts to consider regarding this practice (see the full text here):

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Practical Applications of Shmita Year Laws

Here at Hazon, we’ve had the privilege of studying Shmita together over the last few months. As a group, we have begun to understand the Shmita cycle through two different frames:

  1. A sabbatical for the land and a response to agricultural practices that may have been unsustainable.
  2. A sabbatical for people and a way to create a more just and equitable society.

It is through these lenses that we began to look at some of the applications of Shmita in halacha (Jewish law).
One interesting tidbit that we learned was how you are able to use produce that happens to grow during the Shmita year. Maimonidies’ Mishne Torah (a compendium of Halacha) outlines that food which grows during the Shmita year should be treated the same way that we treat teruma (produce that has been tithed as an offering for use in the Temple). “He should not change the natural function of the produce as he does not with regard to teruma… something that is normally eaten raw should not be eaten cooked. Something that is normally eaten cooked should not be eaten raw” (Mishneh Torah, Chapter 6). In other words, you should use Shmita year produce as you normally would, and not for extraneous purposes. (more…)

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