Shabbat Ha’aretz

Rav Kook's Introduction to Shabbat Ha'Aretz is the first-ever English translation of the introduction to a book on shmita (Biblical sabbatical year) by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the land of Israel in the 20th century. His essay, written in 1909, is lyrical and mystical, a meditation on the big themes that underlie religious environmentalism.

We are proud to share Hazon’s publication of Rav Kook’s Introduction to Shabbat Ha’Aretz, translated by Rabbi Julian Sinclair. This is the first-ever English translation of the introduction to Rav Kook’s book on shmita (Biblical sabbatical year). Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the land of Israel in the 20th century. His essay, written in 1909, is lyrical and mystical, a meditation on the big themes that underlie religious environmentalism.

Rav Kook wrote a century ago that “the old will be made new, and the new made holy.” Our goal for this book is, in similar vein, to make Jewish spiritual approaches to caring for the planet more accessible to English-reading environmentalists — and open up environmental thinking to traditional religious audiences who may not have woken up to it before now. Introduction to Shabbat Ha’aretz offers a Jewish spiritual approach to the moral life of our physical world – and a lens to see our care for creation in terms deeply grounded in Torah and Jewish thought.

What can shmita – the biblical sabbatical year and the agricultural cycle of which it is a key part – mean for the modern world? Rav Kook advocated for new halakhic approaches to shmita in the context of the Zionist agricultural revival in this 1909 essay which prefaces his book Shabbat Ha’aretz (Sabbath of the Land). His essay is a classic of authentic religious environmentalism, a meditation on the relationship between ancient legal structures and the deep spiritual life that they embody.

This beautiful new setting of the Hebrew text, accompanied by Rabbi Julian Sinclair’s new translation and notes, makes the complexity of Rav Kook’s language and thought accessible to English readers for the first time. It is accompanied by Rabbi Sinclair’s own introductions to the traditional conception of the sabbatical cycle; to Rav Kook’s life, mystical thought, and relationship to the modern return to Jewish agriculture; and to the ways Jewish tradition can speak to issues of land use, social justice, and climate-change activism in the twenty-first century.

Hazon’s motto is “the Torah is a commentary on the world, and the world is a commentary on the Torah,” which reflects our determination to apply Jewish thought to some of the greatest challenges of our time – and our belief that the act of doing so is good not only for the world but also for the renewal of Jewish life itself. Our publication of this book and our work on Shmita reflect of our efforts to strive toward these goals.