Shmita Within Society

Nikki Skuratovsky

About Nikki Skuratovsky

Hello, my name is Nikki Skuratovsky and I live in Wellesley, Massachusetts. I live with my mom, my dad, my brother Michael, and my dog Ruby. I am a freshman at Gann Academy, a Jewish high school in Waltham, Massachusetts. Attending Gann has made me feel much more connected to the greater Jewish community, and has expanded my knowledge greatly on the fundamentals of Jewish learning. Outside of school, one of my favorite things to do is dance. I have been doing competitive dance for 8 years including styles of jazz, contemporary, lyrical, ballet, and hip hop. Another one of my hobbies is skateboarding which I have taken up during quarantine. I also enjoy baking, playing tennis, and hanging out with friends. During school I enjoy anything that involves writing, specifically persuasive and creative writing!

About Shmita Within Society

The main purpose of this essay is to bring attention to how integrating elements of Shmita in modern society could greatly benefit humanity. Bringing recognition to the small, realistic changes that we can all strive to incorporate in our daily lives to improve economic and food systems. By modernizing the fundamentals of Shmita to accommodate society in today’s age, we can better ourselves as individuals as well as our community.

Shmita is an observance that allows for a year of rest once every seven years. The literal translation of Shmita to English means “release”, allowing for all debts to be released on the shabbat year. Observing Shmita as a collective community in turn greatly benefits many aspects within the economic and food systems in the US. These benefits include ecological restoration using perennial plants instead of annuals, which are not permitted during the Shmita year. In addition to learning how to prosper with less, decreasing America’s worsening issue regarding overconsumption. What is permitted during Shmita in the Torah can be used against the rising epidemic of today’s modern methods.

Most of the food we consume are annual crops, meaning crops that must be tended to annually. However the food we consume is beginning to surface a much larger issue for the environment as annual crop farming is rising. In order to grow agriculture, forests are forced to be cut down. In recent years, more and more forests are being cut down and expanded to fulfil the modern needs. According to the Impact of Annual Crop Farming in the Shmita Sourcebook, not only is deforestation a major consequence of overconsumption of annual crops, but also annuals are detrimental to the soil. Farmers must plow deep furrows into the earth to plant seeds. Another option would be to rely on erosion lessening no-till planting methods, like an arsenal of chemicals. However, non-profit organizations like the Land Institute, are using perennial plants to restore ecological stability. “For 30 years, the institute has been experimenting with breeding new varieties of perennial grains and legumes, in an effort to restore the diversity and ecological stability of the perennial prairie, while keeping yields comparable to the production levels of annual crops… “They have made progress with developing new perennial varieties of wheat, sunflowers, and sorghum.” This excerpt from the text explains how to use different methods of restoration, such as breeding annual grains with related perennial plants. This aligns with the observance of Shmita because it would mean prohibiting tilling and sowing which would not allow for the growing and harvesting of annual plants. This in turn reduces annual food production, minimizing the negative effects associated with it.

In an overconsumption environment, not only forests suffer due to high demand for annual plants. In fact, according to Overconsumption in the Shmita Sourcebook, “In 2008, people around the world used 68 billion tons of materials, including metals and minerals, fossil fuels, and biomass. That is an average of 10 tons per person- or 27 kilograms each and every day. That same year, humanity used the biocapacity of 1.5 planets, consuming far beyond what the Earth can sustainably provide.” Alarmingly, overconsumption is rapidly increasing to dangerous levels. US consumption is a significant contributor as the average North American in 2008 used 27.5 tons, eight times as much as the average Southeast Asian. Companies using advertising influence American consumption to greater levels than their true needs. According to Advertising Age, which is a company that researches the advertising industry, by the mid 1990s the average American adult was exposed to a shocking 3,000 ads per day. Advertising is geared to increase sales and thus rewards more consumption, often to excess. Social media is also a large contributor to overconsumption. Companies use social media’s influencers to convince consumers that they have a need for their products in order to thrive in society, often feeding off of consumers’ insecurities stemming from social media. Also included in Overconsumption in the Shmita Sourcebook, one of the main principles of Shmita is to allow for rest. This covers the rest of the economy of production and consumption. During Shmita these luxuries would not be available, forcing humanity to learn how to thrive with less, instilling feelings of gratefulness for having only what is truly needed. Using Shmita fundamentals, learning how to differentiate needs vs. wants will be crucial. For example, instead of indulging in fast fashion from exploitative companies exploiting workers in inhumane conditions, shopping from thrift stores will contribute to the decrease of overconsumption. This will lead to a decrease in demand for products from harmful companies. Eventually, humanity’s ability to flourish with less will improve while also improving the economic system within the US. 

Learning and incorporating the foundations within Shmita can greatly benefit humanity by improving economic and food systems. However in addition, an important aspect to acknowledge is how humanity could also advance as individuals. Overconsumption is a worsening issue within the US, systematically in both food and the economy. Relatively speaking, overconsumption reflects on society as individuals. The need to constantly buy unneeded products or always choose the easiest option is a problem that humanity must strive to change. Including the observance of Shmita once every 7 years will potentially eliminate humantity’s selfish and unnecessary needs, replenishing the mind and soul in order to embrace simplicity in life.