ISRAEL: End of Shmita year
This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.
Next week, the Jewish year is coming to an end.
5768 has been a Shmita year, a special sabbatical observed every seventh year, during which land owned by Jews in the Land of Israel is left to lie fallow, its fruit forbidden, and most agricultural activities are forbidden. In modern times, most fresh produce in Israel is either grown in the sixth year, or grown outside the biblical geographic boundaries of the Land of Israel, or on lands owned by non-Jews- permanently, or temporarily.
Another lesser-known component of Shmita (literally ‘to release’, or ‘drop’) applies to all Jews, not only those living in Israel. ‘At the end of every seven years...every creditor shall release that which he has lent to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed’ (Deuteronomy 15:1-2). In short, a debt amnesty; any private loans left outstanding at the end of the sabbatical year are considered forgiven.
A noble idea, but its practice was problematic already then. The poor would not repay their debts, the rich would become uncharitable, the poor would become poorer. Hillel the Elder, a great, lenient and liberal first century sage, devised an idea that would keep the economy intact and introduced the Prozbul, a mechanism by which private debts would be signed over to a court, rendering them public and thus collectible. For the past weeks, many religious people have been scrambling to sign such contracts before Monday.
This year, an organization is offering a fresh approach to the debt amnesty, combining the letter of the law with its original charitable spirit. The Israeli Fund for Loan Amnesty, founded by the Torah and Land Institute and Paamonim, is inviting the public to deposit money as a loan that will be forgiven and donated to helping needy families repay their own debts and enroll in financial counseling. Uriel Lederberg, chairman of Paamonim, explained to Haaretz that the idea is ‘to give people a chance to start over without constant charity.’
After the holiday and the beginning of the new year, religious farmers can once again tend their fields and citizens can get their gardens under control.
And the country’s public road maintenance authorities can also resume business as normal.
Rabbi Eliav Meir, rabbi of the Modiin region, had been following work on a traffic circle at the entrance to the community of Shoham. Earlier this month, with only a few weeks to the end of Shmita, he saw heavy machinery preparing the site for the planting of trees, prohibited during Shmita. After talking with the minister in charge didn’t stop the work, Rabbi Meir practiced what he preaches: he sat himself down in the pits dug for the palm trees and refused to come out. B’hadrei Haredim, a Hebrew Web portal for the religious public, reported that member of parliament Uri Maklev was called to the scene and negotiated a ministerial instruction to postpone the work until after Shmita, to everyone’s satisfaction.
-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.
Top: ‘Shmita observed here’ sign posted in an untended field. Batsheva Sobelman/Los Angeles Times.
Middle: Rabbi Eliav Meir, sitting where the palm trees were to be planted. Courtesy of B’hadrei Haredim
Bottom: Member of Knesset Uri Maklev with Rabbi Eliav Meir. Courtesy of B’hadrei Haredim, bhol.co.il
P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for ‘L.A. Times updates,’ and then clicking on the ‘World: Mideast’ box.