Israel is Gearing up for the Shmita (Sabbatical) Year!

Parshat Behar (Vayikra 25) commands us to observe the Shmita year. We are commanded to let the Land of Israel rest every seventh year. It is a year where all of the produce that is grown is technically “up for grabs” and everyone is considered equal.


This coming year, 5775 (beginning with Rosh HaShana) will be a Shmita year.


Over the past few Shmita cycles, the Shmita year has unfortunately been divisive for many Israelis. Israelis have different options of how to observe the Shmita year, some will only eat produce grown by non Jews or produce that is imported from abroad. Others will only eat produce of the Land of Israel in order to support the Jewish farmers and because the fruits take on a special sense of holiness. Others will eat produce that is grown on Israeli land that was “sold” to non Jews for the year in a manner similar to the way that we sell our chametz.  Because of these different options, many people do not feel comfortable eating in friends homes. This causes a lot of tension and often makes people resent the Shmita year.


However, there is a whole other aspect of the Shmita year that seems to be overlooked, the idea that during the Shmita year all may eat freely (Vayikra 25:6-7) “The produce of the land’s Shabbat year shall be for yourselves for food, for you, your servant and your maidservant for your hired hand and your resident sojourner who reside with you. Also for your domesticated animals and for the wild beasts that are in your land shall all of its produce be for food.”


If we look at the aspect of the Shmita year which teaches that during the Shmita year all should be looked upon as equals, we can learn a very valuable lesson. Instead of focusing on where people shop for their fruits and vegetables (which is a very personal decision) we can work on helping Israelis maintain equality during that year and beyond.


According to the Sfat Emet, the purpose of the Shmita year is to bring about unity and therefore the wealthy as well as the poor have the same obligations during that year.


An organization has been formed in Israel called Shmita Yisraelit which seeks to focus on the social justice aspects of the Shmita year. Efforts are being made to focus on ecology, sustainability, commitments for set volunteer opportunities within the community as well as helping people pay off their debt (another aspect of the Shmita year). Considering that only 2% of Israelis are involved in agriculture as well as the fact that it really isn’t nice to impose our views on where to shop for our produce on the others it make sense to focus on the community service aspects of the Shmita year which can make the year meaningful and inclusive as opposed to dreaded and exclusive.


Looking forward to a meaningful Shmita year in Yerushalyim!