Topic: Shmita


Emerging from an Organizational Shmita

By Nati Passow 11 months ago, I posted a piece on the Jewish Farm School website about how we were choosing to embrace Shmita as an organization.  You can read the entire piece here, but the final paragraph sums up the gist. We are using the Shmita year as an opportunity for fewer programmatic commitments, more organizational reflection, and a focus on building a strong local foundation in Philadelphia.  It is our hope that in this year of rest and renewal, we are feeding the soil that will, in turn, feed thoughtful, inspired, and sustainable organizational growth for the next Shmita cycle. What played out over the following 11 months has proven to be incredibly significant as we enter into a new phase of organizational growth, in line with the beginning of the next Shmita cycle.  Since 2013, we have been making an organizational pivot, turning our focus to our Urban Sustainability Programs in Philadelphia.  We saw the Shmita year as an opportunity to complete this shift, and do so in a way that would create a strong foundation for this next phase of our work. We would not look to grow our programs or our budget, and would instead dedicate time […]

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Shmita, like Shechina, Goes Global: Reflections from a Hammock on This Shmita Year

By Amichai Lau-Lavie A year ago I was laying in a hammock on a Brazilian beach, planning a year’s worth of Shmita study and action that will rebrand this ancient sustainability practice rooted in the Land of Israel for new digital generations all over the world. Hovering between earth and sky provided the perfect setting to what I was designing: An adaptation of the Shmita concept beyond its original halachic, geographical and agricultural settings so that it will prove useful and meaningful to so many more of us. Now that the year is almost up and FallowLab, the project I designed, is starting its descent, it’s time to get back into the hammock and reflect on lessons learned and theories tested. Many creative projects and conversations emerged this year with varying degrees of success at wrestling with Shmita and offering ambitious renditions and new traditions. What sticks for future? Did we live up to the values of Shmita, did this year live up to expectations? Luckily I don’t have to go back to Brazil to find a reflection-friendly hammock. When I got back home last summer I set up a shmita garden in my Manhattan backyard: Stripped the garden of […]

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waskow lulav

From Shmita to Hak’hel: Assembling on October 4

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow In the last several years, many societies and cultures have been stirred by the sense of a great planetary crisis caused by human action to overwork the earth — – the burning of fossil fuels scorching our global ecosystem, the human gobbling up of eco-space bringing on the extinctions of many other species, widespread deforestation weakening the Earth’s ability to absorb the overproduction of CO2, human behavior poisoning rivers and oceans and exhausting many watersheds. For some, these events have stirred two biblical memories and midrash: the identification of corporate “Carbon Pharaohs” that profit from bringing plagues upon the Earth; and for the first time in Jewish history, a serious exploration of how the Torah of the Shmita/ Sabbatical Year of rest for the land might be applied outside the Land of Israel –- indeed, universally. The realization of this powerful biblical way of understanding and addressing our generation’s crisis came soon enough before the Shmita year of CE 2014-2015 to stir rich discussion, but not soon enough to make the year a time of public transformative action — a real Shmita. As our present Shmita dwindles down, what can we do now, to keep our planet livable? Facing this crisis, 380 rabbis from every stream of Judaism have signed the Rabbinic Letter on the […]

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Making Hummus with Shmita Values

By Michael Bomze On a weekly basis, I make hummus – very much at the mercy of area farmers, as I use fresh produce in each batch – and I donate all of the profits to Philadelphia urban farms. Admittedly, I do not think I ever had learned of the concept of Shmita before this year’s Hazon Philadelphia Jewish Food Festival – and I wasn’t initially sure how, in any capacity, I could apply the tradition of the Shmita to my 21st Century-paced life in a very large city. I think I’ve made some sense of it since November’s festival, though, and I offer my thoughts below. Though Shmita, a biblical mandate instructing farmers to let land lay fallow every seventh year, is a seemingly straightforward commandment, its implications are several. For instance, it isn’t Shmita that is the reason I’ve been preserving local produce in hummus, but thoughts and discussions regarding Shmita have helped me affirm what I am doing (and, if nothing else, the notion of Shmita has seemed a valid excuse to calm down my everyday life and to pay particularly close attention to my relationships with family, neighbors, and with nature). Regarding my hummus practices and the Shmita, perhaps the most obvious relationship is how each batch serves as […]

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Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips

Love and Money in the Cycle of Release

By Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips The words of the Shema call for love of God “with all your me’od.” Me’od ordinarily means very-much, and is generally translated in the Shema as strength, might, or power. But ancient rabbis understood this power quite specifically: “Love God with all your money.” Money circulates—often inequitably, but it’s always moving among us. Talmudic rabbis, observing their own generations of changing fortune, declared poverty to be “a wheel that revolves in the world.” Given all the uncertainties of the financial wheel in spin, they called for regular attention to distributive justice: “Just as each small metal scale joins into a great armor-plate, so with tzedakah each and every coin joins into a great heshbon.” The Jewish ethical principle of heshbon (accountability) provides an immediate connection between ecology and economy, spirituality and social change. Every time we open our wallets or check our bank balances, we face choices of heshbon—and heshbon hanefesh ( “soul accounting”) includes personal finance. How are we literally spending each day of our lives? Rooted in the agricultural imperatives of the shmita cycle is a practice of heshbon accessible to all of us. The release of debts in the sabbatical year originally followed six years of regular tithing. No longer a form of […]

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Stop Now! ‘Shmita’ and Climate Change

By Mirele Goldsmith This article originally appeared on December 27, 2014 on the Shma website. Read the original article here. Imagine that you’re a wealthy landowner in ancient Israel. You know the shmita (sabbatical) year is coming and what’s required: You must stop planting and let your land lie fallow for the year. You must forego a year of profit. Not only that: Over the past few years, you have lent money to your poor neighbors and now you must forgive their debts so that your neighbors can also let their lands lie fallow. If they were obligated to pay you back, they would not be able to participate. These laws are good for the fertility of the land and for your neighbor’s livelihood and dignity.  But observing shmita, and putting the community’s needs ahead of your own, requires a sacrifice from you. Would you do it? Fast forward to today: You live in one of the world’s richest countries and you depend on cheap energy extracted from the earth for your livelihood and your lifestyle. In neighboring countries, though, people are poor. They use little energy and they have little money to invest in new infrastructure. Will you try to […]

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Jewish Gifts to Interfaith Climate Change Work

by Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav used to say: “Friends do not despair! When a difficult time has come upon us, joy must fill the air! We must not lose our faith in living, we must not despair. When a difficult time is upon us, joy must fill the air!” When I was a child, singing this song in synagogue gave me great hope. I hear it now as a call to keep joy and hope alive amidst this huge challenge facing humanity. We must not lose our faith in living, we must not despair. Though a difficult time is indeed upon us, joy can fill the air! I want to highlight three major gifts that Judaism brings to the table of interfaith climate change work. Experience with paradigm shifts. The connection between the environment and human actions. The Jewish cycle of time, specifically of the cycle of rest & renewal. Paradigm shifts: When the Second Temple was destroyed by Rome in 70 C.E., the Jewish community suffered cataclysmic violence and the loss of a way of life. In the chaos, a man named Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was smuggled out of burning Jerusalem in a coffin. […]

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Shmita and Interconnection

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat Note: This piece first appeared in the Shalom Center’s Purim to Pesach campaign.  To sign up to receive future mailings, visit the Shalom Center’s site.   Our sages took some pains to ensure a Jewish calendar in which Pesach would always fall in the spring. (They were operating in a northern hemisphere context; I don’t think the challenges of antipodean Judaism ever occurred to them.) In the northern hemisphere, Pesach is inextricably connected with spring. As the earth shakes off the constrictions of winter, her frozen places thawing, so we remember our shaking-off the yoke of slavery to Pharaoh. As plant life and trees are “reborn” into the warming air, we tell the story of our renewal and rebirth out of the constriction of slavery and into freedom. We retell this story in embroidered detail at our seder tables. But we also remind ourselves of it in daily prayer and in the Shabbat kiddush. Shabbat is our time to stop doing and just be: the opposite of the slavery our mythic ancestors experienced then, and the opposite of the internal constriction we may experience now. On the Jewish calendar this is a shmita year, a year […]

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The Taste of Shmita

By Rabbi David Seidenberg “May the Merciful One turn our hearts toward the land, so that we may dwell together with her in her Sabbath-resting, the whole year of the Shmita!” Harachaman hu yashiv libeinu el ha’aretz l’ma’an neishev yachad imah b’shovtah kol sh’nat hash’mitah! It was erev Rosh Hashanah – just before the Shmita year began – when I wrote this prayer to add to Birkat Hamazon (the blessing after meals) during the Shmita or Sabbatical year. I was trying for months to come up with a blessing for the Shmita, but it just wouldn’t come. It works that way for me: I can only feel the quality of a particular holy time or season when that time is upon me. It is a kind of living in the present that can be wonderful, and it can make ritual enormously fun and truly profound, even if it makes meeting deadlines harder. When I wrote this blessing, I also prayed in my heart that these words would not just be beautiful, but that they would actually be something I could experience, this year, in Israel. So when the opportunity came to join a delegation to a Palestinian farm to replant […]

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In the Shmita Year, Lifting the Burden of Pay Day Loans

By Ari Hart The beginning of 2015 is also the halfway point in the year of shmita, the once in seven years when the Bible commands that land be left fallow — a tradition that is followed today in a number of symbolic ways. One of the powerful practices of the shmita year is society coming together to erase oppressive debt, in a practice called shmitaat kessafim — the release of money. In biblical times, those trapped in debt would eventually wind up in chains as slaves. A year of release from debt stops that cycle. Today, 12 million Americans are trapped each year in a cycle of payday loans. These are small loans marketed as a quick, easy way to tide borrowers over until the next payday. However, the typical payday loan borrower is indebted for more than half the year with an average of nine payday loan transactions at annual interest rates of more than 400%. Could you afford a loan at 400% interest? Do you think seniors living on a fixed income could? They can’t. Which is exactly why payday loans are marketed so heavily to them and other vulnerable communities — so that they have to […]

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