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Imagining a Different Israel in the Shmita (Sabbatical) Year

Ruth Calderon, a member of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), has a great idea for next year. No fishing will be allowed in the Sea of Galilee in order to allow the fish to recover from years of over-exploitation. Why next year? Because 5775, which begins this coming Rosh Hashanah, is a Shmita (Sabbatical) Year.

Ruth’s idea for the Sea of Galilee is a contemporary application of the biblical instructions for Shmita. The basics of Shmita are straightforward: Those fortunate enough to control the use of resources are commanded to let the land lie fallow and release all debts. These commandments embody a profound truth, that unceasing work degrades both land and people. This degradation will eventually lead to oppression and inequality. The Shmita Year puts a brake on this process every 7 years, calling on us to invest in the sustainability of ourselves, our communities, and our society.

I heard about Ruth’s proposal at the Siach Shmita Summit, a gathering of social justice and environmental activists from Israel, Europe, and the US, that took place just before Passover. All of the participants are finding ways to renew and reimagine the Shmita tradition. I came back from the Summit with these inspiring ideas from our colleagues reimagining the Israeli Shmita:

The government of Israel will eliminate entrance fees at 15 national parks, reflecting the Torah’s commandment to restore the commons during Shmita by removing fences.

People burdened by debt will participate in financial literacy classes. At the end of the Shmita Year, Paamonim will pay off their loans, granting them a fresh start.

Employees of high-tech firms in Jerusalem will participate in a weekly course to explore the scientific advances of the past 6 years.

The course is being organized by Yossi Tsuria.

The Marker, a business magazine, will publish a regular column about the economic implications of Shmita.

The Knesset discussed plans for Shmita in January, and the Minister of Education agreed that all children will learn about Shmita in school.

In a previous JGF Update I wrote about what JGF organizations are already doing for Shmita right here in New York. After meeting the Israelis at the Siach Shmita Summit, we have so many more ideas!

Shmita is addressed in Parshat Behar, which is read on May 10, 2014. This is a great time to start a discussion in your community about how your Shmita Year will be different from all other years.

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