Shmita Texts and Resources

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The year of Shmita…promotes a sense of fellowship and peace through the suspension of cultivation, even for the needy of your people, for one is not allowed to exercise over any of the seventh year produce the right of private ownership. And this is undoubtedly a primary factor in promoting peace since most dissension originates from the attitudes of ‘mine is mine,’ one person claiming, ‘it is all mine’ and the other also claiming ‘it is all mine.’ But in the seventh year all are equal, and this is the real essence of peace. ~Kli Yakar, 17th Century


“The Shmita year teaches us further that the rich should not lord it over the poor. Accordingly, the Torah ordained that all should be equal during the seventh year, both the rich and the needy having access to the gardens and fields to eat their fill.” ~Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer ~Sefer Habrit, Behar, 19th Century


“Exile comes to the world for idol-worship, sexual promiscuity, murder and the failure to leave the land fallow on the sabbatical year.” ~Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), 5:9


“Life can only be perfected through the affording of a breathing space from the bustle of everyday life. The individual shakes himself free from ordinary weekday life at short and regular intervals-on every Sabbath…What the Sabbath achieves regarding the individual, the Shmita achieves with regard to the nation as a whole. A year of solemn rest is essential for both the nation and the land, a year of peace and quiet without oppressor and tyrant…It is a year of equality and rest, in which the soul reaches out towards divine justice, towards God who sustains the living creatures with loving kindness. There is no private property and no punctilious privilege but the peace of God reigns over all in which there is the breath of life. Sanctity is not profaned by the exercise of private acquisitiveness over all this year’s produce, and the covetousness of wealth stirred up by commerce is forgotten. For food – but not for commerce.” ~Rav Kook, Shabbat Ha’aretz


“The Bible is certainly full of social protest and animosity to the social order which enables the rich to live in comfort through the suffering of the poor. But socialism is not only a protest; socialism is a concrete plan to solve the problem of social inequality—and this plan is of a kind decidedly not contemplated by the Bible. On the other hand, the Bible does contain a concrete plan for social revolution…The Biblical remedy for social ills is called “the jubilee year”; it is discussed in Chapter 25 of Leviticus, the Third Book of Moses. Its basic difference with respect to socialism is the difference between a preventive and a curative method. The main difference between the biblical revolution and socialist revolutions is that the latter are supposed to occur once and for all, while the jubilee revolution should occur at regular intervals. According to plans based on the socialist ideal, a just distribution of land (and measures of social justice in general) will be set one day and admit no further changes. According to the Biblical plan, economic life will preserve after the jubilee full liberty for further changes. People will continue to make projects, to scheme, to struggle and compete; some will become rich, some will become poor; life will keep the character of an arena in which it is possible to lose or win, show initiative and fail or succeed. The concept of repeated economic upheavals is an attempt to correct the ills of economic liberalism, not to forestall them. Quite on the contrary, this concept is clearly based on the conviction that free economic competition is one of the most powerful motivations in life. Let people struggle, lose and win. It is only necessary to cushion the arena with soft grass, so that whoever falls will not be too painfully injured. This cushion is the Sabbath, the gleanings, the tithe, all the various means by which the State takes pains to prevent use from turning into exploitation, and poverty from becoming destitution. ~The Jubilee, by Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, 1930


During Shmita, property assumes less importance, time is less pressured, and nature becomes much more than a resource to be exploited. Shmita presents an alternative to the race of modern life and is characterized by love of the people and Land, a heightened sense of social responsibility, and a framework for environmental practice. Shmita invites us to renew quality of life in all spheres of reality, through a unique public effort. It is a year of social involvement, spiritual and ethical renewal, and deep environmental reflection; It is a year of brotherhood and sisterhood, culture, spirit, family, and community. It is a gateway in time – once in seven years, a renewal of the covenant between humans and the earth.It is a year that leaves a distinct impression on the subsequent six years. ~Shmita Israelite Declaration, signed by lawmakers and activists at the Israeli Knesset, September 2014


“What are the most effective ways for the Jewish community, especially in the coming Shmita year,  to draw on its ancient commitment to make a peaceful relationship between adamah and adam  —  Earth and Human earthling?

I believe that one of the most effective is to draw in new activist ways on the authentic wisdom and teaching of the spiral of the yearly festivals.” — Earth and the Jewish Festivals: In and Beyond the Shmita Year By Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 2021