Topic: Shmita

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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Shmita Reflections on the Origins of Teva

By Amy Meltzer I’m no farmer. The amount of produce harvested from everything I’ve ever planted would surely not top ten pounds. The impact of adapting the agricultural principles of shmita to my life in Northampton would be fairly insignificant. But like all educators, I have planted scores of metaphorical seeds. Of all those seeds, nothing has produced as bountiful a harvest as those that were planted at Isabella Freedman in the Fall of 1994, the very first season of Teva. A quick summary, before I wax metaphorical. In 1993, after two years of teaching at Nature’s Classroom, I sat in my mother’s office and wrote a letter describing my dream of a residential environmental-education program for Jewish day schools. I made a few dozen copies and mailed them to every winterized, kosher camping facility within three hours of NYC. (Ah, the hubris of youth!) Eric Robbins, then director of Isabella Freedman, called me into his office. “I love the idea,” he said. “Let’s give it a try.” I created a “brochure”, which was inadvertently printed with the back cover on the inside, and a mailing, which I hand-addressed to almost every Jewish Day school in the Northeast. We received exactly […]

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The Earth Belongs to Whom?

By Deirdre Gabbay As we move through liturgical time, we are called upon to embody the various mindsets that Torah wishes specifically to cultivate. During Pesach we meditate on the meaning of slavery and freedom, and in particular on freedom as being a fundamental embodiment of Divine intention for us, as intrinsic as life itself. I believe that as we move through the liturgical period of Shmita, we are called upon to embody an awareness of the earth as belonging to God, and to reflect and elaborate upon the implications that arise from this particular axiom of faith. In Parashat B’hukotai, God reveals with utter transparency the purpose of the earth. We learn that the earth itself will bring forth the reward for building the society envisioned in Torah, by means of its rains, its soil, its vegetation. A hospitable climate leads to productive landscapes. Sufficiency and contentment allow us to be numerous and healthy, at peace internally, and so strong that our neighbors do not threaten us. As a result we find ourselves in possession of the inner and outer peace that we are told is the highest blessing that God wishes to confer on us, and for which […]

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Life Lessons Learned from the Shmita Year

by Akiva Gersh It’s fair to say that Shmita inspired me to become religious.  After learning about it and other environmentally-related laws and values of the Torah towards the end of my college years, my perception of Judaism was radically and forever changed.  The lifeless and irrelevant form of the Jewish tradition I inherited in my youth was being replaced by one that was proving to be vibrant, meaningful, and very, very relevant.  As a spiritual seeker and social activist, Judaism had what to say about many of the things I was passionate about and cared for.  Especially when it came to the Earth. Fast-forward twenty years and my home has transported across the world to the land of Israel where ancient Jewish environmental and agricultural laws have once again become part of the national consciousness of the Jewish people back in their land.  Laws that technically only apply to this very small patch of our planet’s surface are being practiced by millions, affecting the way they grow, purchase and eat food.  And now for the second time in the ten years since I’ve moved to this land, I am taking part in the unique opportunity and challenge that is […]

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The Old Made New and the New Made Holy

The digital countdown clock at Isabella Freedman now reads that we’re under 35 days until Shmita. It’s hard to imagine how quickly time has raced since the clock read nearly 400 days at the time we installed it. And yet it’s hard to be anxious when what we’re racing towards is a year of release and renewal. Over those days between 400 and 35, we’ve been spending time planning and preparing for the Shmita year, including a very special book project. We are proud to announce our newest publication, Rav Kook’s Introduction to Shabbat Ha’Aretz, the first-ever English translation of the introduction to a book on Shmita by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel in the 20th century. His essay, written in 1909, is lyrical and mystical, a meditation on the big themes that underlie religious environmentalism. It has been beautifully translated by Rabbi Julian Sinclair, scholar and Vice President of Energiya Global, a leading Israeli solar energy company that has just developed the first-ever large-scale solar project in Sub-Saharan East Africa. As part of the book, Rabbi Sinclair has also written a terrific background essay about the traditional conception of Shmita, Rav Kook […]

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kasas jumping

Let it go, let it go! – Reflections from a Topsy Turvy Adventure

It is 11:30 am, and I am sitting in a field in the middle of the Rocky Mountains surrounded by horses, trees, compost toilets, a bike blender and solar ovens. And Eli, who is dressed as a tree, sitting in a sleeping bag, his head covered in blankets and a music stand. Everything we need for our second program at Ramah in the Rockies…except for the kids. This blog post is about letting go of control, about what it means to truly accept everything that we cannot change and take advantage of for spontaneity and improvisation. Set for 9:50, the group was delayed coming back from a masa on horseback, leaving Eli waiting patiently (and snugly) for over an hour and a half and the rest of the group practicing, preparing and dancing around the bus. This was hardly the first moment where things did not go quite according to plan; yesterday our (valiant) attempt to climb the Rockies raised the engine temperature above the heat limit and we had to pull over on the side of the mountain…twice. It started raining while we were trying to paint the bus’s roof to add water protection. There have been parking challenges, […]

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We’ve arrived in Denver!

  Shalom! I’m Molly, a member of the program support staff for this tour, and I’m thrilled to be putting up the inaugural post for this blog.   Today marks the first day of orientation, where the educators will all meet for the first time (those who don’t already know each other) and continue developing the energy, knowledge, and sense of community that we’ve been working toward since February when we first started planning out the route.  They’re choosing their educational stations (worms, bike blender, solar ovens, veggie oil), their beds, and their rules to live by for the tour over the next three days.  To recap, here’s what they’re looking forward to:   The educators are getting excited to hit the road, catch some rays, and begin the exciting journey of learning and growing along with pockets of our people scattered about this great strange nation. Five educators will be touring the nation, talking about Judaism and sustainability in different communities. They’ll be busting into the Rockies in the beginning of July and then head straight through the center of the contiguous 48 — you can check out the route in the tab entitled “tour schedule.” In just one […]

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The Shmita This Time: Suggestions for Learning & Action

Dear All, Ahead of this shabbat’s Torah portion of Behar Sinai (which begins with one of the explications of shmita in the Torah) I want to give you a flavor of some of what is happening in relation to shmita around the Jewish world – some of the ideas that people are coming up with. (Last week’s email gave the background on why I believe that shmita is such a remarkable topic. Click here if you didn’t have a chance to see it.) Here are a few aspects of shmita to think about. This list is intended to whet your appetite. We hope that you’ll treat this week’s parsha as a reminder to start planning in relation to shmita for the coming year. Shmita & Israel Shmita is many things, and it is unspooling into many more, but it begins with a sense of the sanctity of the land of Israel, and of the people who are fed by its bounty. So: Check out a sweet – and challenging – 2-minute video by Teva Ivri, led by Einat Kramer and Rav Michael Melchior. This leads on to the “Israeli Shmita Declaration,” catalyzed by Einat, and signed on to by a […]

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Shmita: A Paradigm for Funding

Written by Charlene Seidle
 for a session at the recent Jewish Funders Network Conference Posted on eJP on March 20, 2014 As funders, the onset of shmittah offers a good opportunity to test our assumptions and think about opportunities to support the organizations and issues we care about through a different, more holistic lens. The shmittah sabbatical year kicks off in September 2014. One of the core tenets of halacha and traditionally only observed in the land of Israel, shmittah also offers a useful and meaningful model for our lives, our relationships with each other, our responsibilities to those less fortunate than we are, and our systems for community, justice and equality. The word shmittah, exactly translated, means release. More than just one year of release, shmittah is actually the pinnacle of a seven-year cycle that sustains healthy society, community and individuals. Shmittah teaches us that our land – and our resources – do not truly belong to us, that our lives can be enriched and changed in powerful ways through releasing control. Opening ourselves to the shmittah experience inspires us to reinvest or recalibrate our relationships. As funders, the onset of shmittah offers a good opportunity to test our […]

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From The Seventh Year To A Seven Year Cycle

by Yigal Deutscher Commonly translated as the ‘Sabbatical Year,’ Shmita literally means ‘release.’ Many may recall the year of Shmita as a time when agricultural lands were collectively left fallow. Yet, the Shmita year had a depth that reached into every aspect of society and culture. This was only an ‘agricultural’ year in the sense that it directly involved food and land, something which affects all of us, not just farmers. If we were really celebrating this tradition, here is how it would look: On the final year of a seven year calendar cycle, there will be no seeding or tilling of the soil, private land holdings will be open to the commons, everyone will have equal access to food storage and perennial/wild harvests, foods will not be sold as a commodity, and all debts will be forgiven. Everyone will share in widespread abundance, as resources are redistributed and shared equally. Repeat this all again seven years later, and on every seventh year that follows. The powerful values of this Shmita Cycle were integral to the vision of healthy society, as originally mapped out by the Torah. Can you envision this? Take a moment to realize just how radical and audacious that sounds. […]

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