Israelis debate Torah-mandated sabbatical for the land

[Abu Daoud says: OK, so the blog is not called Islam and Christianity and Judaism, but what happens in the Holy Land affects everyone, and the article is really interesting and well-written.]

Israelis debate Torah-mandated sabbatical for the land

by Steven Erlanger

JERUSALEM: As Israel's Jews start a new year, the country finds itself in the middle of a fierce religious dispute about the sanctity of fruits and vegetables.

Rabbis are pitted against one another, the interests of the state and the religious authorities are in conflict, the Supreme Court is involved, the devout are confused and the cost of produce is rising.

And a country in love with flowers, proud of "making the desert bloom," is, in its own disputatious way, letting much of its land go to seed.

This year, 5768 by the Jewish calendar, is a shmita, or sabbatical year. Jewish-owned land is supposed to be left fallow, whatever grows there is supposed to be free for everyone, and at the end of the year, all personal debts are supposed to be forgiven.


That presumably worked fine in a primitive economy before decent fertilizer, but shmita presented problems for the new Jewish state. Zionism was founded on the notion of a return to the land, but a modern country cannot live on what falls to the ground, and Israel's agribusinesses would fail.

So a compromise was found by respected rabbis from both the Ashkenazi and the Sephardic communities of Israel, including Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Elyashar. Charged with interpreting religious law, or halacha, they came up with the idea of "heter mechira," meaning sale permit, which allows Jews to "sell" their land pro forma to non-Jews for the shmita year, so the land may be cultivated.



Rob said…
LOL! It sounds like some funhouse-mirror version of medieval Christians hiring Jews to do all the "dirty" usury.

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