By Eli Robins
We usually associate a “Sabbatical” with prestigious professors who take time off to broaden their horizons, and professionals or executives who can afford the luxury of a year-long vacation.
The real “Sabbatical” term, however, originates from the once-in-seven years Jewish “Shemitta” Mitzvah focused on the farmers & field workers who follow Jewish law to let their fields lie fallow each seventh year.
Indeed, according to the Jewish millennium calendar cycle, this Rosh Hashanah of 2007 (5768) begins this Shemittah Sabbatical year in Israel, when Torah rules suspend most agricultural labors for a full year.
This difficult but vital Mitzvah continues to be observed on numerous Israeli farms and Kibbutzim, and the Shemittah laws are carefully monitored by hundreds of thousands of consumers in Israel and beyond.
The Shemittah’s philosophical dimensions relate to human dignity, environmental sensitivities, trust in G-d, rejecting landowner arrogance, and supporting the poor and have-nots.
Human endeavors are generally profit driven, so a full year’s national agricultural shutdown is certainly not a man-made idea. Indeed, the Shemittah laws going in an opposite direction reveal the Divine origin of this unique Mitzvah which G-d commanded Moses at Sinai.
Shemittah observance presents big challenges for the observant Jewish consumer and for Israel’s economy, which must make major changes and adaptations to deal with the many details and aspects of the Shemitta reality.
Jewish tradition finds valid ways to combine modern lifestyle and conveniences with full adherence to the letter of the law. For more information, visit www.shemittah.com which explores and explains the various laws and their practical applications.
While Shemittah restrictions pertain only to the land of Israel, they apply to Israeli fruits and products exported around the world. This especially affects Israeli imported wines, which must be 100% free of any Shemittah produce.
The highly reliable OK symbol on Israeli produce and beverages thus goes beyond the regular kosher standards and criteria that are required for produce in the Diaspora.
The prestigious OK symbol, the world’s most respected Kosher certification agency, on Israeli wines guarantees that it contains no part of forbidden Shemittah produce. The OK also certifies that the wine passed their scrutiny regarding other Israeli produce restrictions such as “Tevel,” “Terumah” and “Maaser” tithing issues, often listed in small Hebrew lettering accompanying the Kosher symbol.
By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir
The Torah mentions “Shemittah” in three places. It is first introduced in the Book of Exodus (23:9-11): "Do not oppress the stranger, as you know the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt. Six years shall you sow the land and gather its produce. In the seventh year release it and leave it alone, so the poor may eat; and the remainder be left to the animals of the field. So shall you do to your vineyard and olive trees."
Shemittah helps us empathize with the downtrodden and the less fortunate. Unlike regular years when the landowner enjoys full control, the poor have equal access in the seventh year.
Leviticus. 25:2-5 further elaborates on the laws of Shemittah:
"When you come into the land that I give to you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to G-d. Six years shall you sow your field, prune your vineyard, and gather its produce. And in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbatical to G-d; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. Do not reap the growth of your harvest nor gather the grapes of yield; the earth shall have a Sabbatical."
In this passage the focus is not social, but religious, a spiritual retreat/refresher: the “land observes a Sabbath to G-d.” The Divine role is reiterated later in the passage: "Should you say, 'What will we eat in the seventh year? We will not be planting nor gathering our produce! I will command My blessing in the sixth year, and it will make produce for the three years. . . The land will not be sold in permanence, for Mine is the land, and you are sojourners and residents with Me" (Lev. 25:20-21, 23).
This message is relevant even in a society of exemplary equality: Shemittah teaches us Divine providence. Man should not pretend to be master of the world; G-d is. Our Sabbatical rest, like Shabbat, reminds us that we are not in control but subservient to Heaven.
The Torah also continues here on the virtue of social equality: "The [produce of] Sabbath of the land shall be to eat; for you and your servant and hired workers who live with you. And for your animals and wild beast will be the produce to eat" (Lev. 25:6-7).
The above confers a special sanctity on self growing Shemittah produce, enjoining us to eat the produce on a free individual mode without commercializing in trade.
A third Torah passage about Shemittah in Deut. 15:1-18 orders the release of debts in the seventh year and teaches us to be generous to the poor and to free slaves after six years of work, giving them gifts (severance) to help them become self-reliant.
The Shemittah message is: Remember that ultimately all belongs to G-d - "for the land is Mine" (Leviticus 25:23).
We can enjoy our possessions, but we must remember that G-d's bounty is intended for others as well. "The produce of the land is for you to eat - for you, and your servant" (Lev. 25:6). The rich have a responsibility to show generosity towards the poor. "For the poor shall never cease from the land; therefore, I command you saying, open your hand wide to your poor brother" (Deut.15:11).
Shemittah “Pruzbul” Loan Transfer Statement
Shmittah also includes the forgiving of loans in Israel and elsewhere. To avoid an economic breakdown, Hillel the Elder enacted the pruzbul. Shemittah forgives only private debts, not court-held debts, so the pruzbul transfer makes these debts redeemable.
Submitted to an informal 3 member court before Rosh Hashanah, the pruzbul states that s/he transfers to the court all debts owed, and are thus collectable.
“I, the undersigned, transfer to you all written or oral debts, so I may collect them at any time.”
Date: Erev Rosh Hashana 5768
Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir received his Ph.D. in Economics from MIT, and rabbinic ordination from Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. Rabbi Meir directs the Jewish Business Response Forum at the Jerusalem College of Technology Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility.