According to the Torah (Exodus 23: 10-11),* every 7th year the fields will lie fallow and no agriculture will be grown. This new year 5768 is the shmita year. From September 2007 to September 2008, no agriculture may be planted, cultivated, or harvested in the land of Israel.
Although the restriction applies only to the Land of Israel and not to Jews in the Diaspora, observant Jews will only eat produce grown by non-Jews on non-Jewish land. The shmita is strictly enforced in Israel by the Rabbinut (Rabbinical Court) who provides kashrut (kosher) certification to all food grown, bought, and sold in Israel. All fruits and vegetables must be imported from aborad, raising the price of produce to very high levels.
Not surprisingly, the hardest hit by the price increases are the country’s poor. The Orthodox community measures 30% of those living below the poverty line in Jerusalem, Israel’s largest and most densely religious city.
The expectation was that the majority of the produce would source from Gaza and the West Bank as it did during the last shmita year, however Israel has prohibited all imports from Gaza since Hamas’ June acquisition of power. Israel is now looking to Europe for fruit and vegetable imports. The Israeli Farmers Association estimates the annual lost at 1 billion shekels.
(My note: so if we concluding that Gaza and the West Bank are not part of Israel, can’t we move on from here with territorial transitions and the formation of a Palestinian state?)
Raising social questions about the state of the country’s poor and geopolitical questions about Israel’s relations with its neighbors, this 7th year has the potential to serve multiple purposes. Like an extended Shabbat, 5768’s cessation of activity and period of reflection could significantly impact Israel’s policies, especially as we look yet again at possibilities for peace in the Middle East.
* The Torah’s References to Shmita: Leviticus 25: 1-7, Deuteronomy 15: 1-6, Deuteronomy 31: 10-13, Nehemiah 10:32, 2 Chronicles 36: 20-21.
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