Shmitta (Part One?)

I’ve been doing a little Web research on Shmitta year and I’m still boggled and overwhelmed by the intricacies. It seems I’m not alone because everyone at Pardes seems a bit stressed about it. Students were also somewhat disappointed by the Shmitta class they offered yesterday afternoon because it didn’t go into the nitty gritty practicalities but rather focused on the bigger picture. But we need the details because we’ve never done this before!

Okay just to clarify, Shmitta occurs once every seven years and applies only to the Land of Israel (this is not the same thing as the State of Israel by the way). A Shmitta year is basically a year when you’re supposed to leave the land fallow. From a conceptual standpoint this mitzvah is really beautiful. First of all, you can only do it here in Israel (as I said) and secondly, you are basically giving the land a year off. It’s a mitzvah that demonstrates an ability to let go and show respect and care for the land which provides us with food. You could also argue that it makes us more aware of where the food comes from and could be a springboard for thinking more broadly about environmental protection.

And then from a more practical standpoint it can be a headache. The big question is, how are we supposed to get food during shmitta. There are two ways that the Rabbis go about solving this. One is the selling of land to non-Jews. And here we have stepped into controversial territory because some folks are not very comfortable with this. There is another method called an Otzer Bat Din, which I will not go into, but which you can learn about at the links I provide below.

All I can say is that the Rabbis were really good at finding loopholes. Just think of other instances like the Eruv on Shabbat and the ritual that allows you to cook for Shabbat on another holiday. I think that while Rabbis didn’t want to give folks the easy way out, they also didn’t want Mitzvot to be such a burden on the community as to curtail its normal functioning and prospering. Feel free to chime in.

Anyhow, if you’re interested in learning more about this law, here are a few links to get you started. And if you are an expert in shmitta and are interested in providing me with a crash course on getting by during a shmitta year, please let me know 🙂


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