Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shemitah, Continued

As I mentioned in the previous blogs, the law of Shemitah as found in the Torah was an attempt to rest the land from farming every seven years. The Shemitah allowed for a Sabbath for the land. Additionally, upon the commencement of the Shemitah year, all debts were canceled, and all bondages were released.

The law of Shemitah was ostensibly the Torah’s way of being compassionate, allowing the poor to partake of the fruits of an uncultivated land. The poor also were given an opportunity every seven years to escape eternal debt.

There is no doubt that the roots of this law are compassionate. It is clear that the author of the law of Shemitah wished to ease the burden of the poor and orphans in obtaining food and in escaping from eternal debt. Kudos to the author of Torah for having his (?) heart in the right place!

The problem is that the law of Shemitah is not realistic. If I am lender of money and know that the year of Shemitah is approaching, then I would be crazy to lend money to anyone, knowing that the debt would soon be voided. Why would I want to lend any money when I know that the year of Shemitah is approaching? I would imagine that all lending, effectively all business would grind to a halt as the Shemitah year is approaching. The poor and those in need would have trouble borrowing money even if they have every intention to repay their debt.

In many ways, this law of Shemitah reminds me of communism. Both systems were rooted in compassion but in the end they both proved unrealistic. The trouble is that whereas the failed communistic system can be attributed to failings of human social design, the rule of Shemitah is the making of God. Now, the question is, how could an all knowing God, in his design of the Shemitah, fail so spectacularly in failing to foresee the nature of humans, his creation?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

On Shmita (Shemitah), continued

The laws of the Shmita, or the sabattical year, are fascinating. In the coming blogs, I wish to explore the concept of Shmita.

Leviticus 25: "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto HaShem."

It is clear from this passage that God views the Shmita year as a sort of Sabbath for himself. God is saying that the Shmita year is important to him just as a Sabbath is important to us!

So, it should be that, if Shmita is so important to Hashem, then we should not only honor it in the land of Israel, but everywhere! If God deems that it is important that the land should rest every 7 years, then why would this not apply to lands outside Israel? If Shmita is good, when would it be good only for Israel?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

On Shmita

Shmita, or the Sabbatical year, is a biblical practice, with origins in the Torah. The concept of Shmita, as I understand it, is the practice of refraining to farm a given land every seven years, and of forgiving (or settling) debts every seven years. The origins or the practice have derived from the following passages of the Torah, and later expanded by the rabbinic sages:
Exodus 23:10
And six years you shall sow your land, and gather in the increase thereof; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of thy people may eat; and what they leave the beast of the field shall eat. In like manner you shall deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard.
From the above passage, it has been derived that:
1. Farmers must refrain from working in their farms every seven years.
2. Whatever fruits that happen to grow of their own accord would be consumed by the farmer, the poor and by animals.

The Torah further explains elsewhere the following:
Leviticus 25:11 And HaShem spoke unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying:
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a Sabbath unto HaShem. Six years you sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath unto HaShem; you shall neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which grows of itself of your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of thy undressed vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. And the Sabbath-produce of the land shall be for food for you: for you, and for your servant and for your maid, and for your hired servant and for the settler by thy side that sojourn with you; and for your cattle, and for the beasts that are in your land, shall all the increase thereof be for food.
From the above passage we learn that:
1. The law of Shmita is given at Mount Sinai.
2. The law of Shmita applies only to the land of Israel and not elsewhere (derived from the second sentence “when you come into the land…”
3. On the seventh year, much as the Sabbath, no work is allowed on the land.
4. The random produce of an untilled land should be food for the farmer and also for the poor as well as for wild animals.

Furthermore, the sages have declared that the law of shmita also applies to monetary debts such that at the end of Shmita year, all debts are nullified.
The concept of shmita is fascinating and it provides for much commentary. It provide lots to analyze for the skeptical such as I. I wanted to summarize the law of the Sabbatical year to the best of my ability first, before delving into the consequences of these laws. From the knowledgeable reader I ask to read the above summary and find inaccuracies. If I have failed to summarize the laws accurately, I would appreciate some guidance. In the coming blogs I will try to analyze these laws…