Saturday, November 3, 2007
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…