Posts in category "Shmita"
New from the SOVA blog by Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair
Original post can be found at http://sovaproject.org/2013/08/19/shmita-as-a-force-for-social-change/
In October 2007, at the outset of the last Shmita year, I was interviewed on NPR, New York, about the Shmita controversy then raging in Israel. It was the latest twist on the century-long heter mechira (permissible sale) story. Rabbis were denouncing other rabbis for their excessive leniency and communities were boycotting other communities’ kosher certifications. Word of the whole sorry saga reached the US and NPR wanted to know what was up.
Somehow they came to me. I tried to explain to the polite, bemused interviewer the complex background (you can listen to my efforts here) – the commandment from Leviticus 25 to let the land lie fallow one year out of every seven, Rav Kook’s compassionate heter mechiraleniency in 1909 allowing the pioneering Jewish farmers to sell the land to non-Jews for the duration of the Shmita year so that they could avoid impoverishment, and the most recent installment in the argument.
There is a saying by the Rabbis, ‘Those who prepare before Shabbat will eat on Shabbat; those who did not prepare before Shabbat, what will they have to eat on Shabbat? (Avoda Zara 3a).’ Well, in terms of comparing the Shabbat and Shmita cycle as parallels of one another, we are about to enter, collectively, into the Friday of the Shmita Cycle, as we near Rosh Hashana and the 6th year of this current cycle. Or, if we want to be specific, as days begin in the Jewish calendar at the evening time, we are just about late in the day on Thursday, sunset time.
Either way, we are getting quite close to Shabbat. And that comes with it a specific transition point, a moment in time for one process to end, and another to begin. The patterns of the 6 days, the culture of the 6 years, falls away to welcome a whole new way to engage with time and space. Bo’ei Kallah. Welcome, Beloved Bride. And here we are, getting ready to stand under the Chupah. Are we ready for this? What will we have ‘to eat’ on this Shabbat, to feel satiated and sustained for this transition? Even if the Shabbat analogy does not work for you…that is fine…but then lets apply the Rabbis saying to something else, perhaps going on a long travel vacation, preparing for a wedding, something like this. To walk into such moments without forethought is to welcome a culture shock, and perhaps, chaos. (more…)
What can we, in our present moment of great environmental, social and economic peril and also enormous and exciting potential, learn from the ancient biblical idea of shmita? With its requirement to let all land lie fallow and all debts be forgiven every seventh year, shmita offers us not just an example of progressive social and ecological legislation, but also an insight into an alternative world-view. Shmita tells us to put limits on our activities because we are not the center of the universe, because we are in relationship to something larger than ourselves. One way to look at this is to say that shmita reminds us that whereas the ethos of our times is to move forward unceasingly, in a more sane and inter-connected world there are rhythms.
No musician, storyteller or athlete could work without rhythm. Notes and rests, words and silence, sprinting and pacing yourself — these create the beauty, drama and endurance of their craft. The natural world confirms that- all life is filled with rhythm: from our heartbeats to the tides to the seasons, the world pulses and dances in a beautiful, complex symphony. Nothing in nature drones on constantly; nothing grows without stopping. In all of creation bigger is not better. Rather, balance, symmetry and inter-relationship are the touchstones of vitality.
But humans are unique. We can choose to ignore rhythm. We can, and do, keep our factories running day and night. We try to fool hens into laying more eggs by keeping their lights on 24 hours at a time. With every new pad, pod and phone we push ourselves into 24/7 connectedness. We have created a culture which is built on the metaphor of a machine impervious to any rhythm other than the drone of production. In the name of progress, convenience, even freedom, but most of all, profits, we have lost the music of life.
This post was written by Aharon Varady, of OpenSiddur.org, in honor of the ancient tradition of a Jewish New Year for Animals, which was counted on the new moon of Elul. As we are nearing Rosh Hashana 2013 (5774)- one year away from the next Shmita- this is an opportunity to begin thinking of an aspect of Shmita that is somewhat overlooked: the way Shmita informs and directs our human relationships with animals, both domesticated and wild. Read on for more about the Rosh Hashana La’Beheimot (New Year for Animals):
Judaism has a New Years festival for animals. I’ll repeat: Judaism has a NEW YEARS FESTIVAL FOR ANIMALS!
When I first learned this, in 5th grade, studying the Mishna, I was floored. Really? I had just learned that Judaism had a New Years festival for Trees. A universal day of healing for the Tree of Life, Tu Bishvat, a former tithing day for dedicating first fruit offerings to the Temple, had been recovered by Jewish mystics 1500 years after the destruction of our Temple. Jews, especially the historic rabbis I admired, were creative thinkers, lovers and poets, like Rabbi Moshe Cordovero who in 1588 wrote in his work the Palm Tree of Devorah (Tomer Devorah), “This is the essence: to have compassion on all living creatures.”
My religion was awesome. A year before my family adopted our first stray cat from a no-kill shelter in Cincinnati. We accepted him into our Jewish family completely. I hadn’t learned about it in school, but in a book my mother brought back from our JCC’s Jewish Book Fair, I read that Judaism had an important mitzvah: to be mindful of the suffering of all living creatures. In Hebrew the mitzvah was called tsar baalei ḥayyim. From this commandment, I was obligated to feed my cat before myself at breakfast. I really appreciated that Judaism was mindful enough to speak for creatures that had no voice of their own. This all helped to convince me that Judaism, regardless of whatever boring or annoying social experiences I had in day school, was essentially a good religion, thoughtful and caring. It was up to me to live up to its peaceful and compassionate vision.
Later, when I was 18, in the first month of my first year in Israel, I got a strong flavor from my Lithuanian-style yeshiva of what the period preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Elul Zman, could really feel like… the increasing sense of urgency to repair and correct all of my relationships was intense and heartbreaking. (Isolated in a fairly monastic institution in a disputed corner of Israel, I was despairing what few personal relationships I had to repair.) Elul Zman was a month for a practice called ḥeshbon nefesh – making an accounting for one’s soul and it began with Rosh Ḥodesh Elul, the new moon festival coincident with the New Years festival for Animals. What was the connection between the two days?
Original post can be found at http://sovaproject.org/2013/07/22/sacred-work-sacred-rest-free-time-for-a-free-people/
“Six days shall you labor and do all your work; but on the seventh day you shall rest.”
Why? Because this teaches you the deepest truth of the Cosmos, that a rhythm of Doing and Being is part of every molecule and every galaxy, every human and every tree and tiger. (Exod 20: 8-11)
Why? To make real your own freedom – and the freedom of the workers who are bound to you. For only slaves must work all the time. (Deut. 5: 12-15)
Six years shall you labor and make economic growth, but on the seventh you shall rest, yes rest: Restfulness to the exponential power of Restfulness. (Lev. 25: 1-24).
Why? Because the Earth has a covenant with God that requires its right and its duty to rest. If you – that is, WE—refuse to let the Earth rest, it will rest anyway –on our heads. Through drought, famine, flood, plague, exile. (Lev. 26, esp. 31-38 and 43; II Chron. 36: 20-21)
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
On July 1, with Congress having failed to pass any legislation about student loans, the interest rate on them doubled.
As Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out:
“Right now, the government lends money every day to big banks at less than 1% interest. [The interest rate it demands from students was 3.4% till June 30, and is now 6.8%.] Right now the federal government is making a profit from our students. Just last month, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that the government will make $51 billion this year off student loans.”
This in a society that has disemployed 14 million people who want and need to work full time. Many of these millions are college graduates who can no longer pay off these loans.
What is the solution? Let’s consult a sacred teaching of the Torah –
At the end of every seventh year, you shall cancel/ release/ forgive/ annul/ all debts. This is the procedure: Everyone who has lent money to a neighbor writes it off. You must not press your neighbor or your kinfolk for payment: This release comes from YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh , the Interbreath of Life. (Deuteronomy 15 : 1-2)
New from the SOVA blog by Rabbi Ebn Leader and Rabbi Margie Klein.
Original post can be found at http://sovaproject.org/2013/07/08/the-land-shall-rest-exploring-shmita-in-the-diaspora/
In the Jewish calendar, the next Shmita year will commence in 2014, and Jews around the world are beginning to think about it.
In North America for example through the Shmita Project and other efforts, Hazon, the Jewish Farm School, and other groups are embracing Shmita as an opportunity to explore Jewish values around land, food, and sustainability. The Shmita Project encourages people not only to hold study groups, but to plant “Shmita gardens” that follow the Shmita laws in our own backyards and practice alternate economic models that promote collaboration and sharing.
The Torah’s mandate to let the land lie fallow for a year raises many serious questions. What would it mean to forgo agricultural activity and the economic structures that follow from it? What would it mean to spend a year treating the fruit that then grows of its own accord as ownerless, so that everyone has the same right to resources of the land? (more…)
New from the SOVA blog by Judith Rosenbaum
Original post can be found at http://sovaproject.org/2013/06/21/leaning-in-to-work-and-rest/
Like most people following the news over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about what it means to “lean in” (and its counterpoint, “opt out”) and the assumptions and judgments inherent in the term. Sheryl Sandberg, an executive at Facebook, coined “lean in” to encourage women to make a more passionate commitment to career ambition and leadership; it’s meant to carry a positive connotation (though in my experience is referenced dryly and with some cynicism/resentment by many women). And opting out, of course, refers to women choosing to leave the workplace to become stay-at-home mothers. Both place work at the center, with action defined by one’s orientation toward career (and notably placing all the agency in the individual with little to no regard for the social context for these actions).
But as someone in the midst of career transition, I find myself wondering why this debate is necessarily framed around work. I’ve recently left my job of more than a decade in order to invest time and energy in figuring out what I want to do next, and to catch up on the self-care I’ve neglected for too long. At first glance, this might look like opting out, but I prefer to see myself as leaning in, in a broader sense – not into a specific workplace or leadership position but rather into an exploration of my passions and desires, which after all are necessary fuel for that “lean in” drive. True, I’m not working full-time or earning a significant salary right now, but I’m deeply engaged in questions of how to create a meaningful, sustainable career, as one component of a meaningful, sustainable life. And believe me, this process takes effort worthy of “lean in” recognition.
At the core of many of the Shmita values is this sense that we do not own our resources; that, in fact, the resources we call ours are not our property at all. On the Shmita year, private lands become open as commons. Private harvests must be shared with the community. Even private stored foods must be opened to those in need. Food and land are no longer commodities on the marketplace. They no longer carry a price tag. And the people who lay claim to such land and food are transformed from private owners to community stewards, caring for communal property.
An emphasis is placed upon the community, beyond the private individual. Perhaps the Shmita year pushed the edge a bit, putting us all in the same position together, where we had to rely on one another, enter into true interdependency, to get by on a such a year. Hopefully, the values of this year framed all others in a way that kept the community threads alive and vibrant, so that there truly was a healthy village culture. And vice versa, so that the community actions and values of the six years between each Shmita helped realize the actual Shmita year as a celebratory time, rather than a ‘community’ burden.
But either way, Shmita offers a meditation on what ownership means, what property means, and how we enter into such interactions with neighbors and friends. Do we accumulate and hoard, or do we freely share? Would we rather keep our resources private or make them available to the community? Does our wider community have the infrastructure, organizing patterns, and communication skills to make such sharing a successful practice, or would this fall into confusion and headache? What are some practices that we can begin to embrace today which will allow us to weave the fabric of community sharing in such a way that feels healthy and supportive to all?