Here you will find links to articles that are directly related to shmita, in and outside of Israel, as well as articles touching on shmita-related values and concepts in the broader culture, such as sabbatical rest, food security, and care for the Earth.
An article by Jeremy Benstein which makes the connection between halacha and aggadah with respect to Shmita, comparing a Shmita observant society with Egyptian society.
“Initiatives for protecting the environment are considered from a technical standpoint, which is what technical experts have studied. And it’s fine that they’ve studied it, but they make a serious mistake by excluding traditional ways of respecting nature.” (…)
The Shmita Project is a creative program designed to touch on up to 5,000 families, by enabling them to extricate themselves from the poverty cycle by providing economic guidance and financial assistance. This is a unique collaboration among the families who have committed to the endeavor and will be mentored by NGO`s with expertise in financial and home management; the business sector (e.g. banks, utilities companies) to whom the families are in debt, and philanthropies, which will be called upon when a contribution will make a significant effect on the families ‘ future and success. This project is a working example of inter- sector cooperation, initiated by MK Ruth Calderon; It was launched by the Knesset, with the full backing of the economic departments of government together with the business and the third sector.
The shmita year, which we have just begun, has called forth a remarkable renaissance of thinking and doing that aims to recover the values of the shmita and implement them in relevant and creative ways
What this movement has not yet done is to produce compelling economic thought on how the values and ideas of shmita might inform economic policy in Israel or beyond.
Many would say that this is because it can’t. How can the Torah’s idealistic instruction to cease agricultural labor for one year every seven apply to a 24/7 post-industrial reality?
I believe that nevertheless it can.
The Shalom Center, a Jewish group in Philadelphia that is active on environmental issues, has embraced a concept akin to fossil fuel divestment but calls it instead “move our money/protect our planet.”
[I] worry that by removing Shemitah from it’s [sic] traditional halakhic parameters, we risk insulting the halakhic system and denying the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael. Both of these concerns can be addressed by adopting practices and a rhetoric that make it clear that we are not attempting to co-opt halakhic Shemitah for Chutz La’aretz. While I know that others have made different choices, I would never dream of refraining from plowing, pruning, planting, or harvesting in the United States, the activities which constitute the core of Shemitah observance in Eretz Israel. However, by taking on some purely voluntary restrictions that are intended to have some of the same effects as Shemitah, without attempting to mimic the form of the mitzvah, I hope to experience a taste of Shemitah without doing a disservice either to the halakha or to Eretz Yisrael.
“Shmita affords us an opportunity to take a break from what we are doing day-to-day,” said Brous, who sees shmita as a metaphor for slowing down and trying to see if “our reactions to problems are actually holistic and comprehensive,” she said.
The retreat gave her time to rethink the model of food justice, Brous said. “We need to step outside of the current model of doing canned food drives and move toward teaching people how to grow their own food,” said the community organizer, who lived in Israel for 15 years.
In rethinking how to help the city’s hungry, Brous has been asking congregations of all faiths to open up 10 percent of their land to grow food, she said.
The ultimate hope of Shmita activists is that the principles underpinning Shmita will begin to penetrate the global culture in much the same way as the idea of a weekly rest day eventually spread from Judaism to nearly every corner of the globe, becoming a major linchpin and catalyst in the ongoing movement for human and worker’s rights.
“Originally the shmita year was not considered a Halachic headache. Rather it was an opportunity to recognize the inherent value of ecosystem services and their need to renew themselves. It was a chance for humans to enjoy the kind of lull in the rate race that is generally associated with sabbaticals.”
“People are thinking, this is just too good to remain in the area of arcane Halakhic arguments, the values here are really important for any modern society,” explained Julian Sinclair, a vice president at Energiya who is also an economist, rabbi, and author of a new book on shmita, referring to debates over Jewish law. “It’s about the sources of our wealth and letting go of our control and the hold on the things which make us wealthy, and the absence of which leaves other people behind.”
“In the waning months of the Jewish calendar year (the Jewish new year falls in September), Israel’s Knesset has approved a budget for the upcoming agricultural sabbatical year, or shmita. On June 1, the Knesset authorized a NIS 100 million ($28.8 million) investment in the religiously significant period.”
“What the Sabbath achieves regarding the individual, the Sabbatical Year achieves with regard to the entire nation.” – Rav A.Y. Kook
“So what is it about Shmita that touches so many different kinds of people, bridges typically polarized sectors, and inspires deep change?”
“It should come as no surprise that among progressive-minded Jews – those who make a point of buying locally grown produce and composting their leftovers – this particular commandment would resonate strongly. At its core, after all, it’s about treating the earth well.”
“Israel is uniquely suited to provide leadership on this issue. We are converting our coal-fired plants to natural gas, cutting power plant emissions by half. The “start-up nation” is innovating when it comes to energy storage, a prerequisite for using solar power at night. While we failed with our first attempt at electric vehicles, there are lessons to be learned to help economies make the transition from gasoline in transportation to a cleaner electric future. And we are expert at risk management, which enables us to develop renewable energy projects in Africa and other remote locations.
Positioning Israel in the international arena as a positive player against climate change is not only in our national interest, it is a global Jewish imperative.”
“We came up with the idea of making our views known to the Government, whilst still collecting for the food bank. Every time someone donated, we asked them to fill in a card to the Prime Minister, telling him what they had done and expressing their view that the increasing need for food banks was unacceptable. Liberal Judaism has endorsed the campaign and produced visually striking cards. Hundreds have now been sent and our Chair of our synagogue has kept up a correspondence with the Prime Minister to make our views clear.”
“Often when one works at a hard question, nothing good is accomplished at the first attack,” Poincaré wrote in The Foundations of Science (via Brain Pickings). “Then one takes a rest, longer or shorter, and sits down anew to the work. During the first half-hour, as before, nothing is found, and then all of a sudden the decisive idea presents itself to the mind. It might be said that the conscious work has been more fruitful because it has been interrupted and the rest has given back to the mind its force and freshness.”
The very idea of a sabbatical, a rest from work, comes from the biblical sabbath, and a commandment to stop working the fields every seven years. This is so Mother Nature can renew the fields and help ensure the possibility of future harvests. Businesses have long reaped rewards from biomimicry, the imitation of natural systems to solve human problems. If the flight of pigeons can inspire the first aircraft; termites can provide lessons for energy-efficient buildings; and butterfly wings can influence next-generation phone displays, why shouldn’t we cultivate the idea of fallow fields for our office lives?