Israeli Rabbinate Regulates Work on Land During Coming “Shmitah” Year

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has promulgated a series of regulations designed to permit the cultivation of land by Orthodox Jews in the coming sabbatical year, yet retain symbolic observance of the Biblical requirement of shmitah that the land be allowed to "rest" each seventh year.

In issuing the regulations, Chief Rabbis Isaac Nissim and Isaac Herzog noted that to allow 300, 000 dunams (75,000 acres) of land to lie fallow would endanger the nation’s food supply. Tracing their actions back to rabbinical authorities of the past, the rabbis suggested that the land be nominally sold to non-Jews for a stipulated period and that all ploughing be done with an awning overhead–to create the fiction that the work is not being done in the field but in a "private dwelling."

Leaders of the Poale Agudah movement, which has 15 affiliated agricultural settlements, announced that the movement would obey the Biblical injunction and deplored the Poale Mizrachi "evasion" of shmitah through fictitious sale of the land and continued cultivation. The Poale Agudah lands which will be withdrawn from cultivation total more than 50,000 dunams.

The Poale Agudah, they announced, will launch a worldwide fundraising campaign to replace the crops lost through fallowing of the land. In addition, hydroponic cultivation, which has been under experimentation at the settlements, will be expanded. Settlers who are not needed to work about the settlements will be asked to work in towns and contribute their earnings to the special fund to replace the value of the lost crops.

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