Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Shmittah Food Co-Op

In the land of Israel today,  they are well into the year of Shmittah (the sabbatical seventh year during which farmers let the land lay fallow). Since last Rosh Hashana, many Jewish farmers throughout Israel have voluntarily hung up the keys to their tractors, and Jews around the world have been careful in choosing the Israeli produce that they eat.

The laws of Shmittah are mentioned several times in the Torah, and the process of preparing for and observing the Sabbatical year has many fine details. The 25th chapter of the Book of Leviticus begins with the laws of Shmittah, where the Torah states: “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 your side that sojourns with you;  and for your cattle, and for your beasts that are in your land, shall all the increase thereof be for food” (25: 6-7).

The laws of Shmittah specifically prohibit the formal harvesting of the crops of the field and the commercial use of the produce. However, as is expressed in the above verses, it was not prohibited to eat the food as long as that food had not been harvested. The owner of the field may collect what the family needs for immediate consumption. Even hungry strangers who pass through an orange grove can each take an orange to eat.

It is also interesting to note the large number of people and animals mentioned in Leviticus for whom “the land shall be for food.” Since there is no ownership of the produce that grows during the Shmittah year, there are no restrictions as to who may eat it.

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