Israel Needs Better Solutions to Sabbatical Dilemmas

This Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the sabbatical year, shmitah in Hebrew, during which the Bible prohibits plowing, sowing, and harvesting in the Land of Israel. While modernity has in some ways made shmitah observance easier—since produce can be shipped and stored cheaply and efficiently—in other ways it has posed new difficulties. David M. Weinberg explores the dilemmas facing Israel in the upcoming year:

Shmitah is meant to teach man humility before God. Its observance, even to the point of financial loss to the farmer and economic hardship for the consumer, is considered an extremely important test of society’s religious and moral mettle. However, with modern Israel beset by agricultural and economic difficulties and diplomatic-military challenges, absolute shmitah observance is far from simple. A few hardy farmers indeed are letting their fields lie fallow. But that is not a solution for the entire country, which still needs to eat and keep its agricultural sector solvent.

In response, rabbinic leadership 125 years ago crafted the heter m’khirah, the “sale” of agricultural land to non-Jews for the year of shmitah under a trust agreement, which permits Jews to farm the land and sell the produce under certain conditions. The heter m’khirah end-run around shmitah has been reluctantly re-ratified by the chief rabbinate every shmitah since then, but its implementation grows ever more problematic. To begin with, [it] was meant as a temporary arrangement, not a two-century-long exemption. . . .

Orthodox Jews who impose on themselves stricter standards of shmitah observance get through the sabbatical year primarily by buying Arab-grown produce or expensive foreign produce. Indeed, the various kashrut organizations of the ḥaredi world have been busy signing produce-supply contracts with Palestinian Authority, Gazan, Jordanian, and Turkish farmers. This infuriates me. Primary reliance on Arab produce is neither realistic nor acceptable for health, nationalist, and religious reasons.

On the national level, observance of shmitah is not just a personal matter of technical-halakhic right and wrong, or a question of getting by as a religious consumer. It’s also a question of public policy. That means caring for all Jews in Israel, not just for the faultless kashrut of your own dishes and the impeccable purity of the vegetables you put in your own mouth.

Read more at David M. Weinberg

More about: Halakhah, Israeli agriculture, Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Judaism in Israel, Sabbatical year

Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria