Observing the Sabbatical Year in Modern Times

Sept. 15 2023

Today is the last day of the sabbatical year, during which the Bible prohibits sowing, reaping, harvesting, or otherwise working the land. During shmitah (as the seventh year is known in Hebrew), the land is not meant to be barren; rather, both the owners and paupers are permitted to take whatever grows of its own accord and eat it, so long as they do not systematically gather the produce. David and Naama Rue reflect on what this practice means in modern Israel, and its religious significance:

Jewish farmers in the historical Land of Israel have two broad options regarding shmitah: observing it by circumventing it and observing it directly. The latter requires farmers to let the land lie fallow; the former entails moving their practice above ground in the form of hydroponic cultivation, or by going through a process of selling their land to a non-Jew for the year (this with the assistance of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel).

From these options, only produce grown on Jewish-owned land and according to the laws of the shmitah has what is called the sanctity of the shmitah (k’dushat shvi’it). . . . For consumers, the primary choice is whether to procure food with or without the sanctity of the shmitah. For those who choose the former, the main avenue is to do their shopping through the Otzar Beit Din, a rabbinical court organized for this purpose. This organization hires workers (usually the farmers themselves) to harvest the food left fallow in the fields, given that most people cannot easily go out into the country to pick their fruits and vegetables themselves. The workers also bring the produce to the city, where the rabbinical court appoints agents to distribute it and recover the costs of the harvest and distribution. . . .

Moses Maimonides argues that the purpose of shmitah is to teach compassion and grace to all mankind. Whenever we eat something during shmitah, it offers us an opportunity to remember to help the poor and downtrodden, prompting us to emulate God’s grace and compassion.

Rabbi Aaron HaLevi [of 14th-century Spain] claims that the purpose of shmitah is to emphasize the limits of man’s power. As farmers, it might be easy to think that the creative power of the world comes from man. But ultimately, it comes from God. . . . The command of shmitah is given so that a man remembers that God created and sustains the world, and that humans are merely tenants here for a short time.

Read more at Tel Aviv Review of Books

More about: Halakhah, Judaism in Israel, Moses Maimonides, Sabbatical year


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy