Israel: Biblical pause in planting – Panorama

Israel celebrates Rosh Hashanah, the New Year festival. According to the Jewish calendar, the year 5782 begins at sunset on Monday evening – and it will be a special year. Because 5782 is a so-called Schmitta year, a “year of release”, in which, according to the biblical command, nothing may be planted or harvested on the earth of the Holy Land. Such a sabbatical year is provided for the soil every seven years. But the traditional religious demand always leads to new discussions. This year it is mainly about the climate crisis.

“You shall till your fields for six years and prune your vineyards and harvest their produce,” says Leviticus. “In the seventh year, however, the land should have complete rest, a period of rest in honor of Yahweh.” In a religious sense, it is about a careful handling of creation and on top of that about the reminder that all earthly possessions ultimately belong to God. In a practical sense, however, this poses considerable production and income problems for modern agriculture in Israel.

Rabbis created Schmitta loopholes

A first answer to this was devised more than a hundred years ago when the Zionist movement brought more and more Jews from exile back to the Holy Land. Influential rabbis created a Schmitta loophole by allowing the symbolic sale of farmland to non-Jews for a year. As “Heter Mechira”, an exception through sale, this has entered the Jewish legal interpretation. This ensures the continuous cultivation of the land without violating the biblical prohibition that only applies to Jews. This is still practiced by the Chief Rabbinate before every Schmitta year.

However, this does not solve the problems for a long time. On the one hand, many strict ultra-orthodox people reject the Heter-Mechira solution and refuse to buy fruit or vegetables from Jewish production in the Schmitta year. As a precaution, the Israeli Agriculture Minister therefore concluded a delivery agreement for agricultural products with Jordan in August. Palestinian farmers in the occupied territories also benefit – and that doesn’t suit the nationalist circles in Israel, which in no way want to be dependent on Arab products.

On the other hand, landscape architects and activists are now sounding the alarm, because in the Schmitta year not only arable farming but also planting in the cities is to be suspended. In times of climate change that is “completely crazy,” said landscape architect Schachar Zur of the newspaper Haaretz. New trees and plantings are a “matter of life and death”.

One HaaretzAccording to a survey, most Israeli municipalities, led by Jerusalem and Haifa, want to abide by the planting ban in 5782. The climate protectors reject this as outdated or at least call for a loophole for urban planting. So a sabbatical year may be provided for the soil in Israel, but the discussions will not find peace anytime soon.


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