Shenat Hasheva changes Shemittah to Israel. We have seen it first hand.
“Shabbat ShalomThe audio system blasted the rabbi’s voice through our confused ears on a sunny Monday morning. It was an exotic scene. Fields of green and rickety boxes of oranges surrounded a stage set up for presentations as various distinguished rabbis were gathering to meet us.Escape from the city streets of Washington Heights to the rural setting of the Israeli moshav, we were thrown into the unknown world of Shemitah in the holy land.
It was surreal to be there. As we followed our revered rebbim and roshei yeshiva on the rocky path where Shimon, a farmer applauded as a Jewish hero, proudly showed us his parched, fallow vines, many of us had to pinch ourselves to conclude that this was no dream. Days earlier, Israel had declared the United States a red country for COVID-19, barring us entry and prompting some of the tour operators to send us emails suggesting that our winter vacation plans were going to be pushed back. . However, Rabbi Dr. Ari Bergmann, professor of Jewish studies at Yeshiva College, founder of the Shenat Hasheva organization and coordinator of the trip, had no doubts. “This is Shemitahhe exclaimed in his typical charismatic style when we arrived from the airport. bitachon – Hashem wanted us to do this! I knew it would happen.
We were traveling to Israel to experience the often misunderstood mitzvah of Shemitah and to bring our experience back to the United States where its respect often goes unnoticed. We were a small group, nine undergraduates and three RIETS semicha and the members of Kollel Elyon who accompanied the prominent group of YU rebbim – including Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rabbi Elchanan Adler, Rabbi Daniel Feldman, Rabbi Tanchum Cohen, Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky and RIETS Dean Rabbi Menchem Penner – as they advocated for a revolutionary approach to the observance of Shemitah in modern Israel.
Pointing to the withered vines in front of us, Shimon proudly declared, “It’s hashbata.” Many of us expected it. We had heard of the Torah’s command to lay the land fallow every seven years. However, squinting in the distance, we noticed glistening grapes growing in stark contrast to the barren brown stalks in front of us. Noticing our confused expression, the farmer explained, “These grapes are for the Otzer Beit Din.” This was the beginning of our week-long adventure in the complex and diverse approaches to the observance of shemitah in modern times.
As our bus stopped at Beit Chilkiyah, where Shenat Hasheva’s headquarters are located, we were introduced to the revolutionary system of Shenat Hasheva Otsar Beit Din. Although the concept of a Otsar Beit Din is ideal and has a precedent since the time of the Mishnah, it could not be successfully implemented until now. We took a tractor ride around the fields and the distribution center and smiled for photos with the mayor in front of forklifts full of fruit as the Otzar Beit Din process was presented to us. In conjunction with the rabbinical court, farmers can participate as paid harvesters and distributors on behalf of the people. Instead of consumers in cities paying for the product themselves, farmers can charge a fixed price for their labor by distributing the product for free Shemitah fruit. In this communal agricultural market, prices drop significantly because farmers are paid directly without having to employ distributors and supermarkets as intermediaries.
On long bus journeys, our rebbim explained the history and complexities of contemporary art Shemitah as the serene farmlands of Israel loomed through our windows. The message that the Torah wanted to impregnate through the mitzvah of Shemitah was that God controls the world; it is His will and not our actions that produce it. By not tilling the land in a way that increases fruit production and allowing the produce to be eaten and shared by all, we surrender our control of the senses to God and demonstrate that God’s world is a gift. for all of us.
With the help of Shenat Hasheva, the spirit of mitzvah of Shemitah remains intact while allowing farmers to earn a halachically honest living. Trees are tended but not treated to produce more and people enjoy the dramatic drop in prices, experiencing the message of sharing, community ownership and God’s hand in production. Products are not wasted and Israeli agriculture is self-sufficient.
Back on the streets of Jerusalem, we witnessed the end of the process, fully appreciating how Shenat Hasheva had revolutionized the Otzar Beis Din. By teaming up with Mishnat Yosef, a religious distribution company that reduces the cost of middlemen on all products for poor families over the year, they discovered a system to reduce the costs of Otsar Beit Din for everyone during Shemitta. We watched happy families pick up their daily necessities — from shampoo to COVID tests — straight from shipping boxes on the street. Without having to rely on third-party intermediaries and warehouses, consumers can pay farmers directly without having to pay the extra costs of supermarkets. Cheaper prices incentivize consumers and create a self-sustaining economy.
This approach has recently been endorsed and advocated by religious leaders of all stripes and colors, uniting the nation in a solution to a once highly contentious issue. In Shenat Hasheva’s next most ambitious “Pri Yomi” project, yeshivot in Israel will gather to eat exclusively Otsar Beit Din fruit every day. Following the unifying spirit behind the program, we visited many rabbis and yeshivas from across the religious spectrum as they spoke to us about the significance of this revolution. We met students from Yeshivat Chevron, learning in their beit midrash and join a kumzitz with them at the home of Roni Sharon, a potato owner who had shown us around his potato farm, describing his sacrifices for the mitzvah of Shemitah. During a fireside session near Kibbutz Lavi, we participated in a joint experience with the youth movement “Shomer Hachadash” which uses the message of Shemitah to connect even secular Israelis to the nature of the earth.
Return to the YU Israel campus for Shabbat Shirafriends and rebbim digested a week’s overload of inspiration and information together. With Yeshivat Torat Shraga, we were privileged to have the unique opportunity to freely access and shiurim with the group of YU Rabbis who had joined us for the trip. Our journey appropriately ended with a Tu B’shevat Seder, celebrating the fruits of the earth like never before. At the end of the ceremony, we were informed that our mission had just begun. It was now up to us to share our experiences and spread the message of Shemitah in the USA. RIETS has partnered with Shenat Hasheva to unite the Jewish people through the spirit of mitzvah of Shemita. As part of our mission, our group will participate in events and promotions with the aim of bringing our experience to everyone. Rather than stopping there, our journey has only just begun.
Photo caption: YU Shemittah Trip
Photo credit: Yeshiva University