In Israel, the year of the fallow stirs up discord

Tel Aviv

From our correspondent

For six years you will sow the earth, and you will collect the produce. But, in the seventh year, you will leave it fallow and you will abandon its product ”, says the Old Testament (Ex 23, 10-11). Like every seven years, the Jews of Israel welcomed, on September 7, the year of shmita, that of the ritual fallow.

If the rule is addressed to all Jews, it is not considered as a commandment, a mitzvah, than in the Promised Land. Israeli farmers must therefore respect the shmita to obtain the approval of the Israeli rabbinate, essential for the sale of their products in commerce. But only 10% of arable land in Israel today is left fallow in this way. For more than a hundred years, the rabbinical authorities have organized the heter mechira, a license that allows farmers to symbolically (and temporarily) resell their land to a non-Jew under certain conditions, and thus keep their work.

Several associations are also turning to the diaspora, offering them to temporarily buy land in Israel, which makes it possible to support farmers without “desecrating” the land. The government supports these practices by providing grants. It also compensates for the rise in prices resulting from the fall in national production by facilitating the importation of foreign products. In mid-August, Israel signed an important agreement with Jordan, allowing fruits and vegetables from the Hashemite kingdom to be shipped to Israel as a priority.

The shmita is an end of the cycle, which reflects the periods of life – and which is found elsewhere in the Jewish liturgy, and even in secular life. It is also a spiritual experience, of communion with the earth, and of social justice: the biblical injunction requires that the debts be paid off, that the products of the abandoned fields return to the “Poor of your people”.

The environmental association Hazon, based in the United States, also sees “The indigenous wisdom of the Torah people, which can be used to create healthier, more resilient Jewish communities”. But this philosophical vision is still very much in the minority. We criticize religious arrangements more for their heresy. The most orthodox Jews consider that the heter mechira is a violation of the spirit of biblical law, therefore the consumption of these products a sin, and turn to Palestinian farmers. In the past, there has been an increase in sales of West Bank products to Israel of more than 30% during the year of the shmita. These products are controlled very strictly by the ultra-Orthodox authorities, in part to ensure that there are no vegetables smuggled in by a Jew.

This irritates some. ” I don’t care if it’s a Thai who cultivates it, or if it belongs to an Arab »Explains Shlomo Walfish, representative of the Zo Artzeinu association, it is the earth itself which is sacred ”. Ranged to the far right and close to the settlement movement in the West Bank, the group and its network of donors are helping Israeli farmers plant fruit trees throughout the Holy Land – with a predilection for militant small settlements.

For him, populating the Earth with Jews is a matter of survival. ” The Torah tells us very clearly that if he does not shmita, the people of Israel will be returned from this land as in the exile to Babylon, points out Shlomo Walfish. But that will not happen clike that, not while we’re here. “


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