Israel Encourages Farmers to Honor Biblical Sabbatical Year

Sunday, June 08, 2014 |  Israel Today Staff

The Israeli government has reportedly set aside NIS 100 million (~$29 million) to encourage local farmers to honor the biblical command to let their fields lie fallow for one year every seven years.

Exodus 23:10–11 reads:

You may plant your land for six years and gather its crops. But during the seventh year, you must leave it alone and withdraw from it. The needy among you will then be able to eat just as you do, and whatever is left over can be eaten by wild animals. This also applies to your vineyard and your olive grove.

The commandment is repeated in the Book of Leviticus just prior to the Children of Israel entering the Promised Land.

The next sabbatical year (known in Hebrew as shmita) will begin on Rosh Hashanah in late September. While farmers in modern Israel have rarely, if ever, honored the commandment due to the loss of income they would incur, the government and religious authorities are hoping to influence a change of heart.

The new shmita budget will go to the Religious Affairs Ministry, which will use a portion for promotional materials and educational assistance for farmers wishing to honor the commandment.

Another small portion of the budget will be used for the special ceremony that is to mark the end of the shmita:

At the end of each seven years, at a fixed time on the festival of Sukkoth, after the year of release, when all Israel comes to present themselves before God your Lord, in the place that He will choose, you must read this Torah before all Israel, so that they will be able to hear it. (Deuteronomy 31:10)

That ceremony will take place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the Sukkot holiday in 2015.

The bulk of the money will be used to support farmers who are unable to suffer the loss of income, but who nevertheless choose to keep the shmita.

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