Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan and Senior Citizen Minister Uri
Orbach announced an inter-ministerial initiative for a social-minded shmita year
on Monday, which will be principally designed to alleviate certain debts from
the elderly poor.
Ben-Dahan said that the public debate in the shmita, or
sabbatical year, should not be about the technical aspects of the seven-year
cycle but rather surrounding the “philosophy of the shmita and the social
aspects of the Jewish sabbatical year.”
The shmita year as described in
the Bible was one year in every seven in which land owners were commanded to
leave the land fallow and agricultural work was prohibited, while produce
growing without being worked by farmers would be available to the poor. The laws
for the sabbatical year also stipulate that debts must be forgiven in the
The next shmita year starts at the beginning of the next Jewish
calendar year which will be in September 2014.
“This is a tremendous
opportunity to implement the central idea of the shmita that every person can
begin his life anew every seven years with a new slate,” said Ben
“I’m speaking specifically about the weak sectors of the
population to enable them to begin the next seven years without the burden of
Ben-Dahan and Orbach are in negotiations with the various national
bodies, including the Second Television and Radio Authority; the Israel Tax
Authority; the Electricity Company; and the National Insurance Institute, to
forgo outstanding debts for elderly people meeting certain criteria.
minimum for those qualifying for debt forgiveness will likely be 75, and the
various ministries involved are currently working to define the poverty level
for which debts to the national entities participating in the scheme will be
In addition to the debt-forgiveness initiative, the Knesset
Caucus for Jewish renewal convened on Monday to launch its own program for
advancing the principles of the shmita in the coming sabbatical
Chairwoman of the caucus and Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon announced
that the Welfare Ministry, in conjunction with several financial rehabilitation
organizations, will provide 10,000 “normative families” who are in financial
difficulties with comprehensive assistance for members of the family for their
debt problems, along with vocational training and the acquisition of skills for
“I believe that if we can help 10,000 households
get out of debt and return to the workforce, then we will renew some of the
trust in the public sector that is so lacking in Israel today,” said
Meanwhile, Education Minister Shai Piron said he wished to
include education on the central tenets of the shmita year in formal and
informal education programs during the sabbatical.
individuals, and the materialism that has intensified in Israeli society has
distanced us from the spiritual world,” said Piron during the
“We have to re-examine the relationship between the material and
the spirit and to strive towards the return of humility towards nature and
reality,” he continued.
And Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz
said that the shmita year was an expression of the “connection between social
justice and environmental justice” and added that the ministry was looking into
opening certain nature sites for free admission during the shmita
The Knesset State Control Committee also discussed preparations for
the shmita year on Monday, focusing on the technical aspects of Jewish law that
affect the production and sale of agricultural produce.
In particular, it
was noted that prices of fruits and vegetables during the last sabbatical in
2007/8 which were not produced through a leniency in Jewish law allowing for
produce to be grown in Israel, were subject to extreme price hikes.
committee heard that the price differential between the produce grown through
the heter mechira leniency, produce from land sold to a non-Jew under a trust
agreement, and produce from other sources was as much as 200 percent, although
the average difference was 66 percent.
The haredi community in particular
does not accept the heter mechira leniency and so was subject to extremely high
food prices during the shmita.
Committee chairman MK Amnon Cohen (Shas)
said that the state had failed in supervising prices and that the preparations
should be made to reduce price gaps.
“Haredi families with large numbers
of children suffer from insane prices for fruit and vegetables when importers
see them as captive markets,” said Cohen.
Ben-Dahan said he would do
everything he could to remedy the problem although noting that “the issue is not
directly within my responsibility.”
He pointed out however that some of
the importers are haredi and said that the haredi community should denounce
anyone trying to profit from large families during the shmita.