February 1: Shmita, creatively

The obvious reasoning behind this biblical edict is that the Land of Israel is especially precious and should not be over-cultivated until it is weakened.

letters good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Shmita, creatively Sir, - In the last few months, there has been much written and debated about the laws of shmita, accompanied by much bad feeling and outright misery. The obvious reasoning behind this biblical edict is that the Land of Israel is especially precious and should not be over-cultivated until it is weakened, leading ultimately to a loss of production. The ordered solution is a sabbatical resting-period every seven years. While this religious ruling was, of course, laid down in an era when people did not know how to fertilize and irrigate the soil as we do today, many Jews feel that it must nevertheless be adhered to. One thing is for sure: Selling the land symbolically to non-Jews, known as heter mechira, in no way accommodates the reasoning behind the edict, or, indeed, preserves the land in any way. Yet it seems to me that there are ways to keep this very specific commandment and still secure a living for those who look to one from the land. The Torah does not say which and what year should be regarded as the 7th year... so what is to stop a farmer rotating and keeping one-seventh of his land fallow every year? Just as a caterer or restaurant owner testifies that he keeps a kosher establishment and gets a rabbinical certificate to that effect, so could a certificate be given to a farmer or landowner testifying that one-seventh of his land is lying idle that year, on a rotation basis. Fields could be inspected to ensure compliance. This method of leaving land fallow would mean no ruin to the grower other than, perhaps, a slightly smaller initial total yield; but if land is allowed to rest, as was intended, maybe its total yield will be all the greater when it is cultivated again? The law mentions one's field and not one's garden, so it is obviously intended to apply to a person making a profit from the soil - underlining an injunction that discourages greediness in commercial undertakings - so presumably gardens and patios should be looked at differently. Yet this year there has been much "advice" dispensed by people with no knowledge of how to preserve a garden. Though I feel sure the Almighty does not want our plants, or the farmer's, to die, I have seen instructions that plants should not be watered if there is a hole at the bottom of the pot. How can a plant live without water, especially in a country with many months of no rain? And, anyway, if a pot is filled with soil purchased in a bag from a garden center, how can this soil fall within the injunction to give your land a sabbatical every seventh year? Which brings me to my final exhortation: Yes! Let us keep the law of shmita, but in a newer way and from a different perspective - one that will ease hardship and be of all-round benefit ("Tu Bishvat gets 'shmita' treatment," January 20). GLORIA MOUND Gan Yavneh