Podcast: Yedidya Sinclair on Israel’s Shmitah Year

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Every week, on the seventh day—the Sabbath—observant Jews rest. They perform no labor and they dedicate the day to serving God. This idea, the Sabbath, has another application in the Hebrew Bible: God also commands the observance of a sabbatical year to be taken every seventh year and during which the Land of Israel would lie fallow and debts would be remitted. For most of Jewish history, the laws of this year, known as shmitah, were abstract and remote. But with the growth of modern Zionism, and then the rebirth of the sovereign Jewish state, the laws of shmitah have acquired a renewed importance. Jewish farmers are obliged to let the Land of Israel lie fallow every seven years, and religiously observant Jews are prohibited from consuming fruit grown on that land. Does this happen in Israel today, and if so, how? And what are the deeper ideas embedded in the practice of shmitah?

The questions are not abstract; this new Jewish year, 5782, is a shmitah year. So on this week’s podcast, Rabbi Yedidya (Julian) Sinclair joins Mosaic Editor Jonathan Silver to explain why this biblical ordinance is so important, and how it’s expressed in Israel today. Recently, Sinclair translated and authored a commentary on a famous rabbinical work about shmitah, Shabbat Ha-Arets, The Sabbath of the Land, by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who is considered the father of religious Zionism and whose ideas about shmitah govern much of its application in Israel today.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

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