Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Shmita and Palestinian produce

THE SABBATICAL YEAR: How a Biblical Edict Became a Boon for Palestinian Farmers (Naomi Zeveloff, The Forward).
The reason for this transaction, which continues throughout the Jewish calendar year, is the religious mandate known as shmita. As dictated in Exodus 23:10-11, among other places, Jews who farm within the biblical borders of the Land of Israel must let their fields lie fallow every seventh year. Right now in Israel, it’s 5775 on the Jewish religious calendar, a shmita year.

Most other Jews in Israel accept a workaround devised by Zionist rabbis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that allows them to eat food grown on Jewish-owned farms. But to comply with Jewish law as they see it, ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up about 10% of the country’s population, are forgoing produce from Jewish farms in Israel and the occupied territories this year. Instead, they look to their Palestinian neighbors — as well as to Turks, Jordanians and Israeli-Arabs — to fill their salad bowls.

To Palestinians, therefore, shmita is boom time. Shmita is the “year of the Palestinian farmers,” said Nasri Haj Mohammad, a partner in one of Froush Beit Dajan’s largest farms. On a short break in the workday, he sat next to a fishpond surrounded by citrus groves and greenhouses. A white crane alighted on the water. What is shmita? he contemplated. “The simple answer is, it’s a good season to sell the products at a premium price.”
But the process is not uncontroversial or without its complexities. More on this year's Shmita in Israel (and the abovementioned workaround, a.k.a. "George") is here and here.