Saturday, May 24, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Behar (Shemita during Shemita)

Every seventh year we are to have a remission of debts, freedom for slaves, and a chance to give rest to our land. Thus is the law in the land of Israel. This parasha is especially appropriate this year because it happens to be the seventh year in the Sabbatical Cycle, and is therefore the Shemitta year. One is not supposed to work the land nor sell their produce. This is literally a year of Shabbat, a year off from the back-breaking labor of being a farmer. One should only provide for their own family from the produce of the field. All other years we have certain mitzvot of the field for the poor, that we must leave the edges of the field for the poor as well as the gleanings that have been left after one pass for them. But this year it is basically a free-for-all. Everything is hefker, legally ownerless. I could go into anyone's field and according to Jewish law I can take anything I want. I don't know if this is the policy of the state of Israel and I don't know if a shoter, a police officer, would arrest me for trespassing or for stealing. I do know that some of my professors at Pardes mentioned that they keep signs in front of their fruit trees this year that say that anyone who wants can pick fruit from their trees.

There have been a few interesting legal fictions created for the Shemitta Year. Last year I lamented the lack of Wikipedia article on Prozbul. Now there is indeed an article. In fact, I wrote it. I have already written on prozbul, which allows debts to be collected and not cancelled. Another legal fiction applies to the state of Israel and is similar to selling Chometz on a massively grand scale. The entire State of Israel was sold to a Druze guy in the Golan. In this way the land can still be worked by Jews because it is not legally owned by us. Hooray for loopholes. The problem is what if Muslim extremists find this guy, whose identity and location are not disclosed? I imagine it being like on Family Guy when Peter Griffin borrows the "Free Tibet" sign from a protester and then calls China, offering Tibet in exchange for all the tea in China. There probably are also loopholes making this non-transferable.

However, this now makes my school, the American Jewish University, with its main campus, Brandeis-Bardin Institute, and Camp Ramah in California the largest Jewish landowner in the world for the year. Neat.

Shabbat Shalom.

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