Thursday, September 13, 2007

sabbath year

Every seven years the Torah instructs farmers that they should leave their fields fallow, in essence a sabbath for the land (Leiticus 25:3-4). When I was in Israel I read in the paper that the sabbath year was about to start with Rosh Hashanah, which begins tonight.

But instead of following the instruction many observant Jewish farmers were working to get around it. The rule says that the necessity of a sabbath year for the fields only applies to land owned by Jews. So Jewish farmers go through a process of ritually "selling" their land for the duration of the year to a non-Jew, through a special contract. As tennant farmers they then work the field just as they always do, and then at the end of the year, they buy it back (for a token price) from the non-Jew owner. The same kind of situation happens each year at Passover when observant Jews ritually sell all the Hametz in their homes to a non-Jew in case they missed anything during the ritual cleaning.

To their credit the news story that I saw pointed out that many Jewish leaders complained about the hypocrisy of this practice, even as other Jews followed it. The issue seems simple to me: which takes precedence, our human needs, or God's law as recorded in the Torah? Pretending to honor the Torah by following the strict letter, but violating the obvious principle seems to say that human needs take precedence. So if that's the case then why go through the fiction of pretending to follow the law?

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