“The laws governing the shemittah year were designed to strengthen the Jewish people’s trust in Hashem and to serve as a reminder that as important as our efforts are, ultimately everything comes from above. It is an opportunity, every seven years, to witness the manifestation ofHashem’s presence in the world.”
As we are little more than a month away from a shemittah year it is helpful to review some of the laws and customs as they pertain to us in Israel as well as outside of Israel.
The laws of shemittah are outlined in Vayikra, the third book of the Torah; Chapter 25
verses 1-7. Shemittah is a sub-cycle which occurs every seven years in fifty-year cycles. During the seventh year of each sub-cycle it is forbidden for the Jewish people to work the land of Israel. It is important to note that though we maintain all of the laws related to the seventh year, shemittah, the fiftieth year, known as yovel, has not been counted since the Second Temple (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 10:3). The Talmud, in tractate Avodah Zarah 15B, also forbids a gentile from working the land owned by a Jew, just as there is a prohibition of having a gentile work for a Jew on the Sabbath. There is a debate as to whether a Jew would be permitted to work the land at all in the shemittah year even if the land is owned by a gentile.
While in general one is permitted to work the land in the sixth year in preparation for the seventh, there are, however, some limitations as to what may be planted in Israel, in the last weeks before Rosh Hashanah, as this may give the appearance as though the planting took place in the seventh year. Once the year arrives the land must lay fallow. Any crops that grow during the shemittah year are to be considered ownerless and are free for the taking. Anyone, including the farmer, who wishes to partake in the produce of the fields and orchards may do so and should be mindful to take only what is necessary to feed their families. The laws governing the shemittah year were designed to strengthen the Jewish people’s trust in Hashem and to serve as a reminder that as important as our efforts are, ultimately everything comes from above. It is an opportunity, every seven years, to witness the manifestation of Hashem’s presence in the world.