I have been writing and thinking about Shmita a huge amount over the last 6 months. In fact it began almost 18 months ago when I was asked to co-teach a 5 week course on the subject with Rabbi Natan Levy for the Jewish Social Action Forum. In all honesty, Shmita has pretty much passed me by previous to this. I noticed some grumblings about Israeli fruit prices, odd boycotts by Jews of Israeli produce because it was Shmita produce, and the vanishing act Palwins did 7 years ago (probably wouldn't have noticed had a wine dealer not pointed it out to me!)
But in learning and teaching it, and then attending the wonderful Siach Shmita summit in May, I have been awoken to a world which this time around is talking and thinking very differently about Shmita. This post has, as a result, been percolating for the last few months, and now I realise Shmita is almost nigh, and I must get it down!
So what is Shmita? There are lots of fabulous resources from Hazon and JSAF to name but a few so I won't bore with the details here (plus we have a year ahead of us...) but essentially the laws around Shmita, (largely in Exodus 23, Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15 and 31) suggest that time is not just effective in cycles of 7 days, but also in cycles of 7 years. Just as Shabbat is a day of rest and renewal, Shmita is a year of rest and renewal for the land. But Shmita reaches beyond the land, and frames the resting of the land within a context of social justice (particularly in the Leviticus chapter), and asks us to allow equal access to the food that is available, to feed the poor, and on top of all this to release debts and slaves.
Shmita embodies some amazing values. But it was intended for 'when you enter the land'. Why would we care in the diaspora, especially if we aren't farmers? Well for me the simplest answer is if there is so much beautiful intent and meaning why not explore those themes and bring them to life if they help bring us to life? And this isn't the only area where we do this. We no longer have a Temple, and have over time transformed and re-understood the spiritual meaning behind our festivals. We have made them engaging and uplifting both in the land of Israel and well beyond, and now, it is Shmita's turn!
For me, Shabbat helps to make the other 6 days more productive. In several ways the 7th year is not necessarily (or only) suggesting an ideal for how we want the world to be (led by cooperation, freedom, protection for the environment and a particular model of economic justice) but it is a way to make the other 6 years more productive. Perhaps it isn't saying that our economic models etc are totally wrong, but that they need re-balancing from time to time, and become dangerous if unchecked. One might even argue it is a spiritual corrective to an otherwise unchecked consumption. If Shmita was to work, it would rely on an economy of gifts and sharing, rather than ever expansive growth (which is a core part of the other 6 years). It requires us to let go of our sense of want and possession, and focus on need and sharing.
For me this sense of taking a year to appreciate 'enoughness' is a powerful one, and one that is being explored by The Sova Project. Many of us need it personally, and our environment is crying out for it, not to mention some of those who produce that which we endlessly consume. The faceless nature of the worlds economy today has made it possible for us to disregard the humanity of others. Others who produce our goods, or who are going hungry in the next street. Shmita asks us to let go of the concept of 'mine' and 'yours'; to share, to let go. Our regular economy grows on interest and indebtedness (a recurring problem in the last few years). The Shmita economy grows through gifting and sharing, and from everyone working together to be prepared.
I was deeply moved at the Siach Shmita summit in May of this year by the variety of ways people around the world were looking to explore, expand, and bring meaning to their lives through Shmita. And they inspired me to want to make this coming year meaningful for us as a UK Jewish community (which the Jewish Social Action Forum will help us do with campaigns around food banks) but also for me on a personal level. How can I embody release, rest, just economics, healthier relationships to consumption, freedom, and a year that would bring balance to help me begin the next cycle with renewed vigour, as Shabbat does every week!
And so I determined to set myself a 7 part (seemed poetic) Shmita manifesto. Some inspired by those I learnt from in May, others coming out of my own passions and pieces that need work. These will guide me through the coming year, beginning this weds evening on Erev Rosh Hashanah. Here they are in brief, I will expand more in the coming weeks.
1. No Shopping. Ok not totally no shopping. I will buy food and medicine. And shoes for a growing 2 year old. But just as I did for 3 months when I first began this blog, I will spend this year re-balancing my relationship to stuff. I will say more about this soon in another blog, but for now, this will be one of the biggies for the year, addressing how our system of continual consumption enslaves others, and ourselves, and is causing untold damage to our Eco systems and environment, not to mention continually depleting finite resources.
2. No 'products'. This is one our small family are keen to undertake together. We will endeavor to bake our own bread, and if necessary make our own crumpets, produce our own stocks, pasta, fish fingers, biscuits, cakes etc. We will be trying to avoid buying into the ever expanding kosher products market, which invariably stuff us full of sugar and salt and palm oil. We are hoping to be healthier, and learn new skills. We have a kitchen full of gadgets. It's time to get our monies worth, and spend more time engaging with and getting to know our food, reducing packaging and waste and hoarding. I am also hoping to grow what I can but know this is rather limited at the moment and that this year the slugs seriously defeated me!
3. Every shop will include a donation to a food bank. Every donation to a food bank will be followed up with a letter to our government demanding change to the systems that leave people unable to feed themselves and their children. I was particularly inspired in this by Rabbi Margaret Jacobi who has been campaigning on this issue.
4. No email or social media before 7am or after 7pm (the latter definitely harder but again, 7 seemed like a good number). I can phone and Skype as these are about bringing people together and relationship building that is face to face not facebook. I am becoming enslaved to my smart phone and I want to stay smarter than it. I also want to be more present with the people I am in the room with. I am hugely inspired by Amichai Lau Lavie in this who has set up Fallow Lab. This was featured today in Ha'aretz.
5. Reading and growing me. My digital unplugging will I hope leave me with more time to read. I will be focussing my reading on books that help me grow and feel connected. Reading has massively slipped since becoming a mum, and yet I have continued to buy books. I am not shopping this year but suspect I still won't get through the back log of books to be read. When farmers drew back from planting and harvesting they certainly had to work hard to feed their families, but perhaps they also had more time for other pursuits, and the sabbatical, where one takes time to invest in learning and personal growth comes from the Shmita.
6. Creating gifting communities. Inspired by 'The Moneyless Man' (one of the above books which I am now half way through while preparing for this year) I hope to actively seek to create opportunities for people to share skills (such as a Jewish crafting circle), swap unwanted goods (book swaps for example) and organise ways for things to be shared. Many platforms for this exist already and it may just be a matter of getting involved but would like to see more happening locally, and want to see how we can give and receive without money being involved. If you'd like to explore the Moneyless Man's ideas without buying the book his follow up Moneyless Manifesto is online for free.
7. Liturgy. If shmita is to feel different just as Shabbat does, it needs to feel different all year. Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin already created a shmita Rosh hashanah Seder so I am hoping to create some meaningful liturgy that brings Shmita into each of the chagim: watch this space (currently working on Sukkot Shmita Ushpizin).
Rosh Hashanah allows us to start the new year by exploring our relationships, with ourselves, with each other, with God, with the world. I hope Shmita will this year allow a year that brings balance to each of these areas, release, freedom, nourishment, enoughness. What will you do to bring these things into your life, your community, your world?