This Rosh Hashanah, give Earth a sabbatical

The LA Times

When 70 climate activists stood outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s West Los Angeles field offices 10 days ago and blew a shofar, it wasn’t their way of wishing their senator an early Happy Jewish New Year.

One clue? One of their protest signs read, “Sho-far, Not Sho-good.”

The activists were organized by a climate action group called Dayenu — loosely speaking, Hebrew for “Enough!”— part of a campaign that is blowing the ritual ram’s horn across the country to urge Congress to pass President Biden’s $3.5-trillion “Build Back Better” budget bill focused in part on reducing carbon emissions.

The connection between climate change and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins the evening of Sept. 6, might not be immediately apparent — unless, that is, you’re familiar with a fairly arcane Jewish custom of “shmita.”

Shmita (rhymes with “pita”) is a sabbatical year on the Jewish calendar, occurring every seven years, including in 5782, which begins Monday evening.

During shmita, Jews are commanded to let the land of Israel lie fallow — the laws only apply to the land of Israel. They may not sow, harvest or even buy and sell crops they produce from the land. They can only pick what grows on its own.

Shmita is set in the Bible: “The seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the LORD; thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard_.”_

Even though there is some debate as to whether the onerous laws of shmita were ever observed exactly as commanded, they are still followed in some fashion by Orthodox Jews in Israel, who have found workarounds to keep food and commerce flowing, such as buying produce from Palestinian farmers — another data point that Arab-Jewish coexistence is likely more mutually beneficial than conflict.