Together, Shenat Hasheva and YU are Changing the World One Fruit at a Time
If one would ask different people across the social and religious spectrum what main internal challenges the Jewish community in Israel faces today, answers would cover a rather wide range: poverty, unequal distribution of wealth, pollution, ignorance of Torah, weak belief in G-d, divisiveness between different “types” of Jews and low levels of Jewish pride and identity, among others. In short, notwithstanding the tremendous blessing of our land, no introspective individual would say that our society in the Land of Israel is close to perfection. However, as it is quite easy to recognize the problems and the many challenges to address, it is also easy for the simple Jew, the young college student living in America, to think that they are not in the position to help to solve these titanic issues, and thus, that they’re exempt at even attempting to contribute in any form.
Shenat HaSheva, an organization founded by YU professor Rabbi Dr. Ari Bergmann, invites the Jewish People, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, to tangibly participate in and create change. While this project encompasses and embraces every single Jew, it is especially relevant to the YU community. YU and RIETS have partnered with Rabbi Bergmann "to unite the Jewish people through the spirit of the mitzvah of Shemitta." As some YU students were privy to seeing how Shenat HaSheva is changing Shemitta in Israel during the Shemitta trip last winter break, every student in the university will be able to participate in the surreal initiative that addresses and raises significant awareness about the challenges listed above. Shenat HaSheva balances financial, logistical and educational variables to enable the farms in Israel to operate efficiently while upholding the halachic requirements of Shemitta. At the same time, it allows the larger Jewish population in Israel to feed both their bodies and their souls with the fruit of the land that “flows milk and honey.”
In any case, Shenat HaSheva’s initiative is not merely a project that attempts to fix the less than ideal halachic observance of Shemitta. Shenat HaSheva, or the mitzvah of Shemitta itself as Jewish thinkers explain, comes to heal Jewish society broadly and holistically.
The controversy and divisiveness this mitzvah creates is well known. Some farmers sell their fields to non-Jews and work the land during Shemitta as if it were a regular year — this method is known as Heter Mechira and was approved back in the day by Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Others opt to buy fruit from other countries at a costly price or even buy from Palestinians in Gaza, since they do not consider the selling of the land a legitimate device to override the prohibition of Shemitta — this follows the view of the Chazon Ish. Clearly, both nominally selling land and buying fruit from other countries or Gaza are not ideal ways to solve the economic distress that Shemitta creates. Furthermore, both “solutions” create imperfect halachic realities and intense divisiveness in the Jewish community. Ironically, while Shemitta was intended to be a year of reunion and shared experience, since the late 1880s it has been a cause of strife and internal quarrel. However, after decades of debate, leaders of the Jewish community in Israel from across the spectrum –– Rav Kanievsky zt”l, Rav Edelstein, Rav Rimon and others –– have endorsed Shenat HaSheva’s initiative as the most ideal way to observe the mitzvah today. Fortunately, Shenat HaSheva offers realistic opportunities so that this year every one of us can help to end the polemic and create unity in the Jewish people.
Shemitta is more than the religious ripple effects it creates. Shenat HaSheva will also bring about significant social change. The organization coordinates the distribution of produce and guarantees affordable access to it, preventing a tremendous amount of fruit waste and naturally, a significant amount of carbon emissions. Moreover, Shemitta is essentially about the owner of the field and the farmer selflessly dedicating their shared work and produce to their Jewish brothers and sisters. Rabbi Bergmann noted in an episode of the 18Forty podcast that even though the Torah recognizes the obvious benefits and efficiencies of a capitalist economy, at the same time, it is aware that capitalism without rest is also dangerous. The tireless pursuit of personal success could strip people of their innate altruistic humanity. And thus, the Torah prescribes the Jewish farmer to be a capitalist for six years and then a socialist during the seventh.
Even beyond the socioeconomic or environmental “benefits” of Shemitta kept properly, Shenat HaSheva also fights ignorance. They do more than the logistics of getting the fruit from the farm to the masses: they educate Israeli society about the holiness of the Land of Israel and the practical laws of eating and discarding fruit of the Seventh Year, and transmit more general ideals such as the unity of the Jewish people or G-d’s mastery over nature and the world. Shenat HaSheva brings holy fruit to “secular” Israeli college students to feed their Jewish identity with an appreciation for the Jewish people and the Holy Land.
From the several projects Shenat Hasheva is undertaking, Pri Yomi is its crown Jewel. And in fact, Pri Yomi, the flagship project of the whole Shemitta revolution, is where the YU community comes to the scene. In a nutshell, this will bring “a fruit a day” to over 77,000 students from over 300 yeshivas and seminaries in Israel from across the Orthodox spectrum. Both Israeli students and youngsters coming from the Diaspora to learn for a year will be eating Perot Sheviit for 30 weeks. Pri Yomi is not only about nourishing brains and hearts with holy food or about teaching students how to properly consume Shemitta produce, but comes to bind the Jewish people together in a practical and existential way. The youngsters, the new generation, from Chareidi, Bnei Akiva, Sefardi and Chassidish backgrounds will come together to enjoy the Shemitta fruit, to learn about the nation’s essential oneness and to rejuvenate our common attachment to the Land of Israel.
YU students are invited to join Pri Yomi. By contributing $18.50, they will be able to partner with a talmid or talmidah learning in Israel providing “a fruit a day” for 30 weeks. Moreover, YU students are also the Pri Yomi’s ambassadors, so to speak. We are all encouraged to reach out to our former high schools, shuls and movements we belong to to spread awareness of the mitzvah of Shemitta and help encourage the broader Jewish community to get involved and join the crowdfunding for Pri Yomi. Shemitta is a mitzvah that belongs to every single Jew –– the more Jews we involve, the better!
There is so much to work on. Jews in the Diaspora and Jews in Israel, as individuals and as a community, have the privilege to participate in this special project. It could feel overwhelming and somewhat beyond the capability of the average YU student. However, this Yom Ha’Atzmaut, as we do a collective balance of our strengths and challenges, we can take something upon ourselves: Actively engaging in the mitzvah of Shemitta through the Shenat HaSheva initiative and deeply contemplating on the philosophical ideals behind the mitzvah. We will change the world one fruit at a time.
Photo Caption: Shenat HaSheva makes Shemitta accessible to every Jew.
Photo Credit: Tal Surasky on Unsplash