A Little Shmita Waste

Happy Hanukkah! (or Chanukah, if you prefer)

In the spirit of “The Festival of Light,” I thought I’d illuminate the Orthodox Jewish practice of Shmita/Shemittah. This biblical law holds that the land of Israel must lay fallow every seventh year. No planting or pruning of crops–it’s like a sabbath for the land.

Practical Talmudic scholars, though, have found dogmatically-acceptable ways around the rule: “sell” the land to gentiles who can then farm it or grow crops in greenhouses. And in modern days, imported goods make up for any dip in domestic production.

So why am I writing about this? First, because we’re in a shmita year now! (that’s 5768 for those of you scoring at home). Second, because I think some of the repercussions, like feeding the needy, are fascinating. Exodus 23:10-11 says:

You may plant your land for six years and gather its crops. But during the seventh year, you must leave it alone and withdraw from it. The needy among you will then be able to eat just as you do, and whatever is left over can be eaten by wild animals.

The more modern Short Guide to Shemittah offers some eyebrow-raising advice:

1) No leftovers! Because all shmita year produce is holy, and is recognized as property of Hashem (G_d), we do not have the right to throw it out in a normal manner.

3) After the effort is made to consume all produce that is served, if you still find you have food that will not be eaten and you want to throw it out, there are two appropriate ways of handling the food. 

a) Take all the leftovers, wrap them in a plastic bag, and then dispose them.

b) Have a special container for shmita food waste. Each day, put the waste in a bag. Each subsequent day’s bag is put on top of the prior collected waste bags. After a few days, the food will rot on its own, after which time it is permissible to dispose of the waste. This is done by disposing of the bottom most bag each day.

While I did get short of breath after reading the first item, I appreciate the mindfulness of this practice. Although, I’m still unclear on why eating the produce the next day would be less reverential than letting it rot.

Anyway, I bet there’s less food waste in a shmita year because produce is considered holy. Imagine if we held that belief every day of every year. 

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