Op-Ed: This Rosh Hashanah, give the earth a sabbatical

When 70 climate activists stood outside Senator Dianne Feinstein’s field offices in West Los Angeles blowing a shofar ten days ago, it wasn’t their way of wishing their Senator an early Happy New Year.

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

The activists were organized by a climate protection group called Dayenu – freely speaking Hebrew for “Enough! The draft budget partially focused on reducing CO2 emissions.

The link between climate change and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebrations that begins on the evening of September 6th, may not be immediately obvious – unless you are familiar with a rather mysterious Jewish custom of “Schmita”.

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

During Schmita, the Jews are commanded to leave the land of Israel fallow – the laws only apply to the land of Israel. They are not allowed to sow, harvest, or even buy and sell crops. You can only pick what grows by itself.

Schmita says in the Bible: “The seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath for the LORD; you shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. “

While there has been some debate over whether Shmita’s arduous laws were ever obeyed exactly as ordered, they are still, in some ways, obeyed by Orthodox Jews in Israel who have found solutions to keep food and commerce going, like z. B. Buying products from Palestinian farmers – another data point that Arab-Jewish coexistence is likely to be more mutually beneficial than conflict.

But even schmita is increasingly shaped by progressive Jews – a connection that is not difficult to understand. This year, shmita follows the latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning that the rate of global warming will lead to disaster if we do not act now to stop and perhaps reverse it.

A message from the United Nations report is that the time is over when individual actions – my compost, your Tesla, Ed Begley’s house – will make a difference.

“I have serious difficulties formulating the response to climate change in terms of what ‘I’ can do to help solve it,” said Edward Parson, UCLA’s climate policy expert, The Times. “There are some limited ways that individual behavior change can make a non-trivial difference, but climate change is an issue of the total emissions from human activities of 7.5 billion people around the world. ”

And this is where Shmita comes in. It is not up to each of us to save the country – Shmita was not an individual choice. It was a task for society as a whole; the rules were clear, wrapped in “thou shalt” and enforced from above: “If you do not listen to me after all this,” warns Leviticus 26, “I will continue to discipline you sevenfold for your sins”…. Your land will not produce its produce, the trees of the land will not produce their fruit. ”

Many religions have rituals and ceremonies designed to increase the fertility of the land. What sets shmita apart is that it ritualizes the essentials – all agricultural cultures know that the land needs rest. Neglect the order to take care of the land and you will pay.

Judaism naturally knows this from its own responsibility. In fact, the most important direction of the New Year is atonement, making atonement for everyone who has been wronged so that God can be atoned for.

Yet Shmita’s teaching makes it clear that we must act together in caring for the earth. Only acting together can prevent a tragedy of the commons.

Because of this, many non-Orthodox Jews – and non-Jews – have started to point to Shmita as a lever to instigate faith-based activism against climate change.

In fact, the concept can be a corrective to the idea that religion begins and ends with personal belief, Rev. Susan Hendershot, president of Interfaith Power & Light, told me.

“We have in a way adopted this mindset that it’s just between Jesus and me or God and me,” said Hendershot, whose group joined Dayenu’s Shofar campaign, “and climate change demands a commitment from us.” to our neighbors, regardless of whether they are next door or around the world. “

Shmita is a biblical proof that there is a time to sow, a time to reap and a time – ordained from above – for society to recover from nature.

And in the wake of a UN report that could easily despair, Shmita – and every Jewish New Year – brings a different message: It is not too late. Every year you can start over, change your life, or even save the planet.

A good time to start is now.

Rob Eshman is the national editor of Forward. @foodaism

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