Shmita and Jewish Values

Yeshiva University Museum Hosts Conversation on the Justice of Shmita with Israel’s Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked

On September 30, the first day of chol hamoed Sukkot, the Yeshiva University Museum presented a public program in conjunction with their ongoing Shmita exhibition, Fields of Dreams: Living Shmita in the Modern World.

Dr. Suzanne Last Stone, University Professor of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, engaged in a stimulating conversation with Israel’s Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked in a program titled “The Justice of Shmita.” Examining the role of Shmita, the sabbatical year, in contemporary Israeli society, they also discussed the prospect of economic reform and debt relief, Israeli constitutional law, and the model that Shmita offers for Israeli and international social justice.

“It was a lively and fascinating discussion,” said Dr. Jacob Wisse, director of YUM. “Social justice as a Jewish value begs the question: What are Jewish values?” asked Stone to kick off the conversation.

Co-presented by the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Cardozo and the Consulate General of Israel in New York, the program complemented YUM’s special exhibition, which explores the dynamic process through which the biblical concept of Shmita was revived, debated and engaged by early settlers of the Land of Israel. Featuring original documents and letters by the most significant rabbinic voices of the late 19th and 20th century, as well as contemporary photographs, artifacts and works of art that demonstrate the resonance and impact of this ancient custom today, the display vividly expresses the communal ideals of social justice that have been at the heart of Shmita since it began thousands of years ago and which still animate it today.

Professor Suzanne Last Stone, left, engages Minister Ayelet Shaked, right, in conversation about the role of shmitta in contemporary Israeli society.

“Our exhibition explores the dynamic process through which the biblical concept of Shmita was revived during the re-settlement of the Land of Israel, and today’s program highlights its importance even now,” added Wisse.

Shaked is a member of the Knesset for Habayit Hayehudi, The Jewish Home party. She represents the religious party as its second-highest ranking member and its one secular Knesset member. In addition to serving on and chairing a number of key Knesset committees and attempting to reduce bureaucracy and streamline Israel’s judicial system, Shaked is active on a number of legislative and judicial fronts – among them: the effort to eradicate BDS, returning border infiltrators to their countries of origin, integrating Ultra-Orthodox members of society into the work force and army service, and promoting the employment of female Arab academics and supporting fellow female members of the Knesset.

Shaked is also known for her efforts on behalf of the weakest and poorest members of society and for her promotion of social justice. She proposed legislation, which passed, based on the principles and values of Shmita, known as the Debt Relief Bill, which stipulated that the state would have the prerogative to erase debts as high as 800,000 shekel (roughly $208,000). “Through this bill, thousands of Israelis will have the opportunity to recover from staggering debt and regain their independence in society,” said Shaked. “We have enabled 30,000 people to start their lives again by becoming a part of the economy again. Thirty thousand people got their self-respect back by this release of debt and have rejoined society.”

“Our aim is to encourage the construction of a society with social values,” she added. “During shmita, we drop off all debts, erase loans and abandon the field to those who need it. This special commandment asks us to look at the world and at the other, see things in a broader perspective and learn how to look past the material.”