Below is a collection of Shmitah lesson plans, interactive tools, and articles created by The Lookstein Center staff or contributed to the site by Jewish educators.  

 

SHMITAH OVERVIEW

  • What: Shmitah שמיטה is the “sabbatical year” which occurs in the Land of Israel every 7th year in the Jewish agricultural cycle. During this time, the land is left to rest, and all agricultural work is forbidden. According to the Torah, during the Shmitah year, all debts are forgiven. However, during the time of the Second Temple, the concept of Prozbol was instated to protect investors, allowing the poor to receive interest-free loans before the Shmitah year.
  • When: Shmitah is observed every 7th year in the Jewish agricultural cycle in the Land of Israel. Shmitah was observed during the times of the First and Second Bet Hamikdash (Temple) and has been observed by Jews in Israel since the late 19th century. The 50th year after 7 Shmitah cycles is known as Yovel or Jubilee.
  • Why: The Torah (Exodus 23) draws a comparison between God resting on the 7th day of creation, which results in the observance of Shabbat, to the land resting in its 7th year. Debts are forgiven as well in order to protect the poor and vulnerable.
  • How: According to the Torah, any produce grown during the Shmitah year is considered hefker (ownerless), and all debts are forgiven. This causes some modern-day concerns for farmers in Israel. There are a variety of solutions employed by different communities in order to prevent farmers from suffering too great a financial loss and to allow consumers to continue to buy and consume agricultural produce during the Shmitah year.
    These include:
    Heter Mechira היתר מכירהFirst instated by the Rabbinical courts in the late 19th century, this “leniency of sale” permits Jewish farmers to sell their land to non-Jews so that they could continue to work as usual during the Shmitah year.
    Yevul Nochri יבול נכרי – This term refers to fruits and produce that have been imported to Israel during the Shmitah year from other countries.
    Otzar Bet Din אוצר בית דין – This term, meaning crops harvested in the “storehouse of the Rabbinical court,” refers to produce that has been grown under the supervision of the Rabbinical court beginning in the sixth year of a Shmitah cycle.
SHMITAH VOCABULARY

 

English Transliteration

Translation

Hebrew

The seventh year in the agricultural cycle, a time designated by the Torah to rest and not work the land.

Shmitah

שמיטה

Another term for the Shmitah year, this name draws the comparison between the “rest” that the land receives in the 7th year to the rest of Shabbat each week.

Shabbat HaAretz

שבת הארץ

A modern-day solution for produce sale and consumption in Israel during the Shmitah year that relies on importing crops from outside of Israel. Yevul Nochri יבול נכרי
A modern-day solution for produce sale and consumption in Israel during the Shmitah year that relies on the harvesting of crops in the sixth year under the supervision of Rabbinical courts. Otzar Bet Din אוצר בית דין
A modern-day solution for produce sale and consumption in Israel during the Shmitah year that allows Jewish farmers to sell their land to non-Jewish workers during the Shmitah year. Heter Mechira היתר מכירה
The “Jubilee” refers to the 50th year after 7 cycles of Shmitah years. Yovel יובל

During the time of the Second Temple, the concept of Prozbol was instated to protect investors, allowing the poor to receive interest-free loans before the Shmitah year.

Prozbul פרוזבול

 

SHMITAH EDUCATIONAL THEMES
  • Faith in God
  • Rest and rejuvination
  • The connection between agriculture and spirituality
  • The connection between the Diaspora and the Land of Israel
  • Mitzvot teluyot ba’aretz 
  • Renewal
  • Forgiveness
  • Communal responsibility
  • Ecological sustainability
  • Adapting Shmitah to changing times
ACTIVITIES FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS

 

    1. It’s All About the Process: By learning about the agricultural cycle and the precise timing that is necessary to yield a successful crop, students can reflect on aspects of their own lives which require process and the faith which is required to let go of that process. Farmers have to fertilize, plant, plow and harvest, all at specific times during the year. If anything is off, the crop will be damaged, since it is a very tightly controlled cycle. Ask students to think of anything in their life which requires preparation or process in order to be successful (examples are baking a cake, planning a surprise party, writing a paper for school, school yearbook) and to identify several different parts of the process. During the Shmitah year, the farmer’s agricultural cycle is completely interrupted and he has to rely on God to provide the crop.  Bottom line question: Go back to the process you thought of from your own life- how would it impact the final result if you could not go through each step? 
    2. Be Prepared: Even though Shabbat is only one day of the week, in the Jewish calendar, the whole week is impacted by Shabbat, including peparation for the meals, our prayers each day include references to Shabbat, we invite guests for Shabbat during the week, etc. Shmitah, likewise, is one year out of 7. How can the 6 years leading up to Shmitah be impacted by the Shmitah year? How can people ‘prepare’ for Shmitah during the years leading up to it?

    3. Rest: Like Shabbat, Shmitah is meant to be a period of rest. In what ways do the laws of Shmitah create a feeling of rest? In what ways might Shmitah actually feel more hectic or stressful than a normal year?

    4. The Passage of Time: The Jewish calendar has various cycles- the cycle of holidays, Shabbat, Shmitah, and Yovel – all of which mark the passage of time. What events or milestones do we have that help us mark the passage of time? (birthdays, anniversaries, physical development). How are these similar or different to the Jewish calendar cycles? 
    5. Shmitah in the Torah: Provide students with a concordance (or use the one on alhatorah.org) and find the different places in Tanach where Shmitah is discussed. What are the different contexts? What themes seem to repeat themselves? The word Shmitah means ‘release’. Based on the pesukim, what does the idea of release have to do with Shmitah? What is being released?
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
  1. A gardener, with few other skills, makes Aliyah. How do we explain to him that he will be unemployed one year out of seven? What responsibility does the community have to support him?
  2. The shopkeeper offers me two top-quality kosher wines. One is produced in Argentina, the other is from Israel but was produced during Shmitah under the Otzar Bet Din. I don’t know all the laws of Shmitah and am afraid that I’m going to mess something up. Should I just play it safe and buy the one from Argentina?
  3. A woman in Tel Aviv borrowed money from one of her business contacts to start a new business. The business, unfortunately, failed due to COVID, and then Shmitah came. The borrower discovered that the lender, who was not religiously knowledgeable at all, did not write a prozbol for collecting his loans, giving the borrower a religious exemption from repaying the loan, which she could not afford to do. What should she do?
  4. After months of waiting to get COVID-clearance, you are finally visiting Israel with your family. You go to visit your mother’s uncle living in a completely secular community near Haifa. You know that they do not observe kashrut so whenever you visit they serve you uncut fruits and vegetables. On your way to their home you realize that you have no clue – and likely neither do they – about the Shmitah status of their fruits and veggies. How do you avoid embarrassing them when they serve you?
  5. Meira loves living in Israel – everything about it, including the fact that her fruits and vegetables have kedusha, the special sanctity of produce grown in the land. In a normal year, she goes out of her way to buy her produce directly from the farmer so that she can separate the appropriate terumot and maasrot. With the coming Shmitah year, she is faced with a dilemma. The non-observant farmers from whom she regularly purchases her produce will not be observing Shmitah, making buying from them problematic. She has two alternatives. One is to buy from a nearby non-Jewish farmer, the other is to pay twice as much to get a special delivery of hydroponically grown vegetables, which are also not subject to the laws of Shmitah. What should Meira do?

SHMITAH ACTIVITIES, TEXTS, AND ARTICLES

What is Shmitah? Video – This video by The Lookstein Center reviews Shmitah basics for elementary school students.
Shmitah Padlet – This interactive collaborative activity by The Lookstein Center allows students to reflect and connect personally to some of the main themes of the Shmitah year.
Shmitah Resources – These resources from Ekar Farm include lesson plans, text studies, and more.
Sefaria: Shmitah Source Sheets – These curated source sheets can be used as a helpful tool in teaching students about the mitzvah of Shmitah.
Shmitah: Rest, Share, Release – This article by Yedidia Stern and Avi Sagi explores social, economic, and religious dimensions of the Shmitah year.
IyunimParashat Behar – This article by Nechama Leibowitz explains the biblical commandment of Shmitah and its applications.
Prozbol
This article by Dr. Asher Meir for the OU explores different perspectives about the concept of Prozbol.
The Kosher Consumer’s Guide to Shmitah – This guidebook by Rabbi Alan Haber provides clear, practical rules and suggestions for observing Shmitah in modern Israel.

 

SHMITAH WEBSITES and videos

The Shmitah Project – This project aims to bring awareness about the mitzvah of Shmitah through different events, texts, and more.
Shmitah in Action – This video from KKL-JNF Worldwide shows how Shmitah is observed in plant nurseries around Israel.
Start Up Roots – These videos from Israel’s Ministry of Education in English and Hebrew include techniques and recipes.
Parashat Behar: Sustainable Farming in the Torah – This video from Bimbam reviews the mitzvah of Shmitah from the angle of sustainable farming practices.
Mishnah Run – Shmitah – This Hebrew-language Mishnah study program features videos and more to teach students about Shmitah.

Have anything to add to the list? Contact us at content@lookstein.org