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7 on Seven: Shabbos Queens

Esther Teichtal

It’s Shabbos. Not for one day, but for an entire year, a year of uncertainty, a year of emunah. Four farmers’ wives share the experience of shemittah near the fields — the change of pace, the change of focus. It’s a Shabbos of the Land, and they greet it eagerly.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Erev Rosh Hashanah. The land was shimmering in a soft midafternoon glow as the residents of Kibbutz Sha’alvim made their way to the fields bearing drums and clarinets. Large posters hanging on the fences at the edge of their property proclaimed their land hefker in honor of the nascent shemittah year. The dark brown soil — lying empty and strangely fallow — may have seemed a dismal sight to the onlookers, but the farmers didn’t see it that way. On the contrary, together with the local yeshivah’s student body, they raised their voices in song in honor of the Shabbos about to descend upon the land. “It was a powerful experience,” tells Chemda Oren, wife of Yissachar Oren, director of field produce on the kibbutz for decades. “We were welcoming shemittah! We even sang Lecha Dodi, among other songs — just like Kabbalas Shabbos, but on a grander scale. We plan to repeat this event every shemittah, iy”H.” Tilling the Torah Soil Farmers who observe shemittah often view the seventh year as one protracted Shabbos — a welcome respite from the mundane, which affords them time to devote to spiritual pursuits. In Moshav Vered Yericho, Esther Cohen and her husband Yehuda Shimon will be keeping shemittah a little differently than usual. Traditional Yemenites who have always kept a kosher home, Esther and Yehuda Shimon have been successful citrus and grape farmers since 1981. They had previously observed shemittah by relying on the controversial heter mechirah (sale of land to gentiles) so they could keep farming the land. Over the years, they’ve become more strongly observant and today Yehuda Shimon studies regularly with his chavrusa, allocated to him through Ayelet Hashachar, a community outreach organization. “This year we’ve decided to keep shemittah properly,” says Esther, with pride in her voice. “We’ve decided that it’s either all or nothing.” No tilling the land through a heter mechirah, and not even any work done in partnership with the otzar beis din (a halachic solution accepted across the board). The Cohens are granting their land an uncontestable shemittah experience.

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