“…For the land is Mine” – laws governing the use of the land – 9
The Torah – given in the desert – contains a number of laws that restricted our freedom to exploit the land upon our entry into it. These include limits on when we may work the land, what we may sow and how we may harvest – and also taxation on the produce. Since these commandments are only binding on Jews living on their land in Eretz Yisrael, the tradition developed a special attachment to them – as long as we are living in exile, we are denied the opportunity to fulfill these mitzvot, so our religious life is incomplete. These laws therefore came to symbolize the specialness of the land, our connection to it, and our longing for it when we are in exile. Of the various land-based laws, the sabbatical year (shmita) is probably the best known example, and one whose restoration has generated interesting debates over the past century and a half, so we will examine it as a case study in this unit. This exploration will touch on questions about the nature of land ownership, about mechanisms of social justice, and about the relevance of biblical precepts in the post-biblical era.