“…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.


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Adam v’adama: The relationship between people and land – 11

This lesson looks at our relationship to the land through an ecological lens.  What can we learn from the Bible regarding the general obligation of humans to care for the earth vs. their right to exploit it for their benefit?  And what obligations, if any, do we have as Jews to care for the natural resources and landscape of the Land of Israel?  Today it is common in the west to speak of our species’ obligation to use the land without abusing it, to see our benefiting from the land as conditional upon our respecting it.  We tend to associate these ideas of integration of human activity into the cycles of nature as vaguely pagan in origin or in spirit.  The question is: in an ecological perspective, what kind of relationship to the land do we find in Jewish sources?  How does the modern enterprise of reclaiming and settling the Land of Israel relate to Jewish ecological concepts?


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Sukkot – 26

Sukkot is a much loved and much studied festival that comes to round up the fall holiday season. It “works” as a harvest festival in Europe and North America, and is associated with messages of eco-harmony and colorful customs. And it ends with Simchat Torah, certainly a non-Israel-based celebration (and likely a Diaspora innovation). Thus, one can happily observe Sukkot without noticing any connection to Israel. And yet, there are a number of aspects of this festival that definitely express our connection to the land of Israel. This unit seeks to highlight these, without necessarily reviewing the whole range of religious meanings, values, and observances connected with the holiday.


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Tu Beshvat – 27

Tu Beshvat is mentioned in the Mishna not as a holiday but as the cut off date in determining tithes and orlah. (See lesson 9 on the mitzvot of the land of Israel). Despite these humble beginnings the day has evolved into a holiday commemorating our connection to the land of Israel and its natural bounty. In this class we will trace the evolution of the day and the different meanings it has acquired throughout the ages. We will try to understand the reasons behind the significance each age chose to emphasize and how the different interpretations reflect a changing connection to the land of Israel.


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