Jewish History Soundbites

Land on Sabbatical: Shemitah in Modern Times Part I

September 19, 2021
With the onset of the First Aliyah in the 1880's, and the beginnings of Jewish agricultural settlements as a result, the issue of how to observe Shmita came to the fore. Most of the original colonies were funded and managed by Baron Edmund De Rothschild, and he and his managers weren't too keen on having the farmers disengage from agricultural activities for an entire year.
The leaders of the Chovevei Zion movement sought a way to resolve the issue and the original 'Heter Mechira' was formulated. With the tacit support of Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, the land was sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the shmita year. Most of the colonies availed themselves of the Heter Mechira. The Ekron-Mazkeret Batya settlement decided to follow the ruling of the Jerusalem rabbinate and observe shmita in its ideal form. The Baron and his managers saw this as a revolt, and accused them of being lazy, but they held steadfast.
The ensuing tension and struggle would set the stage for both shmita observance as well as the overall religious-secular tensions of the Yishuv for decades to come.
 
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