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Hakhel and the End of the Shmita Year: Laws that can Green Israel

By David Krantz

20 Elul 5775  /  Sept. 4, 2015


Shmita has given us the time to imagine a sustainable future for Israel, and that’s exactly what we have planned. But first, it’s important to understand hakhel. As the book of Kohelet teaches us, and the late Pete Seeger reminded us, to everything there is a season, and so every shmita year eventually comes to its end. Just as Shabbat has havdalah and Yom Kippur has the shofar’s blast, so too the shmita year has a grand-farewell tradition: Hakhel, the Assembly.

And just as havdalah takes place after Shabbat ends, and the shofar is blown after Yom Kippur ends, so too does Hakhel take place after the shmita year ends. Although there are differing opinions on when exactly; while the Babylonian Talmud says that hakhel occurs during Sukkot itself, the Jerusalem Talmud says that hakhel happens after Sukkot. Either way, even though the Torah commands us to practice hakhel (Devarim 31:10-12), its been largely ignored since the destruction of the Second Temple. But not this year.

But what exactly is this hakhel? It’s a time when Jews from all over gather in Jerusalem to learn and discuss the law. And next month, thanks to all who voted for Aytzim’s Green Israel slate in the World Zionist Congress elections, we will be sending a three-person delegation of Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Evonne Marzouk and myself to Jerusalem to participate in the hakhel. Indeed, just after Sukkot, the World Zionist Congress will be gathering Jews from all around the world to discuss and vote upon laws. And Aytzim’s Green Israel slate is proposing 11 of them.

For starters, we’re proposing that the legacy Zionist structure — including the Jewish National Fund in Israel (JNF-KKL), the Jewish Agency for Israel (Sachnut/JAFI), the World Zionist Organization and Keren Hayesod — incorporate the seven-year shmita cycle into their thinking by developing seven-year environmental plans. We’re also calling for the same agencies to improve the sustainability standards of their buildings so that they can become LEED certified. And, inspired by 350.org’s campaign to move money from carbon-based investments, and The Shalom Center’s similar Move Our Money Protect Our Planet campaign, we’ve put forth a resolution for the Zionist agencies to disinvest from fossil fuels and invest instead in renewal energy.

You can read all 11 here. Taken together, they have the potential to reshape Israeli environmental policy, both for the next seven years and beyond.

 

 


 

David Krantz is the president and chairperson of Aytzim: Ecological Judaism.

 

 

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