Israel Prepares for 'Fallow' New Year

September 12, 2007

Author: Martin Asser

Source: BBC News

In a place where who owns the land can literally be a life or death issue, a remarkable thing happens this week.

Thousands of Israeli farmers willingly sign their land over to rabbis, who then sell it to Palestinian Arabs for just a handful of shekels.

It is not some massive u-turn by the Zionist movement, but rather a convenient fiction to get around an inconvenient aspect of Jewish holy law known as the "shmita".

Wednesday evening sees Israel celebrate the start of the Jewish new year. This year, though, is a shmita year, or sabbatical year, one year in seven when Jewish-owned land in the Land of Israel must be left fallow.

Before that time, Jewish farmers agree symbolic year-long sales of their land to non-Jews, if they want to continue growing crops and selling kosher produce to the Israeli market and for export.

But not everyone is happy with the temporary sales and Israel's growing ultra-Orthodox community are pushing hard for much stricter implementation of the shmita law.