While Shemitah may appear to be a narrow topic linked specifically to agricultural laws in the land of Israel, this class will use Shemitah as a window into contemporary ethical questions about economics, the environment, and freedom. We’ll explore how Jewish philosophical texts, from medieval to modern, understand shemitah’s broader significance for those who might not encounter it in daily practice.
- Session 1/Intro: Why might Jewish philosophy have anything to say about Shemitah? This class will introduce some of the different approaches Jewish philosophers have used to think about Shemitah and explore what might be gained by thinking philosophically about this topic. We will also broach some questions of philosophy of halakha by discussing what it means to “participate” in Shemitah.
- Session 2/Economic Justice: The notions of rest for both the land and agricultural workers, as well as the release of debts after the Shemitah year, speaks to concerns about economic and labor justice, explored by many modern Jewish thinkers.
- Session 3/Land and Zionism: Shemitah is inherently about the land. Modern Jewish thinkers differ on their approach to the land of Israel and Judaism, which impacts the ways we may think of Shemitah.
- Session 4/Rest and Environmental Ethics: Like Shabbat, Shemitah is fundamentally about “rest.” What might notions of “Sabbath” and rest have to say for Jewish philosophy? How might they impact that way we think about our current environmental crisis?
- Session 5/Freedom: Finally in the Jubilee year the Bible tells us to proclaim freedom across the land, and every seven years slaves are set free. Notions of freedom are central to Jewish philosophy, especially in the modern period. – How might they help us understand the meaning of freedom in the Shemitah year?