ISRAEL: Leviticus spells disaster for farmers
With the start of the Jewish New Year 5761, powerful rabbis in Israel have enforced an observance of an ancient biblical injunction that could cause financial bankruptcy for farmers and food retailers, and high prices for secular consumers. Part of the Book of Leviticus (25:3-4), the contentious edict states: "Six years thou shalt sow thy field, but in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest unto the land." And now that the ultra-orthodox rabbis, who have campaigned for its observance, have gained significant influence in Israeli politics, the law of "shmita" has been passed. The farmers must let the land lie fallow for one year in every seven. They must cease cultivation this Friday (29 September).The strictly orthodox rabbis, known as the Lithuanian group and associated with the United Torah Judaism party, now hold the majority of seats on the municipal council of Jerusalem. Also, the "Lithuanian" leader, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, pressured the more moderate rabbis, including Israel's Sephardi chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, into agreeing with the shmita under the threat of excommunication. Rabbi Bakshi-Doron appeared on the nightly television news and said that he would support the literal interpretation of the shmita because he "feared becoming a social outcast."However, the livelihoods of Israel's 30,000 farmers, are quite literally hanging in the balance. Israel is a world leader in the production of sub-tropical and tropical fruit, and also forefronts the breeding and genetic improvement of sheep and cattle. As well as jeopardising the country's future in this, the law will cost farmers an estimated £3bn. One farmer was furious: "It will be a catastrophe. We will be unemployed for a year. We will have to lay off our workers, and if left untended, our soil may turn saline."
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