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This paper explores shmita, the biblical concept and practice at the heart of Judaism’s
sustainable-agriculture ethic, showing that today’s so-called modern ideas — such as
veganism, rewilding and economic degrowth — are effectively incarnations of millennia-
old practices in indigenous Judaism that rebalance the relationship between humans and
their fellow animals, demonstrating a utilitarian value that complements the intrinsic
value of preserving ancient traditions.
Beginning as the ancient Israelites, the Jewish people were mostly farmers and shepherds
practicing sustainable agriculture according to the edicts of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible.
Over about 1,800 years of exile, however, Jews were unable to practice their land-based
traditions tied to their holy land. But the dawn of modern-day Zionism in the mid-to-late
19th century and the subsequent return of Jews to their homeland in what is now Israel
has allowed Jews to revive the sustainable-agricultural practices of indigenous Judaism.
Long-forgotten aspects of the biblical laws of shmita delineate a relationship of equality
between humans and their fellow animals, both domesticated and wild. This paper examines
the biblical verses of shmita, the history of its practice, and how the millennia-
old biblical ideal governing relationships between humans and other animals could inspire
people of faith today.
(School of Sustainability, College of Global Futures, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, Arizona State University)