April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

While not yet a permanent resident of Israel (hopefully soon), I did have what I felt was a divine encounter recently when I volunteered to come to the aid of farmers in the Gaza Envelope who had lost their labor forces in the wake of the Black Sabbath of October 7, 2023.

Rather than letting it rot in place, every lemon picked represented to me a deserved benefit to the farmer and to the Israeli consumer. Every tomato vine pruned felt like it was an appropriate response to God in fulfilling the mitzvah of harvesting the Holy Land and thus in a pragmatic sense supplying the people with the bulk of their vegetables rather than having to import them.

Our Jewish calendar is indexed to the harvest seasons. Our holy scriptures are full of references to agricultural ordinances including but not limited to the Torah requirements to leave the corner of one’s field for the poor (pe’ah), abstain from eating the fruits of a new tree (orlah), and letting the land lie fallow every seventh year (shemitah). Clearly, as the Mishna states, the agricultural commandments themselves further hallow the holy land.

It would seem as though our spiritual fate as a people of faith and the fate of agricultural produce from the soil of the Holy Land are in some way intertwined. Perhaps the confluence of the two is achievable in the near term.

As the alleged manpower shortages manifest themselves in a lengthy, multi-front campaign, it is hard to ignore the fact that 17% of those eligible to enlist currently are haredim.

I may well not be entitled to a stance on an issue that has been simmering since the establishment of the state and is now by all appearances coming to a boil. Being neither a soldier nor a theologian, I am not qualified to weigh in publicly on whether the army protects the beit midrash or whether the opposite is true, though I have my opinion.

What I am prepared to opine on in the public domain is that at least in the near term the rabbis should mobilize teams of their haredi students to fulfill a holy imperative and help the farmers and the country for a few hours a day for six days a week in combination with their learning. There seems to be such a potential overlap in terms of developing thought combined with action for the benefit of the collective while adhering to God’s commandments.

Surely this could provide at least an interim way forward in a peaceful manner without fracturing our society. We have enough enemies who wish to do that!

Food for thought?

Michael Turek
New Rochelle

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