What’s Shmita?

The first day of the upcoming Jewish year, Rosh Ha’Shana falls this year on September 24, 2014 – and it marks the start of the Sabbatical Year – known as Shmita.

This biblically prescribed sabbatical year occurs every seven years, building on the weekly Sabbath concept, mandating a seven year cycle of agricultural rest that enables the land of Israel to lay fallow, the laborer to refresh, and financial debts to be released.

farm1For centuries, as Jews lived mostly outside the Land of Israel, Shmita was lesser observed. Since the onset of Zionism and the return to the land in the late 19th century, important developments have taken place regarding the use of this ancient system in an emerging global economy.

Currently Shmita is practiced in Israel in accordance to Orthodox rulings, but is of limited relevance to the majority of Israelis and world Jewry. Lots of people in Israel and all over the world are exploring interesting ways of making this practice meaningful and relevant, within the halachic boundaries and beyond. Check out our good friends and partners at Hazon who created an impressive resource book, in partnership with Siach, Sova and 7 Seeds. Many of the Fallow Lab sources come from this collection. Also check out these Israeli Shmita projects for more examples of innovations and useful Shmita related resources.


Rabbi Kook’s Introduction to Shabbat Ha’aretz – new translation

Hazon’s Shmita Project:

Hazon’s Shmita Source Book:

Hazon’s Shmita Resource Library:

7 Seeds Project

Sova Blog


Hebrew College/Sova Library of Shmita related publications

Israeli Shmita page (Hebrew)
Israel Gives: The Israeli Shmita Initiative (English):

Shmita Rosh Ha’shana Seder 5775

Observing shmita sensibly, Rabbi Benny Lau

What’s Digital Shmita?

For all of us non-farmers, not living in Israel, and not connected to Jewish law or the idea Shmita – how can we still use this helpful grid for growth in a meaningful way?

That’s why I came up with the idea for FALLOW LAB: reclaiming Shmita as a useful tool for our modern and way too digitized lives. A variation on a theme.

Fallow Lab takes Shmita to the next conceptual level, relevant for everyone who needs more grounding in life. By focusing on the essence of the Shmita concept, Fallow Lab will address a contemporary version of our ‘soil and toil’: the virtual landscape.

Here’s why I came up with the idea:

I’m an avid and grateful user of all sorts of digital tech. I post and respond, email, txt, skype, tweet, click, ping, love it and hate it like the rest of us.

rushkohhI’m a fourth year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul, a writer, performer, abba of three awesome kids and, currently, single. So I’m onilne. a lot. for work, study, life, love, you name it. I watch my fellow students, friends, family, kids and congregants dealing with similar issues. Maybe we are not addicts but we sure are the first generations to handle this reality and we may need some help.

So although I’m getting better at digital discipline I was looking for better ways of going about it. And then Nigel got me thinking about Shmita.

Nigel Savage is a force of nature and a dear friend. We went for an epic eight hour walk across San Francisco, one shabbat last year, and he went on and on about his current passion: Bringing back Shmita to the global Jewish agenda and beyond as a useful tool for more sustainable and healthy living.

It got me thinking about my need for better digital discipline.


Why not translate the notion of Shmita to the Unplugged movement? Along with my friends from reboot I saw a lot of interest and follow through on ways to unplug and detox our digital on a weekly basis – usually around Shabbat. Tech Sabbath became a new way – not just Jewish – of reconnecting to the old wisdom in response to new challenges.

So: What about a year of gradual unplugging? We can’t all unplug and go into a hammock for a full year, but maybe a year of conversations, observations, and baby steps towards better balance and awareness?

Here’s the logic:

Shmita is about giving rest to the farmers and the Land of Israel.( It has also an element of debt release which is more complicated, applies worldwide and not my main focus this time around.)

But since most of us are not farmers, and are not in Israel, and do not observe Jewish law in strict manners – what if we substitute the notion of land to the soil where we actually toil?

Where Shmita is needed most today for most of us is our digital domain, the extension of our earth based labor, the new parts of our body and brain. Online in its many forms is the virtual landscape where we live and love and work and play and could use a break and a better system. Let’s fallow and see what happens.

For the record: This is not a post zionist or post halachic project. I have a lot of respect for the noble and interesting Shmita projects going on in Israel and all over the world this coming year in accordance with Jewish Law and modern economic needs.

I just want to propose this added approach for the rest of us who want to reclaim this Shmita, release some of our anxiety overload, and restore the balance of our lives, a little better, through the course of a year.

After that walk with Nigel I turned for feedback on my idea from other friends and from the Lab/Shul community. We began planning and plotting.

My friend Tiffany Shlain offered to integrate her short vids from ‘The Future Starts Now’ series she created for AOL. It’s in here.
Douglas Rushkoff, one of our cyber prophets, suggested that I read ‘Program or be Programmed’ – his book with ten commands for digital health.

I liked his book so much I decided to make it the key text for the year, dedicating ten of the twelve monthly conversations to the ten commands Rushkoff suggests as a structure for our digital rethinking.

Many other friends came along to help build the site, design it, come up with ideas and next steps. This will be a year-long-work-in-progress-lab and I’m thrilled to be in conversation with whoever comes along for the ride.

I’m excited for this year of experiments in conversation making – having these conversations in NYC and online, through webinars and podcasts and emails and posts – it’s a lot of information in new formats. Part of me wishes to only do this in NYC – in person with people, offline. But the avid techno digital fan inside me knows the value of communication and the merit of our amazing advances in information transmission and how wonderful it is to share ancient wisdom and new ideas together in brave new ways.

I know it’s somewhat ironic to spend a year devoted to better digital balance with so much of it online – but this is about celebrating the best of what progress gives us – and knowing how to release and let go of what we don’t really need as much. We’ll figure it out as we go along.

HUGE thanks to partners in vision and action for their generous wisdom: Nigel Savage and the Hazon team for the incredible work and resources, The Global Shmita Network, Reboot.
Douglas, Tiffany, Evan, Josh, Craig, Dan, Rachel – and many more.

Let’s fallow.

This is how it’s going to work:

12 conversations in 12 months.
You got 7 ways to join the conversations.

The live NYC sessions will be 3 hours long, the webinars will be 1 hour each, the podcasts will be about 20 min. long, and the print it yourself conversation starters will enable you to lead your own conversations on these topics for as long as you like.

Got it?

Learn more:


Douglas Rushkoff, Program or be Programmed

Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock

Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Nicholas Carr, The Shallows

Eric Davis, TechGnosis

CNN: how to unplug

BBC: Time for a digital detox

Randy Zuckerberg: DOT Complicated

Reboot: The National Day of Unplugging


The Guardian: Seven Deadly Digital Sins

TED Talk: Sherry Turkle, Connected, but Alone?

The Moxie Institute, The Future Starts Here

Digital Detox: Summer Camp for Adults

Vooza: Digital Detox

TED Talk: Abha Dawesar: Life in the “digital now”

Tiffany Shlain and Moxie Institute: YELP! with apologies to Howl

The Innovation Of Loneliness

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