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Shemittah - The Sabbatical Year (Private-Religious)
Lesson 2
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


This lesson will teach the basic ideas of Shemittah and the practical reasons behind the commandment and the learners will understand the connection between respecting the Earth and respecting themselves.


Four - Fifty Minute Class Periods


The learner will:

  • demonstrate an understand of G-d’s laws of the Shemittah year.
  • identify and defend the agricultural reasons for letting the land lay fallow juxtaposed to modern day farming techniques.
  • understand and articulate the spiritual reasons for letting land lay fallow.
  • identify and demonstrate his/her understanding of the connection between respecting the Earth and respecting himself/herself.

Service Experience:

Although this lesson contains a service project example, decisions about service plans and implementation should be made by students, as age appropriate.
Learn more about the stages of service-learning.

Invite a Jewish store owner who sells Israeli products to the class and have him explain Shemittah to the class. If one is not available, invite a local farmer to the class to explain the advantages of letting the land lay fallow.


  • Pens / pencils
  • Poster board
  • Black Marker
  • one Copy per learner of Attachment One: Laws of Shemittah
  • Attachment Two: Farming Techniques
  • Attachment Three: Guide to Yom Kippur and Spiritual Cleansing
  • Attachment Four: Agricultural/Spiritual Venn Diagram
Handout 1
Laws of Shemittah
Handout 2
Farmng Techniques
Handout 3
Guide to Yom Kippur and Spiritual Cleansing
Handout 4
Agricultural/Spiritual Venn Diagram

Instructional Procedure(s):

Day One:
Anticipatory Set:
Read the first passage from
Attachment One: Laws of Shemittah to the class. Assign one learner to be the scribe. Have the class suggest reasons for this law of Shemittah. The scribe will write these suggestions on the display board for the whole class to see. Once everyone has had an opportunity to suggest their reasons, have the learners analyze their list of reasons and through discussion lead them to the realization that the reasons for the law can be agricultural or spiritual in nature. Inform them that by the end of this lesson, they will understand how the laws of Shemittah help the Earth and themselves.


  • Distribute copies of the Attachment One: Laws of Shemittah

  • As a whole group, read the laws and discuss the Biblical rationale behind the law.
    Teacher Note: The two spiritual/textual reasons are (a) God rested on the seventh day of creation, and (b) consideration for the poor, the laborers, and for the animals equally, but not for commerce.

  • Once completed and the learners demonstrated their ability to accurately articulate a clear understanding of the laws, share with the class that during the Shemittah/Sabbatical Year, the fields and the vineyards were left uncultivated and that some scholars have suggested that the Israelites were practicing an early form of soil conservation.

  • Ask the learners to share what they know about modern-day farming techniques for soil conservation.
    Teacher Note: Even today, farmers will often leave fields uncultivated. In some cases using their fallow fields for pasturing their animals and  practice crop rotation in order to restore nutrients to the soil.

  • Arrange the learners into group into four different groups. Cut up a copy of the Attachment Two: Farming Techniques and give each group one of the four farming techniques described on the handout. Give them a few minutes to read their assigned farming method, identify its key points and a select a spokesperson who will agree to share these key point with the rest of the class will called upon to do so.

  • Following these four reports, engage the learners in a discussion about if and how these farming techniques actually follow the Biblical (and often thought of as “ancient”) law of Shemittah of farming. In conclusion, have them articulate a summary of this discussion that reflects the level of their understanding.

Day Two:

  • Distribute a copy of the Attachment Four: Agricultural/Spiritual Venn Diagram and copies of the Attachment Three: Guide to Yom Kippur and Spiritual Cleansing to each learner. Review and discuss the meaning of Yom Kippur and spiritual cleansing to ensure learner's recall and understanding. http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday4.htm

  • Utilizing the Attachment Three: Guide to Yom Kippur and Spiritual Cleansing the learner’s recall and understanding of Yom Kippur and the Biblical law of Shemittah of farming techniques, have each learner fill out the Attachment  Four: Agricultural/Spiritual Venn Diagram focusing on the connecting between the agricultural and spiritual reasons of Shemittah.

  • Collect this assignment to determine the learner’s level of mastery of this lesson’s Objectives.


The learners will be assessed based on their participation in class discussions and the depth of their understanding as articulated in their completion of the Attachment Three: Agricultural/Spiritual Venn Diagram

School/Home Connection:

See Extension below.

Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

  • Have learners research, online, the Shemittah year and make a calendar of Shemittah years for the next twenty-one (21) years.
  • Ask learners to interview family members concerning farming techniques they or their ancesters used. Report their interview findings and identifying their similarities and differences when compared to modern-day farming techniques.

Bibliographical References:

Lesson Developed By:

Eytan J Apter
Bergenfield, NJ 07621


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Laws of Shemittah


God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, telling him to…

speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a sabbath to God.

For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops,

but the seventh year is a sabbath of sabbaths for the land . It is God's sabbath during which you may not plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards.

Do not harvest crops that grow on their own and do not gather the grapes on your unpruned vines, since it is a year of rest for the land.

[What grows while] the land is resting may be eaten by you, by your male and female slaves, and by the employees and resident hands who live with you.

All the crops shall [also] be eaten by the domestic and wild animals that are in your land.

You may plant your land for six years and gather its crops.

But during the seventh year, you must leave it alone and withdraw from it. The needy among you will then be able to eat [from your fields] just as you do, and whatever is left over can be eaten by wild animals. This also applies to your vineyard and your olive grove.

You may do whatever you must during the six week days, but you must stop on Saturday. Your donkey and ox must then be able to rest, and your maid's son and the foreigner must be able to relax.

Handout 2Print Handout 2

Farmng Techniques

During the Shemittah/Sabbatical Year, the fields and the vineyards were left uncultivated. Some scholars have suggested that the Israelites were practicing an early form of soil conservation; modern farmers often leave fields uncultivated or practice crop rotation in order to restore nutrients to the soil.

History of English Farming
“According to early methods of cropping, which were destined to prevail for centuries, wheat, the chief article of food, was sown in one autumn, reaped the next August; the following spring, oats or barley were sown, and the year following the harvest was a period of fallow. This procedure was followed on each of the three fields so that in every year one of them was fallow.”

Farming in South America
“Many tropical farming systems depend on fallow periods to restore soil fertility. During these periods, soil structure, chemistry and organic content improve and nutrients accumulate in woody biomass. At the same time, herbaceous weeds are eliminated, weed seed banks reduced, and pest cycles broken.”

Great Plains Farming
“During the opening half of the nineteenth century, people who traveled in the Great Plains thought of it as a sterile desert that could not be cultivated except where irrigation was possible. They soon began to find that cattle thrived on the natural grasses of the Plains.

A variety of methods were devised to counter the effects of drought. The "Scientific Farming System" was developed by a South Dakota farmer Hardy Webster Campbell and published in 1902. Campbell's system set up a routine designed to retain the precipitation of two years for use during a single crop season by developing a reservoir of moisture in the subsoil and reducing surface evaporation. The farming system required deep plowing, a packed subsoil, frequent surface cultivation, and cropping on land that was kept fallow throughout the previous growing season. “

Farming in Africa
“Farmers traditionally fallow their lands, that is, allow them to lie idle for one or more seasons in order to restore healthy fertility levels. In eastern Zambia, burgeoning population pressures have forced many farmers to neglect this practice, resulting in continuous cropping of the same land, production declines, and cultivation of marginal areas with poor soil quality.”

Material quoted from: The 1911 Edition Encyclopedia, Prairie Public Television, Charles Staver &  the International Food Policy Research Institute

Handout 3Print Handout 3

Guide to Yom Kippur and Spiritual Cleansing

Level: Basic

Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast and/or attend synagogue services on this day. Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of Tishri. The holiday is instituted at Leviticus 23:26 et seq.

The name "Yom Kippur “means” Day of Atonement and that pretty much explains what the holiday is. It is a day set aside to "afflict the soul," to atone for the sins of the past year. In Days of Awe, the "books" in which G-d inscribes all of our names was mentioned. On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these books is sealed.  This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

As noted in Days of Awe, Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, one must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur.



Yom Kippur is about stopping the "I can't(s) and becoming an "I can" person. It is the day when we cast away the mistakes that define our limitations. On Yom Kippur, we affirm: "These mistakes are not me. It was merely a temporary lapse in judgment. I won't do it again. I can achieve greater and bigger. I only have to try."

King David tells us: "[God] opens His hand and gives to all those who want" (Psalm 145:16). In truth, we can do whatever we want. The only condition is that we have to "want." If we don't want, then G-d cannot give.

In the secular world, dreams are for Mary Poppins and Snow White. They are laughed at, ridiculed and patronized. As we grow older, we categorize dreams as fantasy and fairy tales. The "real world," we are told, is far more brutal.

Yom Kippur is a time to return; a time to dream again the wildest of dreams and to plan their execution; a time to rethink and regain our refreshing hope in life.


The idea of Yom Kippur is that once a year we must start new/start fresh. The only way for us to progress is to take a look at our lives and determine what does not work and fix it. Just like Yom Kippur is a time to return, so too is the Shemittah year. The only way for the land to continue to grow is to start new and allow it to lay fallow as it was in the beginning.

Handout 4Print Handout 4

Agricultural/Spiritual Venn Diagram

Philanthropy Framework:

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Unit Contents:

Overview:Respecting the Environment (Private-Religious) Summary


Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Private-Religious)
Shemittah - The Sabbatical Year (Private-Religious)
Trees and Our Future (Private-Religious)

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