The government Sunday approved a 100 million-shekel ($28.8 million) budget to prepare farmers for the shmita (sabbatical year), during which land is left fallow and all agricultural activity forbidden under Jewish law.
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The budget, which will be administered by the religious services and agriculture ministries, is 3 million shekels less than for the last shmita year, seven years ago, but four times what it was in 2000-2001.
A senior official in the farm sector said the decision had been made amid political infighting between the two ministries and the Chief Rabbinate, over who would control the budget and the ability to award contracts to political supporters and associations.
In the end, the cabinet decided the budget would be controlled by the Finance Ministry, which will allocate funds to the Agriculture Ministry.
Last March, a court threw out a tender to manage shmita-related services awarded by the Religious Services Ministry to a company that was close to Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party. Bennett serves as religious services minister as well as the economy minster.
During shmita – which occurs once every seven years – farmers who choose to leave their land fallow are given an allowance from the government, based on their earnings from previous years.
The budget calls for 45 million shekels to be spent aiding growers who stop all their activities for the year, which begin at Rosh Hashanah in September. Another 20 million shekels are for farmers who will not harvest fruit during the year, even though they will keep their orchards intact.
Another 11 million shekels will be used to fund organizations operating an otzar beit hadin, which allows for vegetables (and some kinds of fruit) to be grown – with certain restrictions – during the shmita year. A further 5 million shekels will be budgeted for growers to cultivate plants in facilities off the ground, which are exempted from shmita restrictions.
In related news, Finance Minister Yair Lapid Sunday signed off on recommendations by a government committee to give growers in the Negev and parts of the Galilee 10 million shekels of aid after they were officially declared drought areas.
The money, which will help cover lost harvests that growers suffered after last winter’s light rainfall, was a tenth of what they received the last time a drought was declared. Growers who have not already applied for aid have 30 days to do so, the treasury said.