T’u B’shvat is Coming!

Happy Early Birthday Trees!

This is an exciting time for the earth, the trees, and the Jews…

Because this Tuesday night (in the Jewish calendar) is the Birthday of the Trees!

Come join The Shefa Project to celebrate this amazing occasion, as we appreciate the trees, all the amazing things that come from them, and to anticipate the upcoming season!

Tuesday Feb 7 @ 5:00 pm
SSMU building 4th floor – clubs lounge


Legumes on Pesach?

Yael Greenberg has been living and working on a farm in Washington state for the past few months. Here is her first reflection

I’ve had so many revelatory and exciting moments in the field over the last few months. God-encounters with radishes, a newly complicated relationship with Shabbos, lightbulb moments about the prohibitions surrounding the consumption of legumes on Passover. Actually, that’s a good one to share:

Why not eat beans on Passover? Or corn, or peanuts? Seems kind of silly and outdated, right? Let’s talk some agriculture. In order to make the best use of the soil, a farmer will plant a cover crop after his harvest. That allows the intake of sunlight energy through the plants, and some of the resulting material can be turned under for compost. One good method of cover-cropping is to plant a mixed crop of grain and legume, which means planting the two together in the same field. I’m not entirely sure what how the grain piece of it works, but the legume is a nitrogen-fixer: it takes nitrogen from the air and transfers it to the soil in a usable form, effectively creating fertilizer for the next planting. Mixed cover-cropping has been happening for millennia just about everywhere in the world where humans grow food.

And what in the world does that have to do with Passover? Well, pretty much everything. During the first few weeks of my farm-stay, we took in the mixed crop they had planted of barley (grain) and Austrian field peas (legume). We did our best to separate them out, but it’s just about impossible to keep them totally apart. It was pretty much inevitable that we would end up with some peas in our barley, and some barley in our peas. Some barley in our peas!? That wouldn’t fly on Passover! Not at all! And all of a sudden the pieces fell into place. Mixed cover-cropping is ancient wisdom, so it was certainly going on throughout the codification of Jewish law. Legumes were disallowed on Passover because they were planted with grains, and grains were sure to show up along with the legume. There was just no avoiding it. One of the arguments against maintaining the tradition today is that modern food production systems render it obsolete. Of course: we favor mono-crops for efficiency, so we plant huge fields with only one crop variety and hardly have to worry about other things sneaking in. But mixed cover crops are a mainstay in small-farm territory because they work well for the land and for the people.

I would love to eat beans and peanuts on Passover, especially since I have a hard time finding meat that I’ll put in my body. But what would I be supporting if I rallied for a change in the tradition? I’d kind of be reinforcing the culture that demands convenience and uniformity rather than the one that cares that mono-crops are an enormous detriment to our ecosystems. Where do Jewish values weigh in that consideration? Understanding the technicalities has lent new depth to my Judaism, new understanding of how interconnected things really are. Who ever would have thought that a little thorn in the side of Ashkenazi Jewish veggie-philes is tied to one of today’s most charged ecological issues?

Finding The Right Space

Aryeh Canter is currently at the Summer Kollel at Kayam Farm, spending his mornings working at their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and his afternoons learning about Jewish Agricultural laws. Here are some of his thoughts…

This week started out with bang (literally) as we celebrated the Independence of America from the Queen of England. On the farm we were able to see multiple-cities’ fireworks and it was a pretty spectacular sight. In honour of the day we had a BBQ, a real BBQ! I learned the art of grilling – with charcoals – from Naftali Hanau (founder of Grow and Behold, a company which provides pasture raised kosher chickens). Here are the coles notes.

Once the charcoals are red-hot you create a “hot” and “cool” zone. Then you put the steak on the hot zone (2 1/2 min each side) to crisp the outside of the meat and set off the caramelization process, then you let it finish cooking on the cool side. After you take it off the grill you should cover it with some aluminum foil to make sure the juices flow right back into the meat. It was nice to be able to really understand the cooking process and to bring some meaning to the rare meal (pun intended).

This week’s theme for was melachot (work). This concept can be understood as referring to the verbs that are forbidden on the Sabbath. In a traditional context, it is defined as 39 specific actions which were done in the creating of the Mishkan (tabernacle) in the desert. They are generally understood to be broken into 6 sections: field work, making material curtains, making leather curtains, connecting of the beams together, taking up and putting down of the walls, and the final touches of the preparation.

We started our study of this list as trying to visualize them in a more practical application. The first 11 of the laws refer to field work, and more specifically the process of bread making. These steps include sowing (planting), plowing, reaping (cutting), gathering, threshing (loosening the seed in the grain from the scaly outside), winnowing (droping the mixture of seed and other parts in the air and having the seeds fall to the ground as the wind blows away the lighter parts), grinding, sifting, kneading, and finally baking. We went through this process with barley.

Doing ‘work’, as it is most basically defined by traditional Judaism, was an extraordinarily powerful experience. It is mind-boggling to think about all the shomer-shabbos Jews (Literally: ‘guarding the Shabbat’ colloquially: people who follow the rules of Shabbat) who have never been able to do the pshat (literal); literally the work that is forbidden on the Sabbath. It makes the upcoming day all the more exciting.

After getting our hands dirty, we went back inside and began to attempt to parse through what the true meaning of work is, especially in comparison to holiness (which is a basic tenant of Shabbat). Through our discussion we noticed a very interesting trend with the words used to describe both Shabbat and melachot (work).

The Jews are commanded in the Torah to shomer (guard) the Sabbath, but this was not the first time that the idea of shomer was mentioned in the Torah. After Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden, Angels were commanded to “shomer the path to the Garden of Eden” (3:24).

When G!d commanded the Jewish people to shomer-Shabbat, G!d was offering us a taste of what it meant for time and space to truly exist. Just as the Angels were commanded to protect the holy space – the Garden of Eden, we are given to the opportunity to fulfil this obligation in our resting from work – by being in holy space and time on the day of the Sabbath. Being conscious of holy space and time, can help us begin to connect to the the beauty of creation, which characterized the Garden of Eden.

The Glory of Farm Life

Aryeh Canter is currently at the Summer Kollel at Kayam Farm, spending his mornings working at their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and his afternoons learning about Jewish Agricultural laws. Here are some of his thoughts…

My mornings have been filled with very exciting farming! I have done a range of tasks from planting corn, weeding lots of fields, harvesting thyme (or harvesting time…) and lettuce, putting covers on the eggplants to protect them from flee beatles which eat their leaves, and raising beds for future growth. Kayam farm is home to chickens and goat which I have been lucky to spend some time with. Last night I helped move all 109 chickens into their brand new hen house. This morning I was able to milk a goat for the first time which is a totally amazing experience!

The food here has been extraordinary. Last night it was my turn to make dinner and I made polenta that had fresh rosemary from the farm, fried with cayenne pepper, and fresh garlic. I have never had garlic so fresh and wonderful. Being able to eat food that was just harvested from the earth is such an unbelievable experience – one that I encourage everyone to seek out!

Fantastic Farming, Fallow Furloughs

Aryeh Canter is currently at the Summer Kollel at Kayam Farm, spending his mornings working at their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and his afternoons learning about Jewish Agricultural laws. Here are some of his thoughts…

So after an amazing and bountiful weekend, I left Montreal (and Canada) and headed south for Reistertown, Maryland. My journey started with a Greyhound bus which lead me to NYC where I was then greeted by another bus. The Megabus took me from NYC to White Marsh, Maryland. Then (and most excitingly) I was picked up by a car fuelled by veggie-oil which finally took me to the farm! This was exciting in two ways; one – vegetable fuelled cars are awesome! and two – because I was thinking about ways of  getting SSMU (Student Society at McGill University) to encourage an Engineer to build one for student groups to use. The guy who was running this car seemed to think this was a genius idea, and encouraged me to pursue it.

In the car ride we had a very interesting conversation about the role of profit in the environmental movement (and more specifically the Jewish food movement). His hypothesis was essentially that the movements were still in their adolescence: relatively radical, constantly struggling to stay afloat with the help of various ‘sugar mamas’. He believed that in order for it to ultimately succeed (and be wholly sustainable) the idea of profit would need to shift from a dirty word to become the normal, respectable, standard – even in environmental circles. I think I agree with him but am not entirely sure. I feel that needing to sustain yourself is probably a good idea in the sustainability movement, but I have my doubts about conventional economics.What do you guys think? (comment below to start the conversation!)

I arrived on the beautiful Kayam farm at the Pearlstone retreat center and immediately hopped into the learning of the day. Each week is divided into a different theme based on Jewish agriculture laws. This week we are learning about Shmita. The basic idea is that every 7 years (similar to every 7 days i.e. Shabbat) we are supposed to allow the land to lie fallow by not planting, harvesting, or working the land. All land becomes owner-less for that year, and fruits or random vegetables that do grow are permissible to eat, but when people go out into the field to collect, they are only allowed to collect food for their immediate consumption. This idea is super-radical.

Essentially it forces the entire society to begin storing and preparing as they approach the seventh year. The society puts its trust in G-d (or whatever you might like to call the power that helps sustain life) to make sure enough fruits grow and that the food that is prepared/stored lasts through the sabbatical year. Consider the eighth year too- if you are unable to plant anything for the entirety until the fall of the seventh year (on the Hebrew calendar) the following winter will surely be very difficult to survive. It is important to note that these laws (cancellation of debt and fallow fields) only apply to the Jewish people living in the land of Israel.

Rav Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz author of the Keli Yakar (living from 1550-1619 in Prague) commenting on Devarim 31:12 writes,
“The year of Shmita… promotes a sense of fellowship and peach through the suspension of cultivation, even for the needy of your people, for one is not allowed to exercise over any of the seventh year produce the right of private ownership. And this is undoubtedly a primary factor in promoting peace since most dissension originated from the attitude of ‘mine is mine’, and the other claiming ‘it is all mine’. But in the seventh year all are equal, and this is the real essence of peace.”

Another extraordinary thing that happens at the end of the Shmita year is that all loans are forgiven. This to me is the most radical implication of the Shmita law. Essentially, the idea is that in any given 7 year period you might have a good harvest and have more then you need, or you might have a bad harvest and you can not reach your needs, but regardless of this you should not have to go into debt for a prolonged amount of time. The Rabbis go into some detail about how certain loans (ones that supplement someone past basic necessities) do not get forgotten after the seventh year. However both this rule and the rule concerning fallow lands have been loop-holed (is that a verb?) because of the difficulty for our society to abide by these radical laws. This is very similar to the idea of the Sabbath. If you only starting to think about the upcoming Sabbath on Friday afternoon then it will surely be very difficult to have everything prepared in time. But if all week you are getting ready, then when the day finally comes one is ready for the special intention of the day.

The origin of the loop-hole concerning the cancellation of debt was brought about by Hillel. The issue with this law is that the rich would stop providing loans in the fifth and sixth years of the cycle, out of fear that only a few years later their debts would not be paid back, and there money would be gone. It is sad (but I guess understand-able?) that this had to happen. The land based laws were not loop-holed until the late 1800′s during the first wave of Zionism which brought people back to the land of Israel. The problem arose because farmers were dying from not having enough food for the seventh year. This was done by a Heter Mechira (literally ‘leniency of sale’) which allows Jews to sell their land to non-Jews during the seventh year so that the land is no longer technically ‘owned by Jews’ and thus is not required to lie fallow for the seventh year. Creative solutions?…

There are many interesting things going on here. For instance, what does it mean to ‘own’ a piece of land? Is it the ability to benefit from it? Is it the act of living on it? How has ownership been transferred to another person if the Jewish farmers are still farming the land during the seventh year? Can land be Jewish? Can you own natural resources? A river? A Forest?

Wow! This has been a really long blog post. Yasher Koach to those who have made it this far, I still have a lot to say (amazing group dynamics, beautiful starry nights, the beauty of being woken up by chirping birds in the morning, awesome late night convos about Jewish identity, goat milking and, cheese making.