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No longer take comments. Post's 'labels' are unreliable for linking or searching. Use the INDEX OF POSTS instead. A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview and understanding of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. IF YOU GET A MESSAGE THAT THE POST IS MISSING - LOOK FOR IT IN THE INDEX or search or the date is found in the address.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Proof / Disproof of God based on Fallow Part Three

UPDATED THRU 12/01/2014

Prior to reading this post it is essential to read  Part One and Part Two. This Part will provide more details, more support and some additional arguments that refutes the Shemita’proof’.

Agricultural Practice

1) From experience some ancient cultures could and did determine fallowing was good agricultural practice and gave better long term yields than without fallowing. Fallowing was practiced in ancient times by many cultures. 

The ancient Israeli leaders may have been aware or through experience learned first hand of the benefits of fallowing . However, some of the peasants may  have been well less informed or did not want to risk the shortfall of the fallow year and were reluctant to fallow. Some of the Israelite slaves who entered Canaan would probably not be aware or have faith in the fallow practice.

Knowing of the better yields occurring with fallowing, the leaders could assert to the reluctant peasants - you will not starve and attribute the higher long term yields to a supernatural being and the Sabbath mythology.

It should be noted some ancient agricultural methods utilizing fallowing are much more effective than the Torah's. For example some planted grain then legume and then fallowed.  This cycle is very similar to that now advocated by many in modern agriculture. The Torah had the opportunity to educate about improved agricultural practice and failed. Worse, it locked the ancient Israelites into a worse scheme. Shemita could result in food shortages as populations increased and farming land could not be expanded. 

2) Given 7 plots, each year let a single plot fallow a year. The total yield over 7 years is 7*6 = 42. Alternately let  all 7 plots be fallow in one year every seven years. Total yield over 7 years is 7*6 = 42. (I am assuming all other things  being equal). So either approach provides the same yields. From an agricultural standpoint letting all plots fallow in one year may be a superior method as it provides less of a reservoir for diseases and pests, yet it does increase risks of food shortages in the Shemita year. 

According to Torah the world was created in 6 days and god rests on day 7. And verse 4 relates Shemita to Sabbath the day of rest for the fashioner of the world. This could motivate a theological reason to rest all fields simultaneously.

Why seven ? - There is widespread use of 'seven' and in ancient near east mythology. 

3) During the fallow you could still eat from the plants that self seeded in the fields,  vineyards, olive groves, cattle, kosher insects, hunt wild game, fish, resort to international trade, gather wild edibles roots and nuts in fields and forests, on mountains and live off of previously stored foods. Some farmers by legal loopholes or otherwise may have farmed, as we find in Israel today. In anticipation of the Shemita year, farmers could have increased the number of farmed plots greatly reducing the risk of starvation. (Technical note a) : for example Rashi explains in more detail - the produce of the Shemita year is allowed to be eaten as long as it is made available to anyone. Eating produce from the fallowed fields is an accepted interpretation by virtually all if not all academic scholars  as well as Jewish traditional interpretation. Technical note b) Although ancient Israel had enemies they did engage in international trade. Even in times of 'embargos' or trade sanctions, countries find ways to import goods. Arguably, Shemita would encourage self sufficiency and that could have been one of the motivations.) 

{ ETA 11/26/2014  Some Rabbi's argue but Israel was surrounded by enemies - there could not be trade. Yet the fact is Israel did trade with neighbors and is confirmed in the Tenach.  Also, the law could have started when the Israelites had some friendly neighbors. Or if the law originates prior to entry into Canaan Israel, there was no reason to anticipate every neighbor would be hostile.} 

4) Shemita could have originated very early when there was only a small  population and so the risk of starvation was minimal. (At such an time farming was supplemented by scavenging, fishing, hunting, herding. etc: etc: Increasing the number of farmed plots was feasible, There was no large leisure or merchant classes, temples, support). The practice was retained even as the population grew and eventually became codified in the Torah. There was no sudden thrust of a risky law onto a large population. 

5) The argument assumes that information about yields were widely available and easily checked. But according to Orthodox Judaism the law is given at  Mount  Sinai, before the Jews enter Canaan and practice land farming. Moreover, there was no centralized Temple or Monarchy (to tally yields) until many years after entry into Canaan. Thus the Torah authors could boast  the triple yield claim knowing it would be difficult to check yields even if the Jews conquer Israel and even after they are farming in Israel. To encourage the acceptance of Yahwism, boasting his powers is expected and is found throughout the Tenach. 

6) In Canaan, the danger of drought was real. The Torah authors may have realized it was risky to rely on annual farming yields for survival. Shemita would encourage food storage, alternate ways of obtaining food besides farming (for example international trade, fishing...), and motivate people to bring more land into production. 

7) Farmers could have brought more land into production prior to Shemita make up any short fall during the Shemita year. The risk of starvation from a simultaneous Shemita would be greatly reduced. Eventfully as populations rose and farming land could no longer be increased the risk of food shortages could develop. But this would only occur long after the Torah was written. 


1) Indian Ghost dance - Native Americans thought they would be  invisible to  bullets. How could their leaders make this claim ? Wer'nt they afraid their people  would die from  the bullets ? Weren’t the leaders  afraid of being proved wrong ? There are leaders who will make claims without the concern of being 'proved' wrong in the future.

2) Just because a certain text/religion/person makes a claim that could potentially disproved in the future does not mean they would not make the claim. They may have certain reasons to make the claim then deal with potential refutations in the future even if that is a consideration. Maybe they really believed it was true when writing it. When it turned out to be incorrect nobody ever went back to correct the texts. Maybe the authors of the text or the religion are deluded.

3) There is no end to the practices advocated by religions/cultures that are purported to provide benefits. Sometimes the original motivation maybe unknown.  How could the Aztecs sacrifice masses of children to their god(s) in the hopes of certain benefits like rain ?  This was a testable claim.


1) To modern skeptical people it does not make sense to pass a law that risks starvation, but to ancient people that believed that spirits would save them it could make sense. (Yet, as  previously mentioned the risk of starvation from Shemita was may not have been significant.) 

2) Perhaps the Torah authors were not concerned their claim would not be  fulfilled.  If yields were low they could claim that the people had sinned in some way and therefore are being punished. 

3) Just because the Torah has risky / strange / ridiculous notions and customs  (according to modern standards) it does not remotely suggest the Torah is god given. Just because the Torah may make a claim that could be disproved in the future does not remotely suggest the Torah is god given or the claim did in fact occur.

4) Why did/does any culture create difficult laws: Human Sacrifice, Mutilation,  Animal Sacrifice... some with testable promises of great benefit  ? Interestingly, often the promised benefits do not materialize yet the practice continues. Consider the rain dance that purports to end drought. How can religious leaders make this claim ? Aren’t they afraid the rain would not materialize ? Aren’t the leaders afraid of being proved wrong ? 

5) The argument assumes the sudden introduction of Shemita laws. However, it is  plausible the custom was in effect in earlier less populated times and was retained as the population grew. Then it was finally codified in the Torah. We have Torah precedent for this where various practices pre-exist Mt Sinai and prior to a large Jewish population. The practices are later codified in the Torah. Examples include circumcision, sacrifice, sinew prohibition...

Historical evidence

1) On the one hand I have never seen data demonstrating that Shemita was associated with  triple yields. {ETA 12/1/2014 - If there such triple yields would not the Talmud or Tenach wax poetic about them ? Yet they do not. This suggests the triple yields were not common at all. }On the other hand we know  that there are instances in Jewish history where yields were not tripled prior to  Shemita. From I Maccabees  6:48 Then the king's [Antiochus's] army went up to Jerusalem to meet them, and the king [Antiochus]  pitched his tents against Judea, and against mount Sion. 6:49 But with them that were in Bethsura he made peace: for they came out of the city, because they had no victuals there to endure the siege, it being a year of rest to the land.

So Bethsura was observing shemita, yet had no extra yields as promised in the Torah.

See Part 1 where Josephus documents that at times Shemita resulted in hardships.

In Israel today farmers following Shemita laws, on average do not reap extra yields. (Israel has difficulty maintaining food levels during Shemita years because many Israeli farmers practice actual fallowing of the land and do not utilize legal loopholes.)

Some Rabbinic authorities assert Shemita laws no longer apply others disagree.  This provides an explanation why Israeli farmers today do not have the extra promised yields according to some Rabbis. But what about the other Rabbi's ? They may respond, the Shemita requires the entire land be fallow or perhaps Israel is a sinful nation. This is apologetics and excuses since observant jews will be disenchanted  to observe causing the Shemita law to  lax even further. Are we to assume Yahweh is up in the heavens tabulating the percent of farmers fallowing ! ? In addition,  is this how a divine promise works ? Heads Yahweh win, Tails the Jews  lose.

{ETA 11/25/2014 Even if the entire Israel did not observe Shemita those that did should get the triple yields. An omnipotent god could achieve this through natural means. For example, god could infuse extra nutrients from underground, or provide extra water via rain patterns.}

2) Historically Shemita does not seem to have been widely practiced.

Ancient Near East Religions and Mythology

1) There is evidence Shemita's 7 year cycle is shared in the ANE

2) Theologically it emphasizes Yahweh's role in fertility ( as opposed to say Baal's). 

Torah Laws 

One premise of the argument is that the Jews encounter Shemita for the first time as a Torah commandment. But there is the possibility Shemita type laws were  already part of the Canaanite practice. Put another way, Shemita was already a pre-ancient Israelite practice that the Torah is continuing (perhaps modifying) and codifying.  This may be compared to other commandments like circumcision or the sinew prohibition which predate the alleged Mt Sinai revelation and began when the were many fewer 'Jews'.

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