Monday, February 4, 2008

Agriculture/Earth Stewardship and the Torah: Greenbelts Around Cities

This is the first part of what will likely be a slow but interesting (to me :)) periodic series related to discovering how the Torah applies to homesteading today. There are a lot of instructions within the texts, and some are specifically mentioned to apply only in the land of Israel, while others are more broadly applicable. Since none of it has really applied to my family before now, I'm very unaware of most of these verses and how they will or won't apply to us in the (hopefully) near future.

I'm slowly trying to chip away at the different biblical teachings related to farming and environmental stewardship. Though I've barely scratched the surface, it's already turned up some surprises. I'm finding the topics to be very interconnected with compassion both to humans and animals, provision for people of lesser means, and recognition of fruitfulness as a blessing from God.

A beginning point for me, when finding specific questions in the scriptures, is a word search in any of the great (free) online sites that have concordances where the original Hebrew can be found, and from there all other mentions of the same word every other place in the texts. This helps to look at all the other verses containing identical words or phrases and examining them to see context and application. For instance, if I have a question about "seeds," I can look up on an online concordance program and it will show me the Hebrew word for "seeds" and also every other verse where the word "seeds" occurs, which helps me see a broader view of anything related to that term...including any teachings, how broad or narrowly the term is applied in different contexts, and any consistent or repetitive elements that link them. It's not hard, and I'm no scholar; it's amazing we have these valuable tools available to us for free.

There are a lot of commandments and mentions in scripture of topics related to agriculture, since the ancient world was highly agrarian; even city dwellers of that day had a different exposure to and awareness of agriculture than city dwellers of today's world, who might have never seen a cow...or a field being planted...or a vineyard. Apparently, citygoers often kept crops and animals of their own (see article below). Today it is difficult for many of us who weren't born into farming to readily identify types of trees and know which provide fruit and which provide different types of wood or sap, etc. Not so the ancient world. Of necessity, there was a closer inter-connection.

In fiddling around with trying to find agriculture and animal-husbandry and stewardship of the land sorts of instructions in the texts, I ran across an interesting find on, since one of their categories of Q&A is Agriculture. It is about the provision of green belts around cities, separating "city" and "countryside," and to provide beauty, enjoyment, and citizen participation in agriculture and keeping livestock. It also, by measurement, contains the size of the city to prevent over-expansion. How very different our world today would be if developers were limited by law from developing such areas, and cities had to consistently incorporate these provisions. Here is a snippet of the full article (by one of the site's contributing writers Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen) that can be found here:

According to the urban planning of the Torah, city residents are entitled
to a green belt, and as the classical biblical commentator, Rashi, explains,
this open space is to serve as an 'aesthetic enhancement of the city.' This
green belt therefore gives urban dwellers a connection to nature; moreover, it
brings benefit to their animals, as they can roam and graze there. According to
another classical biblical commentator, the Sforno, this open space also enables
city residents to have 'beehives, dovecotes, and other such items'....

...These laws seem to be designed to maintain an urban population that
engages in agriculture – that is to be the basic model for the nation – and to
prevent the expansion of the cities into metropolises detached from the fields.
The cities already in existence must not expand beyond their limits at the
expense of the fields…When the population increases, new cities should be
established in sites that have never been used for agricultural

...Cities serve as economic, cultural, and spiritual centers; however, from
the holistic perspective of the Torah, cities must provide their residents with
a connection to nature and with the opportunity to cultivate the earth. Even
urban dwellers are to experience the following messianic blessing: 'They shall
sit, each person under his vine and under his fig tree.'

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