Feiler Faster

I’m back from the Aegean and brief stops in Athens (my first), the islands of Hydra, Mykonos (above), and Rhodes, as well as Marmaris, Turkey. I was on board a yacht with around fifty real estate professionals and their spouses talking about my decade of travel in the region. I wouldn’t say the Greek Isles seem particularly steeped in the Bible. If anything, I’d say the constant echo of Greek mythology makes them seem further away from the sphere of influence of the Bible than I would have suspected. Obviously Israel and Egypt, on the Mediterranean, have deep echoes in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. The Copts alone in Egypt seem closer to the past than many modern Christian denominations. Turkey, too, has storied connections to a number of parts of the Bible. Italy, of course, claims roots back to the NT. But Greece seems the anomaly.
One conversation I had on several occasions does relate to the interfaith questions we discuss her a lot on Feiler Faster. Should Turkey be admitted to the EU. The most vocal voice I heard on this topic was a French real estate executive who argued forcefully that the answer was No. He was a big believer that the EU was failing, in large measure because each country has a veto. Bringing in 70 million Muslims would be a disaster for Europe and it would water down any geographic purity to the continent, he said His views fairly closely parallel the new French president, which means his veto could kill the deal before 2013.
While I was away, two stories are making news in Israel that are very intriguing. The first is the challenge of kosher vegetables in Israel. Namely, should Israeli farmers follow the biblical mandate to rest their land for a sabbath every seven years.

This year, 5768 by the Jewish calendar, is a shmita, or sabbatical year. Jewish-owned land is to be left fallow, whatever grows there is to be free and at year’s end, all personal debts are to be forgiven.
Shmita occurs every seventh year, as a kind of sabbatical for the land, and it is mandated in the Torah. In Exodus 23:10-11, for instance, shmita precedes the injunction for individuals to rest on the seventh day. “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove.”
That presumably worked fine in a primitive economy before decent fertilizer, but shmita presented problems for the new Jewish state. Zionism was founded on the notion of a return to the land, but a modern country cannot live on what falls to the ground.
So respected rabbis from both the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic communities compromised. Charged with interpreting religious law, or halacha, they devised the “heter mechira,” or sale permit, which allows Jews to temporarily “sell” their land to non-Jews for the shmita year, so the land may be cultivated.
It is similar to the practice during Passover, when lawyers do a big business “selling” leavened products to non-Jews, so they need not be discarded.

These clever bypasses are beginning to sound a lot like the Catholic Church selling indulgences in the Middle Ages.
The other news is far more significant. In advance of the summit next month in WDC over the Middle East peace non-process, some expectation-setting is underway. Olmert is both trying to talk tough, trying to sound open, and trying to confuse matters. But his aides may be signalling that he’s prepared to talk about dividing Jerusalem. It’s about time.

Two senior Israeli politicians, including the prime minister’s closest ally, talked openly Monday about dividing Jerusalem, signaling a possible shift in Israeli opinion about one of the Mideast’s most contentious issues.
The dispute over Jerusalem has derailed negotiations in the past, and the latest comments come at a time when Israeli and Palestinian teams are trying to agree on principles guiding future peace talks.
The ideas raised by Vice Premier Haim Ramon still fall far short of Palestinian demands to establish their capital in all of the city’s eastern sector, annexed by Israel after the 1967 Mideast War.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, told parliament he will not be deterred from seeking a peace deal with the Palestinians. He said Israel has missed opportunities in the past, and warned that continued failure would mean a “demographic struggle steeped in blood and tears.”

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