We find our most ancient model for food justice in the laws of shmita, which Jewish communities have revived with renewed significance in recent years
Shmita values the contribution and limitations of all stakeholders that comprise a food system, including the land, animals, workers, and the broader community they feed. The laws are radical in their holistic commitment, not only to land, which must lie fallow and rewild for an entire year (Lev. 25:4), but to people, who must release loan recipients from all their debts (Deut. 15:2) and (in ancient times) free and compensate their slaves (Deut. 15:12-13), and to animals both domesticated and wild, to whom we grant free access to fields and food (Lev. 25:7). In contrast to factory farming, the faith we place in this system boils down to a mindset that we rarely adopt in an era of economic insatiability: we believe that rest and reciprocity create true abundance.
Through the lens of shmita, we recognize the harm of supporting farming practices that push vulnerable workers to the brink and keep farmers under crushing mountains of debt. We see the grotesque ways that raising animals for food has come to mean accelerating their growth, disconnecting them from their biological cycles, and removing them from suitable habitats and social structures. Maintaining this system within the next few years seals our fate for a drastically warmer and more uncertain future in which those with fewer resources, less infrastructure, and less wealth — the very people that shmita strives to protect — suffer the most. Jewish communities can be agents of shmita and food justice by ensuring that their policies articulate a holistic set of values that do the least harm and most good for all facets of our food system.
In order to cultivate and grow a sustainable Jewish animal advocacy movement, we must address the issues that are critically connected to and interdependent with industrial animal agriculture. We must work in partnership with Jewish communities and justice movements to achieve positive change.