on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have
gathered in the yield of your land, ...You shall live
in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live
in booths, in order that future generations may know that
I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought
them out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:39--43)
is a time of remembrance. We are reminded of a time when the
Jewish people were dependant upon the cycles of the seasons
for sustenance. We are commanded to remember our dependency
on the land and environment to provide food for our families.
In modernity, most Jews do not till the soil for a living.
Yet fruits and vegetables still adorn our tables and our sukkot.
This time of year provides a uniquely Jewish way to look at
how we get our food from the ground to our table.
leaves turn from green to yellow and orange, Jews celebrate
the opportunity to start the cycle again for the New Year.
After the celebration of Simchat Torah we add an additional
prayer for rain to our daily t'filah. Jewish
tradition has a deeply rooted understanding of our dependency
on these cycles. Many of the laws found in the Torah outline
a Jewish way to harvest the land. Jews have three major festivals
throughout our year that all center on the different harvest
in an age of a shrinking world and year round produce production,
it is completely normal to see a watermelon in New York City
in January or an ear of corn in New Mexico in September. Knowing
the field from which your food comes seems to be a thing of
the ancient past. For the most part, we all shop in supper
markets and grocery stores that import a majority of its produce.
developing countries can produce cheaper food, the developed
world will continue to import it. Yet we can "import"
our food in a way that affirms our values and respects those
who tend the soil and harvest its crops. We can take this
time of Sukkot to remember our rich agricultural history and
connection to the land with a commitment to buy Fair Trade
Fair Trade is a socially responsible way to buy products.
According to TransFair USA, the Fair Trade certifying agency
in the United States, Fair Trade is "an innovative,
market-based approach to sustainable development. Fair Trade
helps family farmers in developing countries to gain direct
access to international markets, as well as to develop the
business capacity necessary to compete in the global marketplace.
By learning how to market their own harvests, Fair Trade farmers
are able ... to receive a fair price for their products.
This leads to higher family living standards, thriving communities
and more sustainable farming practices. Fair Trade empowers
farming families to take care of themselves - without developing
dependency on foreign aid."
Judaism teaches that the highest form of tzedakah is providing
a way for a person to be self-sufficient (Maimonides, Mishneh
Torah 10:7-14). By engaging in Fair Trade, individuals
are choosing to pay a few extra pennies for their pound of
coffee, tea or produce, but are also providing sustaining
funds for family farmers throughout the world. We all engage
in international trade simply by purchasing our food at the
local grocery store and therefore we all can make a difference.
During this harvest festival we should take the time to think
about the farmers who are growing our food. These men and
women work hard to provide food for dinner tables around the
world and should be able to provide food for their own children.
While economic theories of international trade continue to
be debated, we must remember the real lives affected by our
purchasing habits. The developed world's demand for
coffee in massive quantities has led to a worldwide coffee
glut. Coffee prices have fallen and the lives of many coffee
growers have become almost unlivable. The farmers deserve
a fair price for their product and we can secure that by ask
for Fair Trade coffee, tea and produce in our local super
markets, grocery stores and coffee shops.
The month of October has been designated "Fair Trade
Month" by TransFair USA. This is the perfect time to
start buying Fair Trade coffee or other products for you and
your family. We can take the opportunity during Sukkot to
remember those who still depend on the cycle of the seasons
as we celebrate this harvest festival.
learn more about the Jewish obligation to engage
in Fair Trade practices please visit the Religious Action
Trade Coffee Issue Page.
is Legislative Assistant with the Commission
on Social Action of Reform Judaism.