The global economic crash of 2008 might have been avoided if bankers had followed the ancient biblical principle of shmittah.
That is the view of Rabbi Julian Sinclair, an Israel-based economist and environmental activist.
Shmittah is the ancient religious injunction under which farmers allow agricultural land to lie fallow every seventh year.
Speaking at a four-day conference on how traditional Jewish values could be applied in the modern world, Rabbi Sinclair said the practice could be vital to our physical and economic well-being.
“Shmittah is about building in a rhythm of six years of intense activity and a seventh year of stepping back and taking stock,” he said.
“It’s a natural human impulse to have goals and to devote all your energies towards them. If we keep going faster and faster without a rest — we crash.
“Shmittah recognises we have to build in a rhythm of work and rest before the crash happens. Economic bubbles like the 2007/08 crisis took place because there was too much energy and hyped-up expectations.”
Thirty leading Jewish thinkers and activists from Israel, the US and Europe attended the “Shmittah Summit”, organised by Siach, a Jewish social justice and environmental umbrella group in London.
Nigel Savage, the founder of Hazon, an American-Jewish organisation promoting sustainability, and a former fund manager in the City of London, said that re-engagement with shmittah would benefit businesses as well as individuals.
“If we are serious about Jewish tradition then we should be putting ourselves back on the Jewish calendar and use that calendar to raise serious questions about contemporary life,” he said.
Claire Nacamuli, social action co-ordinator of the Jewish innovation centre, JHub, pointed to increasing inequality in the UK.
The Jewish community could make a practical difference by contributing surplus food to food banks during the shmittah year, she said.