Does Incidence of Hepatitis AIncrease During Shmitah (The Sabbatical Year)?
Zvi Ackerman, Ita Goldstein, Elizabeth Ackerman
Depts. of Medicine, Hadassah University Hospital, Mount Scopus; Bikur Holim Hospital; Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School; and Pediatrics Dept., Kupat Holim, Jerusalem
In Israel the biblical injunction of the sabbatical year (shmitah) prevails, whereby all Jewish-owned land should lie fallow during every seventh year. Consequently, it is customary for members of the orthodox Jewish community to eat only produce grown by non-Jews (Arabs). Many Arab farmers use sewage water for irrigation and since such water could be infected with hepatitis A virus (HAV), there is concern about the possibility of HAV epidemics during the sabbatical year.
We therefore we examined the data of the Israeli Center for Disease Control (ICDC). We found no obvious increase in incidence of viral hepatitis during, nor in the year immediately after, all sabbatical years since 1951. However, the data was not comprehensive as it included only partial information on morbidity from HAV in our Jewish inhabitants. Also, there was no data specific for the orthodox Jewish community, which is especially at risk for HAV from sewage-irrigated vegetables. Irrespective of shmitah, there should be constant effort to prevent HAV infection in Israel.