Much Ado About Shmittah

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Those “Ultra-Orthodox” in Israel are at it again, inventing new stringencies, coercing other Jews, trying to make a dishonest buck and generally making life unlivable for everybody else.

At least that is what seems to emerge from recent reportage about the “Agricultural Sabbatical Year,” or Shmittah, ushered in on Rosh Hashana.

The New York Times contended that an Israeli Chief Rabbi, because he respected a revered elder rabbinical leader’s judgment, is “considered” – by whom was not clarified – “a puppet” of the senior rabbi.

A New York Sun columnist insinuated that a religious legal decision was born of a desire to make money on the backs of the poor. “There are, after all, no farmers in the ultra-Orthodox community,” wrote Hillel Halkin, wrongly, “and plenty of rabbis and kashrut supervisors who will find jobs making sure that Jewish-grown fruits and vegetables are not, G-d forbid, being smuggled into the diet of unsuspecting Israelis.”

And a New York Jewish Week editorial both got its facts wrong (contending that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, by setting a kashrut certification standard, had “disallowed” food of lower standards) and saw fit to invoke an unsubstantiated accusation of moral turpitude against one rabbi and the arrest of another’s family member as indictments of the rabbis’ religious legal opinions.

Some Israeli publications were shriller still. The Jerusalem Report characterized the granting of permission to local rabbis to set their communities’ kashrut standards thus: “Confrontation looms as the increasingly powerful ultra-Orthodox camp flexes its muscles and attempts to impose strict observance of the Shmittah commandment on all Israelis.”

Irresponsible media coverage of haredim is nothing new. But were such misinformation and provocation used against Jews rather than against some Jews, it would be roundly condemned as something worse than journalism-as-usual.

The facts:

The Torah enjoins Jews privileged to live in the Holy Land to not till or plant in Jewish-owned soil during each seventh year, known as Shmittah. What grows of its own is to be treated as ownerless and may not be sold. Shmittah-observance bespeaks our recognition that the land is the L-rd’s, and its merit allows Jews to, in the words of Leviticus [25:19], “abide in the land, in safety.” For Jews who believe that Israel perseveres only through miracles, Shmittah is no minor mitzvah.

When substantial numbers of Jews began to return to the Holy Land in the 19th century, some farmers among them endeavored to observe Shmittah; most, though, living in deep poverty, did not. As a result, in 1896, religious leaders, including haredi rabbis, approved a fall-back plan whereby land owned by Jews was technically transferred to the possession of an Arab for the duration of the Shmittah year. That way, Jewish farmers would be acting as sharecroppers rather than as tillers of their own Shmittah-qualifying soil.

During subsequent Shmittah years, many farmers continued to rely on that “sale loophole” or “heter mechira.” And when the state of Israel was created, the official state Rabbinate endorsed it as well.

A few farmers, though, opted to observe Shmittah in its original way, allowing their fields to lie fallow and relying on other income or charity (ultimately, on G-d), to make it through the months when they could not farm and sell produce. As a result, in the 1950s and 1960s, about 250 acres of land “rested” as per the Biblical injunction.

Later Shmittah years saw increasing number of farmers follow suit. Seven years ago, the number of acres left untilled had risen more than 200-fold from the 60s, to 55,000. This year, 3000-3500 farmers will be observing Shmittah, and 100,000 acres are expected to be left fallow in accordance with the Torah’s direction. Every major Orthodox kashrut-certification agency in North America approves only Israeli produce hewing to the highest Shmittah standard.

The reasons for the growth of Shmittah-observance are several, among them a general trend toward greater observance, recognition of the ad-hoc nature of the heter mechira, and the experience of farmers who not only did not suffer for their Shmittah observance but experienced unusual blessings.

So what’s with all the negative press? Good question.

This year, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate declared that while it still did not oppose reliance on the heter mechira, it was, for the first time, permitting municipal rabbis in Israel’s towns and cities, when issuing kashrut certifications, to decide for their localities whether to rely on that fall-back standard or opt for the original one.

From the reaction, one might think that the Chief Rabbis had declared an extra year of Shmitta rather than simply taken a pluralistic stance on religious standards. Israel’s agriculture minister, Shalom Simhon, thundered a threat to forbid imports from Arab-owned land (which meet the higher Shmittah standard). Media like the Jewish Week misleadingly described the new policy as some sort of prohibition. Even in cities where the municipal rabbi has not granted kosher certification for heter mechira produce, nothing prevents a vendor from selling such produce (sans a Rabbinate kashrut-sticker) – which will surely be less expensive than the rabbinically-sanctioned fruits and vegetables.

But, as the New York Times article admitted, about Jerusalem haredim: “The community is already among the poorest in Jerusalem, but the rulings of their rabbis matter far more to them than money.”

And speaking of money, Jews outside Israel are putting theirs where their beliefs are.

A 35-year-old organization, Keren Hashvi’is, raises millions of dollars each Shmittah year to help support Shmittah-observant farmers. Most donations are relatively small, from people of limited means – testifying to the broad and deep connection tens of thousands of Jews worldwide feel to their Israeli brethren farming holy soil. (In the United States, Keren Hashvi’is operates from Agudath Israel of America’s Manhattan offices.)

But jaundiced eyes see only haredi Jews poisoning Jewish wells. It is a truly strange panorama: Observers usually enamored of ecological and liberal ideals have somehow been transformed into fierce opponents of leaving nature alone, of providing Arabs with extra income and of permitting individual rabbis to rule in accordance with their consciences.

And in the background, religiously dedicated farmers are doing what they believe will merit security and peace for the Holy Land, with help from Jews across Israel and around the world.

Keren Hashvi’is, which accepts donations by credit card, can be reached at 1-888-9-SHMITTAH.

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62 Responses

  1. David Farkas says:

    A great piece, as usual, by a great writer. I would note, though, a big reason for all the disagreement here is this sentence: “when a recognized senior Godol Hador has taken a position, I believe it is the responsibility of every Torah-observant Jew to accord it great respect (even if his or her personal rav, or another great talmid chacham, takes a different approach).” I think this underlying root cause is the elephant in the room.

    First, the very concept of “Gedolei Hador” as something to be reckoned with is only an Agudah viewpoint, and a relatively recent one at that. It’s a twin brother of the “daas torah” concept, which has conclusively been proven not to exist, for all intents and purposes, before the middle of the 19th century. Prior to this point, laymen were basically uneducated, and everyone followed his rabbi. The rabbi, in turn, was elected by the richest men in town, or, to use the more delicate halachic term, the “sheve tovie hair”. In other words, all halacha was local. There was no “Gedolei Hador” making decisions for other people.

    Once we accept the concept of “Gedolei hador” having influence beyond their own communities, we come to the perennial question of who is a Godol? I understand the Agudah takes the position that R. Elyashiv is the godol hador, but please recognize that there are scores of thousands of religious Jews who know nothing about R. Elyashiv. They’ve never heard or read a single chiddush from him, have never met him, have never spoken to him for halachic questions, do not share the same viewpoints or family background as him, and have never been personally inspired by him. For these Jews, R. Elyashiv, however revered he is by some, means absolutely nothing. ( Inasmuch as there are scores of thousands of even Agudah Jews to which this descrption also applies, it begs the point made in the previous paragraph.)So why, under thee circumstances, should these religious Jews afford R. Elyahsiv any more respect than they would afford any other rabbi? To them, Reb Elyashiv is just another rabbi. At most, they should afford him the same amount of respect the Charedi world gives “white” roshei yeshivos, and we all know how great that is . . . .

    Against our will we must turn to authorities from previous generations. And at this point the ballgame ends, because there are great authorities on both sides of the debate. Accordingly, the Rabbinate should have allowed those who use the hetter mechirah to market their products accordingly. Although Rabbi Shafran is called upon to express the Charedi viewpoint, at times frank admission of error is much more fruitful.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, for those of us in ChuL, it might behoove us, regardless of our Hashkafic take on this issue, simply to learn the halachos of shmittah. There are numerous sefarim in Lashon HaKodesh and English that provide an indepth halachic sources as well as the pros and cons of the Heter Hameirah. One’s POV might then be arguing from at least somne familiarity with the halachic issues, as opposed to solely a hashkafic POV that sometimes reflects an undue polarization with respect to the issues.

  3. cvmay says:

    “If there is a will to live without either heter mechira or Veggies for Terror, it can be done”.
    This is to be encouraged among all groups of yiddim living in Eretz Yisroel, the question is “IS THERE A WILL”?

  4. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Let me point out something that IMHO has been missed by previous posters. Fruits of trees which exist from year to year have always been eaten while observing (or not, if the land was owned by non-Jews) kedushat shevi’it. Heter mechira or not is only an issue of what the farmer or the marketer may do. For the consumer there are solutions. Consult your halachic authority. The real problem is vegetables. In previous generations people didn’t eat fresh vegetables all the time anyway. I would not want to go back to a time of poorer nutrition and all sorts of hardships, but there are alternatives. There are imports and there are food additives to make up for what you get from fresh vegetables. There is produce from outside the halachic boundaries of E”Y grown by Jewish farmers. If there is a will to live without either heter mechira or Veggies for Terror, it can be done. A larger proportion of people who are resolute in this area plus contributions to Keren Shevi’is can encourage more farmers to do other things than grow vegetables during shmittah. There should be more Torah outreach to encourage them to spend time learning Torah. We are in a transition stage and hopefully, when shmittah is in effect from the Torah and not merely by rabbinical authority, it will be more like the ideal.

  5. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Chaim Wolfson writes: #55

    1) I did not quote the beginning of your response. It was a bit too difficult for me to follow.
    2) I thank you for acknowleding your reference to R Tukichinsky ztl was in error. In general, when a posek gives a number of reasons to support a psak, one of the circunstances / reasons changing, does not necessarily mean the posek would change his mind or that his previous psak does not establish precendent. There is great divergence in methodology among poskim about when/how such a psak would be evaluated as precedent.
    3) As to what is quoted concerning “Maadanei Eretz”, it is entirely relevant to your assertion, whatever it might mean exactly, about “lower standard” versus permitted / forbidden. RSZA ztl’s opinion of the heter mechira, of which, he did not approve, is hardly irrelevant.

  6. mo.346 says:

    menachem,
    Israel’s agriculture input is around 3.3 billion dollars annually
    37% is for cattle and poultry, so its more like 1 billion (i think)….(im charedi:) )
    agticulture makes up about 1.7 % of the workforce which is 72,000 workers
    also 20% of all produce is exported, which is assur if its shevies)
    all in all it accounts for just 2.4% of the GDP
    at the turn of the century it was 60%
    without discussing the nature of the mechiras, dont you think the Rabbis who approved of and instituted the heter would think a little differently?
    i personally believe they would set up funds for the farmers, sort of like keren shevies, only on a larger scale.

  7. cvmay says:

    Chaim Wolfson
    “As far as supporting the Arabs in Gaza, obviously that is a concern if you know the money would be used for terrorism. But thanks to Iran and to the tens of millions of dollars in “humanitarian aid” the EU (and America) supplies Gaza with, the terrorists don’t seem to lack for money” – The purchase of produce from Gaza is not only an economical benefit to these Gazaean farmers but a SECURITY risk. Rav Efrati and the Mehadrin Shmittah Kashrus just ossured produce from Y & S due to a suspision that hetermechira and treif treif vegetables were mixed with the Arab produce, and called for a stronger presence of mashgichim. Are we prepared to send numerous mashgichim into Gaza to supervise picking, packing and delivery of Arab vegetables? Can we somewhat guarentee the mashgichim safety while they are inspecting the sites? Is putting more soldiers on duty-pikuach nefesh, for this surveilance halachaikly permitted? Think about it..

  8. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Many commenters here have taken stromg exception to some of my comments. Rightfully so — had I said what they seem to think I said. But I did not (for the most part). I would ask them to please take the time to revisit my comments so they can see that for themselves.

    Shaya Karlinsky takes me to task for saying that the “heter mechirah” is baseless. But I never said any such thing. It would not be presumptuous of me to say that, it would be absurd. If I were enough of a “talmid chochom” to decide between the two sides in the “heter mechirah” controversy, I wouldn’t be spending my time blogging, I’d be sitting and learning. What I said was that THOSE WHO OPPOSE the “heter mechirah” contend that it is baseless, and not simply a lower standard. Based on what I have seen, that statement accurately portrays their position. The Chazon Ish (Sheviis 27:7), for example, writes: המכירה של כל הארץ לערבי אינו כלום [“The sale of the entire Land (of Israel) to Arabs has no significance at all”.] Elsewhere (Sheviis 10:6) the Chazon Ish rules that if someone sold his field to an Arab himself, the produce of that field are permitted “b’dieved” [this may be the Chazon Ish that Steve Brizel (comment #17) recalls hearing], but if he sold the field through an agent (which is how it is done with the “heter mechirah”), the produce is forbidden. And in a proclamation issued before the Shemittah of 1909/10, the Ridvaz (one of the opponents of the “heter mechirah”)writes: והנה עוד בתחילת הקיץ העבר בעוד שהגאון האדיר מורש”ס זצ”ל עדיין היה חי אתנו נתאספנו בהסכמתו וטכסנו עצה מה לעשות שלא תהא שנת השביעית הבעל”ט מתחללת ח”ו כראשונות ולא נוסיף חלילה עוד לחטוא בזה כראשונים, [“Already at the beginning of the past summer, while the great Gaon Rav Shmuel Salant zt”l was still alive, we gathered with his consent to formulate a plan of action so that the coming Shemittah year would not be profaned as earlier ones were, and so that we should not continue to sin as previously”.] (In the interest of full disclosure I must say that I saw this proclamation quoted in a “sefer”, but I’m sure it can be verified. I also apologize for my inelegant translation, but it conveys the general idea.) As far as I know, even those who insist only on “cholov yisrael” never reacted to Rav Moshe’s “heter” of “cholov stam” in quite the same way. Evidently, the opponents of the “heter mechirah” viewed it much differently than the “cholov yisrael/stam” question, despite the fact that many “gedolei Torah” supported it, and R’ Shaya’s analogy does not hold true.

    Dr. Gewirtz was displeased that I did not take Rav Ovadia Yosef’s ruling into account in determining whether or not “heter mechirah” produce qualifies as a “lower standard”. But again, I did not discount Rav Ovadia Yosef’s ruling nor did decide that such produce does not even meet a “lower standard”. I said that the debate is not of standards but of permitted/forbidden, which is true, as I noted above. Given that dispute, someone from the outside could view it in one of two ways: He might say, “Since the permissibility of heter mechirah produce is a matter of dispute, l’chatchilah I will follow the view of those who forbid it but b’dieved I will rely on the view of the Gedolim who say it is permitted”, in which case the question, for him, IS one of standards. Or he might entirely follow the view of those who forbid it. The members of the Rabbanut who did not give a “hashgachah” on “heter mechirah” produce evidently chose the latter. [Whether or not that is proper or practical has nothing to do with my point.]

    My comment that there is reason to believe that Rav Kook would have ruled differently today given that most of the land in Eretz Yisrael is owned by Jews is based not on conjecture but on what Rav Kook wrote in ch. 20 of the “Kuntress Acharon” to his “Shabbas Ha’aretz”, where he makes this very distinction. As for Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, he bases his ruling in large part on the “sefer Shemen HaMor” (by the Sefardi Gadol Rav Mordechai Rubein), who also differentiates between Jewish and non-Jewish control of Eretz Yisrael. [We are getting into deep waters here, and I am not sure if this is the proper forum for such a discussion.] I concede Dr. Gewirtz’s point about R’ Michel Tikochinsky. [As for his point regarding “Maadanei Eretz”, I will withold comment save to point out that it is totally irrelevant to this discussion, and to ask him to find someone else to vent his bitterness on. I do not recall ever treating him discourteously or doing anything else to warrant his displeasure.]

    Menachem Lipkin wonders how I could take the aforementioned Gedolim “out of the equation”. I did not mean that they would not consider the economic consequences of keeping shemittah serious enough today to warrant the “heter mechirah”; arguably, that IS a matter of conjecture, and you are right that the Rabbanim who apply the “heter” today clearly decided that conditions do warrant it. I meant that their ruling very possibly was based on the fact that most of the land in Eretz Yisrael duing their times was owned by non-Jews, and Eretz Yisrael itself was not under Jewish control, as above.

    My ommission of Rav Ovadia Yosef was in no way intended to imply he is not a Gadol b’Yisrael. If you revisit my comment, you will see that I am addressing your rhetorical question, “Does Rabbi Shafran truly not consider Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, Rav Kook, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky, Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, and Rav Ovadia Yosef to be “Ziknei Gedolei Yisrael”?” I just pointed out that Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, Rav Kook and Rav Michel Tikochinsky are not relevant to the discussion because it is not at all ceretain that they would support the “heter” now that Eretz Yisrael is under Jewish control. Thus I began the paragraph “FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS DISCUSSION Rav Yitchak Elchanan et al. can be left out of the equation”. I did not include Rav Ovadia Yosef because he obviously IS “in the equation”; he clearly does not make that distinction, given that he supports the “heter mechirah” under the current circumstances. For the same reason, I added that I am not sure about Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank.

    Menachem, there are other points I would like to clarify with you, and I would be glad to take you up on your invitation to continue with this discussion off-line. However, I don’t know your e-mail address. I sent a request to the Cross-Currents board, but they haven’t responded yet. Maybe they’re waiting to get the OK from you.

  9. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Chaim,

    I’m confident that the gedolim who instituted and currently maintain the Heter Mechira were/are well aware of the Gemora in Menachos. I’m certainly not one to argue with the Chozon Ish, but they were. From my lowly vantage point I can only say that in the time of the Chashmonaim Shmitta was probably fully accepted as D’oraisa, not so in the late 1800’s and forward.

    “For the purposes of this discussion, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, Rav Kook and Rav Michel Tikachinsky can be taken out of the equation.”

    I can’t imagine how you can even state this. They established the Heter Mechira as a viable halachic option; they let the cat out of the bag. Our entire halachic system is based on precedent. Today’s Rabbis need only determine if the situation is critical enough to warrant its implementation. Clearly, there are those who do.

    You conspicuously left out Rav Ovadia Yosef who is a current Gadol B’Torah making this calculus. This brings me to your previous “Eilu V’Eilu” comment (#38), which I find extremely troubling.

    This thinking is exactly the source of the trouble we’re having in the frum community today. It’s the “reasoning” the “zealots” use for all kinds of horrid and violent behavior. The chareidim who torched a woman’s dress shop in Mea Shaarim owned by a Rosh Yeshiva’s wife thought that they, “…have a responsibility to whatever is in their power to prevent people from eating forbidden produce,…”.

    Given the list of Gedolim who initiated and supported/support the Heter mechira, nobody, nobody, has the standing to say that it’s baseless. This mentality is not, yet, as apparent in the US. We just need to look to recent Gedolim such as the Chozon Ish, and RSZA, who while not holding of the mechira, made it clear that those who do have whom to rely on.

    Mark my words. Either during this Shmitta year or the next, people using davka the logic you espoused above will vandalize the farms of those who cultivate under the Heter.

    We’re probably too deep in the queue to continue this here, but I’d be happy to continue with you off line if you’d like.

  10. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Chaim Wolfson writes:

    “Dr. Gewirtz, let me rephrase that sentence: Would you give a “hashgachah” on something you thought was treif? Regardless, my main point remains the same; it’s a question of much more than merely higher or lower standards.”

    When you are in a hole, you do not get out by digging. I had hoped that you would consider R. O. Yosef, to name just one, as able to at least qualify as a “lower standard.”

    BTW if you want to provide conjectures with limited/no analysis about what Gedolim of the previous generation would have thought today, I would urge you instead to read well researched conjectures about why RSZA’s sefer Ma’adanei Eretz is only excerpted and not republished. See the seforim.com blog entry by R. Rappaport. It bears on the issue of “lower standard.”

    And BTW R. Tuchitzinsky’s sefer Eretz Yisroel, which i assume discusses shmittah, was completeted just before his death (195x), after 1948; see his son’s intro to gesher haChaim. In his case, there is no evidence that 1948 changed his psak.

  11. Shaya Karlinsky says:

    If one of the main purposes of R. Sharfan’s post was to defend against:

    …the media’s characterization of those who wish to promote Shmitah observance in the most straightforward way. I sought only to “balance the one-sided and bellicose media reportage with some facts and a different perspective.”

    then he is to be commended. However, I believe the presentation he made, along with his responses reflected some positions that are not correct. A few comments.

    R. Shafran:
    For religious Jews, however (and I assume that most if not all of the posters here belong to that group), there is another (and perhaps overriding) perspective: that of how much of Eretz Yisrael is lying fallow during this Shmittah year. Needless to say, that need not be the only consideration when evaluating public policy, but it is dismaying to see no mention of it in the comments above. Some of us actually believe that the more holy land lying fallow during Shmittah, the more the merit of the mitzvah for Klal Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.

    There is NO indication that by refusing to award Kashrus certification to establishments that purchase heter mechira produce, MORE land of Israel will lie fallow. What is the more likely outcome (and it is happening) is that these establishments will forgo their supervision, purchase produce from farmers who farm without any (heter mechirah) Halachic justification, and probably will end up compromising on the other aspects of Kashrus in their factories or restraunts, both now and when shmittah is over. Long term, there will less Kashrus observance at any level.

    There is already a shortage of vegetables and skyrockeing prices for the Charedi public that WANTS to avoid heter mechira produce. What does economics 101 tell us will happen when you increase significantly the demand for these products? By forcing the public at large to purchase produce that complies with Charedi standards of Kashrus, you have added “artificial demand” which will raise the price and limit availability for the Charedi public. I am sure the intention of these Rabbis was not to make it more difficult for the Charedi public to feed its own population according to its standards. But that is the effect.

    Chaim Wolfson wrote:
    But to those who hold the “heter mechirah” as it is practiced today to be baseless, the “heter mechirah” is not simply a lower standard of shemittah observance; it’s not a standard at all. If so, don’t those Rabbis have a responsibility to whatever is in their power to prevent people from eating forbidden produce, regardless of whether or not those people are from the Rabbis’ “camp”?

    How can one say “heter mechirah is baseless” when there great Torah authorities who provide it with Halachic basis. THAT gives it a basis – which one can disagree. The parallel would be to say that since we do NOT accept FDA supervision as taking the place of Jewish supervision, the heter to drink “chalav stam” instead of “chalav Yisrael” is baseless.

    I happen to agree with Chaim Wolfson in his response to Menachem Lipkin on the Supreme Court:
    …you can’t seriously hope that a secular court intervenes in a question of halacha and tells the Rabbanut how to run their operation…. Knowing the Israeli supreme court, they would take you up on your invitation, and that indeed would set a very dangerous precedent, no matter which side they take

    This is EXACTLY why it was so irresponsible for local Rabbinates, which operate under government auspices, to withhold standard (as opposed to Mehadrin) Kashrus certification for using heter mechirah, a solution recognized as Halachically acceptable by the Chief Rabbinate. There is NO LEGAL leg upon which the local Rabbinates can stand. (The Attorney General refused to defend the case against those who brought it to the Supreme Court for this reason.) And THIS should have been taken into account when making such an indefensible – FROM A LEGAL STANDPOINT – decision. If Rabbis employed by the State of Israel can’t, in good conscience, provide standard Kashrus certification on heter mechirah produce, they need to be true their principles, and resign. The State run Kashrus system is in place precisely to provide BASIC standards of Kashrus to the public at large. If the Chief Rabbinate, under the authority of Rabbi Metzger, creates the heter mechira structure, encouraging farmers to sign on, with the goal of avoiding mass, unequivocal desecration of Shemittha, there is no legal argument that can be used to defend withholding that standard Kashrus certification for establishments following those guidelines.

    I agree, R. Shafran, that the tone of some of the responses to your article were a bit sharp. But I believe you have tried to defend the indefensible – Rabbis employed in a system whose purpose is to ensure maximum Kashrus observance for the public at large at a level of (only) basic standards, can’t impose mehadrin standards on such a system. To say they (or their Poskim) are of the opinion the heter mechirah is baseless is irrelevant (at best), when there are other accepted poskim who hold it is valid.

  12. Chaim Wolfson says:

    “That Hillel did not institute a Heter Mechira implies nothing. All we can do is look to his logic in implementing the Pruzbul and conjecture how he might use that rational.. One could even make a kal v’chomer relative the piddly amounts of commerce in his time.” (Comment by Menachem Lipkin — October 23, 2007 @ 4:14 pm).

    Menachem, in a letter printed at the end of vol. IV of Rav Chaim Kanievski’s sefer “Derech Emunah” (#27), the Chazon Ish makes an interesting observation that speaks to your argument. He notes that the Gemara (Menachos 28b) states that when the Chashmonaim were victorious over the Yevanim, they could only afford to make a wooden menorah for the Beis HaMikdash (or according to some, one made of iron) to replace the one defiled by the Yevanim. It boggles the imagination! Poverty was so widespread that in the entire country there was not enough money to make a menorah out of anything but the cheapest materials! Yet we do not find mentioned anywhere that they did not scrupulously observe shemittah. There is no record of any pruzbal-like innovation to allow planting and harvesting on Shemittah.

    “Does Rabbi Shafran truly not consider Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, Rav Kook, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky, Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, and Rav Ovadia Yosef to be “Ziknei Gedolei Yisrael”?”

    For the purposes of this discussion, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, Rav Kook and Rav Michel Tikachinsky can be taken out of the equation. Circumstances were different in their times, and it is not at all clear that they would agree to the principle of the “heter mechirah” today. For one thing, they issued their rulings at a time when Eretz Yisrael was not under Jewish control and when the majority of the land
    was owned by non-Jews, and Rav Kook himself writes that this is one of the bases for his heter. I am not sure about Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank; was his p’sak pre- or post-1948?

    “I will let that speak for itself.” (Comment by dr. william gewirtz — October 24, 2007 @ 8:14 am).

    Dr. Gewirtz, let me rephrase that sentence: Would you give a “hashgachah” on something you thought was treif? Regardless, my main point remains the same; it’s a question of much more than merely higher or lower standards.

    As far as supporting the Arabs in Gaza, obviously that is a concern if you know the money would be used for terrorism. But thanks to Iran and to the tens of millions of dollars in “humanitarian aid” the EU (and America) supplies Gaza with, the terrorists don’t seem to lack for money. But of course, Israelis would have a better idea then I do of what the Arab farmers do with their money.

    Let me end by clarifying that I have no horse in this race. Obviously, I am not qualified to offer an opinion on the halachic aspects of the “heter mechirah” debate (even if deluded myself into thinking I am, I know I can count on my Cross-Current friends to disabuse me of that notion). Nor, living in America, do I have any appreciation of the political dynamic in the Rabbanut as, say, Menachem Lipkin living in Beit Shemesh does. All I’m saying is that there seem to be more than enough halachic issues involved with the “heter mechirah”, which even its strongest proponents concede is a “b’dieved”, to view the new Rabbanut policy within a halachic context without attributing it to nefarious political motives. The fact that Dati Rabbanim are proposing alternatives to the “heter mechirah”, as Dr. E writes (may I call you E?), demonstrates that the issue bears revisting on purely halachic grounds. [I would add that Rav Herzog also was very dissasfied with the “heter mechirah” (not so much with the theory as with how it was practiced). He, too, proposed alternatives, but he wasn’t so happy with those either, and in the end they never materialized.]