Shmita is our test of faith

letter-447577_1280

At the height of the ongoing controversy over shmita observance, an editorial appeared in this paper (“Shmita pragmatism,” Sept. 18) celebrating the heter mechira as the essential manifestation “of the religious Zionist ethos.” The editorial described the heter mechira as a “circumvention” of “the ancient shmita limitations” using “pro forma bills of sale [whereby] farmers ostensibly turn over their land to non-Jews for the duration of the sabbatical [year].”

To call the heter mechira the essential manifestation of the national-religious ethos constitutes a huge slander against that community. It attributes to religious Zionism an attitude toward Halacha more generally associated with the Conservative movement: Halacha must be brought up to date, and is infinitely malleable in light of new “realities” and the emerging zeitgeist.

Shmita is no more difficult to observe today than in biblical times, when the entire society was agrarian and there was no possibility of importing food. Then too observance of the sabbatical year was a tremendous test of faith, as the Torah explicitly recognizes: “If you will say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year’ – behold we will not sow and not gather in our crops?” (Leviticus 25:20).

A proper modern approach to shmita observance would seek new agricultural techniques that do not run afoul of the Torah’s requirement that the land lie fallow. And some leading figures in the national-religious world have indeed devoted themselves to that quest.

But wiping the observance of shmita off the books, as the heter mechira effectively does today, is no cause for celebration, and would have been anathema to Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the rabbinical figure most associated with the original heter mechira. Rabbi Kook’s heter was formulated in advance of the sabbatical year of 1909-10, after he had been informed that widespread starvation would likely result from observance of shmita.

Opponents of the heter – and even then there were many – in addition to pointing out the dubious halachic validity of the sale of the Land to non-Jews (itself a transgression of a specific Torah prohibition, according to most authorities), charged that it would result in the mitzva being forgotten entirely. Rabbi Kook responded to one of those critics, Rabbi Yaakov David Wilovsky (the Ridbaz) by insisting that his ruling was “temporary, given only because of necessity and extreme compulsion . . . chalila, chalila that we should set our hand against what is holy and usurp the Land’s holiness.”

Rabbi Kook made it clear that without the threat to life he would not support the heter.

Whatever the justification for the heter mechira at that time, history has proven Rabbi Kook’s critics right. The heter mechira has been renewed every shmita since, with little attention to changing circumstances. Once farmers sign their pro-forma bill of sale, work goes on exactly as if there were no shmita.

That is an essential difference between the heter mechira and the sale of chametz on Pessah, to which it is often, and wrongly, compared. Jews who sell their chametz refrain from all contact with it, and exercise none of the indicia of ownership; farmers who sell their lands continue to farm as if nothing changed, and the land does not “rest.”

The stringencies that Rabbi Kook imposed to ensure that the mitzva of shmita not be forgotten – e.g., produce grown on land “sold” to Arabs should still be treated as if it possessed the sanctity of the seventh year; Jewish farmers should perform none of the forms of labor forbidden by the Torah – are almost totally ignored. In addition, Rabbi Kook had written that the sale of the land could only be effected when most of the land in Eretz Yisrael is in non-Jewish hands, which has not been true at least since 1948.

THE FIGURE most responsible for the renewed observance of shmita in our day is the Chazon Ish. With single-minded determination, he set out to prove that it remains possible to observe every mitzva commanded by the Torah. (Shmita observance today, according to most authorities, is a rabbinic, not Torah, requirement.) He delved deeply into the halachic sources and, in the case of disputes among the earlier authorities, usually adopted the lenient view to make observance easier.

He personally convinced the religious farmers of Moshav Komemiyut to observe shmita fully, and under the direction of Rabbi Binyamin Mendelson, rav of Komemiyut, the movement spread from there. This shmita year, an estimated 340,000 dunams of land (85,000 acres) lie fallow – more than double the number just two cycles ago.

The challenges faced by thousands of shomer shmita farmers are beyond the comprehension of any city-dweller. Not only are they without income for an entire year. Many are carrying huge bank loans on which payments still have to be made. Those who have long-term supply contracts endanger their relationship with their largest purchasers. And farmers with many Thai agricultural workers risk losing them and having to start the process of attaining permits for new ones anew.

Yet the number of such farmers grows from cycle to cycle. This year most of the farmers from Gush Katif who have obtained new plots are observing shmita, even though in most cases they just recently received their plots. Almost all of these farmers can relate stories of how they personally witnessed the Torah’s promise of a double bounty in the sixth year.

In a famous story, preserved on film, a horde of locusts stopped at the boundaries of Komemiyut during the first shmita after the creation of the state, after having laid the surrounding farmland waste.

The Torah specifically links our dwelling securely in the Land to the observance of shmita (Leviticus 25:18). Who knows if the brave farmers upholding shmita – as well as those who strive to develop new agronomic techniques fully consistent with shmita’s restrictions – are not the best protection of our security.

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on November 29 2007.

You may also like...

34 Responses

  1. Chaim Wolfson says:

    “While R’ Rosenblum writes some good points in his article, I would also wonder if anyone who actually farms in Eretz Yisrael could write a column detailing his personal experience with Shemittah and its effects on his life. It’s one thing for a city dweller to say these things, quite another for the people who actually are directly effected.” (comment by Garnel Ironheart — December 8, 2007 @ 8:28 pm).

    Garnel, one of the featured speakers at the recent Agudah convention was an Israeli farmer who described his experience observing “shemittah”. Last week’s Hamodia printed an interview with him. The convention during last “shemittah” also featured an Israeli farmer.

    “`at least’ implies that there is a tzad to say that it is more relevant today. why?” (Comment by Jewish Observer — December 12, 2007 @ 1:17 pm).

    For one thing, while the current situation may qualifuy as a “shaas hadechak” as Menachem Lipkin says, the “pikuach nefesh” issues that existed when Rav Yitzchak Elchanan approved the “heter” (e.g., the case of Mazkeret Batyah that Chardal mentioned” are no longer relevant. Secondly, “lo sachaneim” may be a bigger problem today than it was in Rav Yitzchak Elchanan’s and Rav Kook’s time, when Eretz Yisrael was ruled by non-Jews (the Turks and the British). Thirdly, as Jonathan points out, Rav Kook made a distinction between when most of the fields in Eretz Yisrael are owned by non-Jews and when, as is the case today, most are owned by Jews. [I admit that I don’t know if that was Rav Kook’s final word on the matter. I also wonder if in fact the majority of fields in Eretz Yisrael is owned by Jews. Presumably, Rav Kook was referring to the HALACHIC boundaries of Eretz Yisrael, which are quite different than the present-day boundaries of Israel. It may be that when you add the land that is within Eretz Yisrael but not Israel (e.g., parts of Jordan), and subtract the land that is within Israel but not Eretz Yisrael (e.g., parts of the Negev), most of the fields in Eretz Yisrael is still owned by Arabs. Just wondering.]

    Dr. E., you are right that most “poskim” maintain that “shemittah” today is “mid’rabbanan”. And “chametz” on Pesach and “ribbis” are “mid’oraisa” (“shemittas kesafim is a “machlokess”). I just wanted to correct one of the commenters who said that “eruvei chatzeiros” and “eruvei tavshilin” permit “issurei d’oraisa”.

    You make a very good point about the “otzar beis din”. Eating “peiros sheviis” is how a consumer observes “shemittah”. In Bnei Brak and elsewhere where they follow the ruling of the Chazon Ish regarding Arab-grown produce, they eat only “otzar beis din” produce. But for “sefichin” (which all agree is permitted when grown by non-Jews) “otzar beis din” is not an alternative. Presumably, there is also a problem of supply, since until this year “otzar beis din” was not practiced on a very large scale.

    As for the lack of Chareidi participation in the “otzar ha’aretz”, if that is what you referring to when you write of “Chareidi reluctance to collaborate with the Dati Leumi community in developing national mechanisms that are Halachically more preferable to the Heter Mechira”, I can hardly comment without knowing the deatails. But I can think of halachic grounds for concern regarding the use of the “otzar beis din” mechanism on a national level. For one thing, the very strong possibility (if not probability) exists that produce with “kedushas sheviis” would end up in the hands of many who do not know how to treat it with the proper sanctity. It is also no simple matter to ensure that everything is done as “halachah” mandates, and it may not be practical to institute on country-wide. [IIRC, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach had reservations about how “otzar beis din” was implemented in practice; he felt that it was a much-abused institution.] I do know that other methods developed by the National Religious community are accepted by the Chareidim, such as the “Gush Katif process” of hydroponics and greenhouses; their produce is imported to America under very respected “hashgachos”.

    Finally, there is one very good reason why the sale of plots in Eretz Yisrael to Jews in Chutz La’aretz is more valid than the “mechirah” of the “heter mechirah” — there is no question of “lo sacheinam” and “ein shaliach l’dvar aveirah”. That aside, you’ve made me curious. why do you imply that the sale of plots isn’t valid? Do you know something I don’t (which is a lot; I didn’t buy a plot, so I never really looked into it). Is there some reason why its not legal, or is there some type of trickery involved?

  2. Dr. E says:

    Chaim Wolfson-

    Regarding your reply to Sarah Lipman, according to most Poskim, Shmitta today is Miderabbanan, so it fits in with the other examples cited.

    Regarding your reply to Chardal, isn’t buying produce from (enemy) Arabs really a way to “avoid transgressing Shmitta” rather than “observing it”. IMHO, Otzar Beit Din is a more optimal method to “observe Shmitta” in that one can eat produce which has kedusha and treat it properly. On your second point, what makes you think that when Bnei Chutz L’Aretz buy plots in Eretz Yisrael (as per the magazine ads), that “sale” is more valid than the Heter Mechira of which you are critical?

    Finally, with your response to me, while the basis of the Heter precedes Rav Kook and has always been controversial, I stand by my thesis that it today it cuts at the heart of the divide, given its association with him and his ideological decendents. Also, if it’s not personal or political, then why is the Chareidi community so reluctant to collaborate with the Dati Leumi community in developing national mechanisms that are Halachically more preferable to the Heter Mechira?

  3. Jewish Observer says:

    “those halachic considerations are at least as relevant today as they were then”

    – “at least” implies that there is a tzad to say that it is more relevant today. why?

  4. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Sarah Lipman is correct that “eruvei chatzeiros” only permits carrying from one “reshus hayachid” to another [with no intervening “reshus harabbim”], which is a Rabbinic prohibition. “Eruvei tavshilin”, as well, is effective only in cases where cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbos is permitted “min haTorah” and forbbiden only “mid’rabbanan” (see Mishnah Berurah 527:3 with Beur Halachah).

    Chardal, please correct me if I’m wrong. As I understand your position, you agree that it makes no practical difference if one gets his tomatoes from Gaza, but your are opposed to it on moral, hashkafic and halachic principle. But isn’t fulfilling the mitzvah of “shemittah” also an important principle? (And no, those who rely on the “heter mechirah”, whether farmers or consumers, are not fulfilling the mitzvah; they may not be TRANSGRESSING “shemittah”, but they’re not OBSERVING it either, just like those of us in Chutz La’aretz are not fulfilling the mitzvah, unless we bought plots of land in Eretz Yisrael in order to fulfill “mitzvos ha’teluyos ba’aretz”).

    [BTW, “heter iska” is mentioned by the “Terumas Hadeshen”, so it was already practiced in the times of the Rishonim, who certainly had greater halachic authority than any contemporary posek (“mechiras chametz”, though, is first mentioned in the Acharonim). But that is really irrelevant. Do you honestly consider me so foolish as to deny that Rav Yitzchak Elchanan and Rav Kook were qualified to rule as they did? (On second thought, don’t answer that question!). I was just responding to Nachum Lamm’s comment, which seemed to me to imply some type of comparison between Tannaim and Rishonim and those proponents of the “heter mechirah”. Great as they were, there is obviously no comparison.]

    Dr E., I disagree with your analysis of the controversy. The “heter mechirah” has been controversial ever since Rav Yitzchak Elchanan first issued his ruling, and those who opposed it at the time did so not as part of a “turf war” but on halachic grounds. And those halachic considerations are at least as relevant today as they were then. There is no need to automatically ascribe political motivations to every “psak” that strikes one the wrong way. And while some might not think so, the Rabbanim who oppose the “heter” today are also responsible people, no less than those who support it. They, too, know that the Arabs are not our friends, and that they show no favoritism to Chareidim. That they nevertheless came to a different conclusion than you did about the “heter” is no reason to call their integrity into question.

  5. IlanaF says:

    Exactly Asher!!! There are tens of Arabs building the light rail in Jerusalem. Should I not ride it when it’s ready because that is a tacit support of Arab labour? The security wall itself was built by Arab hands using, guess what? Arab cement and concrete!
    This is probably the one time when the people who actually need the money, get it.

    I heard the most ridiculous comment recently, that we should hold by heter mechira because it’s ‘pikuach nefesh’ – that if I bought my tomatoes from Alef I’m going to directly cause a Jewish death! What utter nonsense!

  6. Asher Weissman says:

    Regarding eating Arab produce, why is it just a shmitta issue?

    The amounds of Arab grown produce that Israelis consume in any regular year is astronomical. Almost all the cucumbers, strawberries, tomoatoes etc are grown by Arabs.

    So why suddenly all the Zionism come shmitta? Does Lo Techonem not apply for the other 6 years?

  7. ES says:

    …they felt the sale was fictitious and non-binding. They also felt that it violated lo Techonem.

    Unfortunately the ever-increasing purchases of Arab produce each shmitta cycle results in a real lo Techonem – the State of Israel allocates additional land for Arab farming. And that allocation somehow doesn’t get treated as temporary.

    On a general note – I read this post and comments with a deep appreciation (and a good laugh thank you JO). Kol Hakavod Rabbi JR for putting a thoughtful piece in the public eye – raising the shmitta discussion above the political turf to one of hashkafa and mesorah.

    Dr. E. I can’t agree more that our hechsherim should reflect the big picture, including national issues as well. If only us masses had more leaders that did, as Chardal puts it, “chart a course in the real world” for the whole of klal Yisrael, we could all get beyond these turf skirmishes.

    Happy Chanukah, everyone.

  8. Dr. E says:

    Anyone who is intellectually honest knows that everybody some of the loopholes and leniencies alluded to in the comments above. So, it is not like the Dati Leumi community has a monopoly on kulos. The reason that the Heter Mechira (HM) has always been so contentious is that more than any of the others, it is inextricably linked to the historical existential battle between the Chareidi and Dati Leumi communities. Even though those who are knowledgable in Halacha know that Rav Kook ZT”L did not “invent” the Heter Mechira, it will always be tied to Rav Kook and his students. And many have unfortunately viewed Rav Kook as “selling out” to Secular Zionism and consequently have no reservations when it comes to discrediting his Psakim, Hashkafa, and followers–not to mention his Gadlus.

    Unfortunately, the divide between the Chareidim and DL communities runs so deep that when the DL community has tried to develop more Halachically sound alternatives to HM, there is a tendency of not only refusing to partner with the DL community, but also a tendency to belittle any such efforts under Halachic grounds

  9. Jewish Observer says:

    “Does it really make a difference if I get my tomatoes from them?”

    – does g-d really care if I flip a little light switch on shabbos?

  10. Chareidi Leumi says:

    BTW, One thing rav Kook would surly object to is the whole educational message of this post. The idea of holding others to what he considered to be a משנת חסידים would be anathema to him.

    As Maran HaRav writes in משפט כהן סי’ סג עמ’ קכ”ו:

    ראוי לכל גדולי ישראל לנחם שבורי לב המוכרחים לזה, שלא יהיו בעיני עצמם כרשעים

    “It is proper for all gedolei Israel to comfort the broken hearted who depend on this (the Heter), that they not see themselves as sinners.”

    In other words, one of the function of a leader is not just to define the ideal (which Rav Kook readily admits would be the keeping of the shmita according to all its laws), but also to chart a course in the real world for real people to be able to function within the Torah and grow to have a healthy spiritual self-image.

    Of course, this is just one of many matters in which Maran HaRav differed with the Chazon Ish. Their whole educational approach was completely different. From the issue I point out here, to their radically different approaches to “education towards extremism.”

    To say the least, when it came time for me to choose a place to settle in EY, I chose a place filled with Jewish farmers who follow in the path of Maran haRav Kook, and not in Bnei Brak which follows the path of the Chazon Ish. Sometimes, what is spiritual medicine to one Jew is spiritual poison to another – I think all communities need to understand this truth and realize that no one communal and hashkafic path can possibly work for all segments of the Jewish world.

  11. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >In response to the Chareidi ‘support’ of Arab farmers ‘who aren’t exactly our friends’, the Israeli government gives thousands of dollars every year to the Arabs in Israel and the territories. Not to mention the millions of dollars from the US and EU. Does it really make a difference if I get my tomatoes from them?

    Practically? No.

    Morally, Hashkaficaly, and perhaps Halachicaly? YES!

  12. IlanaF says:

    In response to the Chareidi ‘support’ of Arab farmers ‘who aren’t exactly our friends’, the Israeli government gives thousands of dollars every year to the Arabs in Israel and the territories. Not to mention the millions of dollars from the US and EU. Does it really make a difference if I get my tomatoes from them?

  13. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    Since R’ Jonathan had quoted some Igros Chazon Ish recently, I thought it proper to quote from the same source, an Igeres which strongly supports the title of this post (Igros Chelek Gimel, no. 83):

    נפקדתי מאת מרן הגאון ר’ חיים עוזר שליט”א בדברי הבאים, על אודות התעוררות וחיזוק לפעולה למען שמירת השמיטה כהלכתה ב— ולגול החרפה מעלינו על ידי היתרי השעה שבכל שמיטה ושמיטה באין קץ, החולצים את זיקי האמונה מלב המפקפקים, וחושבים את מצות התורה כדברים נמנעים, ומהרהרים בנצחיות ר”ל.

    ואשר מצבנו אינו חמור מאותו המצב של אבותנו בזמן שעשו מנורה של עץ מפני העניות, ואז כרתו ברית לשמור שביעית…

  14. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >It is a matter of halachic debate as to whether Shemitta today is de’Oraisa or de’Rabbanan, which makes all the difference in the world.

    The vast VAST majority of rishonim and achronim rule it is derabanan. There is a small minority who say that it is deOrayta as well as a small minority who say that there is no mitzva of shmitta at all today but it is simply a minhag.

    Rav Kook wrote a whole book on the Heter Mechira. Learn it before making baseless claims about Shmitta. AFAIK, the majority of those who opposed the heter (during Rav Kook’s days) did not do so because they felt it was deOrayta, but rather because they felt the sale was fictitious and non-binding. They also felt that it violated lo Techonem. (BTW Chaim, Rav Kook was not the Rav who innovated the heter, it was Rav Specktor and Rav Moholiver, the two main supporters of the Chovevei Tzion movement. Rav Specktor was arguably the single greatest halachic authority in the Lithuanian world in his generation – it is not by coincidence that the Chafetz Chaim turned to him for an haskama for Mishna Berurah).

    BTW, the Heter Iska, as practiced in the Israeli banking world (of which chareidim freely partake) is VERY dachuk. It is also fairly recent so you will have a hard time formulating a “the earlier generations could do it but we can’t” type of argument. Unless you want to argue that achronim had an authority not shared by contemporary poskim – a position which I believe is difficult to sustain.

  15. Charles B. Hall says:

    The most recent *Jewish Action* has a nice article summarizing the basic laws of shmittah as well as the workarounds.

  16. Nachum Lamm says:

    Sarah Lipman, none of the things I listed are D’Rabbanan. You can’t carry on Shabbos; you can’t cook on Yom Tov for another day; you can’t keep debts over Shmittah (in fact, that’s the real meaning of “Shmitta”- letting the land rest is “Shviis”); you can’t own chametz on Pesach. And, as Chardal pointed out, you can’t charge interest on a loan. All of that is D’Oraytah, no question. And yet we do all these things. Shmittah today might very well be *not* D’Oraytah, and there are about a half-dozen other reasons it may not apply.

    Chaim Wolfson, I’m saying that some people may frame the whole concept differently is all.

  17. Garnel Ironheart says:

    > Shmita is no more difficult to observe today than in biblical times

    Of course, one must remember that Rashi notes that the reason for the 70 years of golus Bavel corresponded to the 70 years of shemittah that our ancestors did NOT observe when they ruled the land.

    So yes, as the old French saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    While R’ Rosenblum writes some good points in his article, I would also wonder if anyone who actually farms in Eretz Yisrael could write a column detailing his personal experience with Shemittah and its effects on his life. It’s one thing for a city dweller to say these things, quite another for the people who actually are directly effected.

  18. Chaim Wolfson says:

    “Yes, one can hold that. And one can hold not like that.” (Comment by Nachum Lamm — December 7, 2007 @ 1:31 pm).

    Nachum, do you mean that one can hold the Rabbinic courts that enacted “eruvei chatzeiros”, “eruvei tavshilin”, “pruzbal” and “mechiras chametz” did NOT have “greater and farther-reaching halachic authority than that of Rav Kook ZT”L”, or do you mean that the “heter mechirah” was not “originally designed around a temporary emergency”? Either interpretation is simply not true by any objective standard.

  19. Sarah Lipman says:

    The first four examples from Nachum (comment #10) are all cases of Rabbinic mitzvos, where the chachamim also provided for heterim. It is a matter of halachic debate as to whether Shemitta today is de’Oraisa or de’Rabbanan, which makes all the difference in the world.

    Many people in Israel do not, in fact, sell chametz gammur if they can at all help it, precisely because they feel uncomfortable with the hetter, even despite its long acceptance by klal yisrael. Additionally, despite the insincere sales made by many people of their chametz, on Pesach chametz is locked up and unused, and should technically be made available to the non-Jewish owner should he wish to access it.

    The Hetter Mechira land, in practice, is farmed and used by the Jewish [non-] owners just as if it were any other year (unlike chametz which is NOT used during Pesach). Many of those “selling” their land for the duration of Shemitta would feel strongly against giving any of the Holy Land to non-Jews, and in fact have devoted their lives to the cause of Jewish ownership of Eretz Yisrael. How can a person feel so strongly that the Land belongs to Jews, and then sell it to a non-Jew? Isn’t the implication that he does not in fact believe that he is selling it? If so, what kind of sale is that?

    I’m just saying…

  20. Nachum Lamm says:

    Bob:

    Yes, one can hold that. And one can hold not like that.

  21. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding “Comment by Nachum — December 5, 2007 @ 5:57 pm”:

    One can hold that Nachum’s four numbered items were first enacted by rabbinic courts with greater and farther-reaching halachic authority than that of Rav Kook ZT”L, and that these four items, unlike the heter mechira, were not originally designed around a temporary emergency.

  22. Chareidi Leumi says:

    Nachum,

    Add to the list

    Has a bank account (which uses Heter Iska)

    Please don’t imply that Rav Kook would not support the Heter Mechira today. All of his talmidim including his son continued to support the use of the heter to one degree or another. I don’t think that pikuach nefesh was the sole consideration – the economic viability of Israel’s agricultural industry was one of the main considerations and is still valid. Further, most halachic solutions that do not rely on the heter mechira (such as farming above ground) come from the RZ world and not from the Chareidi world who pretty much funds arab farmers year to year (and yes, many of these farmers are not particularly “friendly” to the Jewish community in EY.)

    Further, don’t bring Bitachon into this when you have never been faced with such a Nisayon. The farmers of Mazkeret Batya tried to keeping the first shmita of their settlement and it came close to costing lives. It was not surprising that one of the greatest halachic authrities of the time, R’ Specktor, came up with the heter. (yes, the same R’ Specktor who gave his haskama to the Mishna Berura). All this is on top of the fact that both the rishonim and achronim clearly state that the bracha promised in the Torah is only when Shmitta is deOrayta, not when it is deRabanan as it is today.

    The Heter Mechira has the status of a minhag shePashat beKol Israel according to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. I think just based on this fact, you should show it more respect.

  23. barry says:

    Surprised you didn’t object to what is, to my mind, the more fundamental error of categorizing heter mechirah as a “circumvention.”
    When I attended law school we were taught that there are no ‘technicalities of the law’, no ‘loopholes’. There is only ‘the law'(and some unintended consequences of the law, to be sure).
    IMHO, halacha is, l’havdil, the same–there is halacha, including chumrot and heterim, and there is everything outside halacha–there are no circumventions…

  24. Nachum says:

    One wonders if Mr. Rosenblum:

    1. Uses an Eruv Chatzeiros.

    2. Uses an Eruv Tavshilin.

    3. Uses a Pruzbul.

    4. Sells his chametz.

    And, whether or not he does any of these, what he thinks of them as a concept and a reflection of halakha.

  25. Dr. E says:

    Without re-hashing all of the Halachic arguments for and against the Heter Mechira (HM) which have been discussed in previous posts, a few clarifications are in order. While historically, the Heter has been linked to the Daati Leumi (DL) community, today much of that community is personally uncomfortable relying on it in their own homes. Therefore, they have sought out other solutions. I think that the fundamental difference in approach between the Chareidi and DL communities is the tolerance for the Heter’s utilization on a national level. The Chareidi community would prefer to mandate non-HM solutions across the country. However, many in the DL community are OK with accepting the HM as an economic reality to service many people who have limited Kashrut standards to begin with. Perhaps that more tolerant approach towards others is being misconstrued as reflecting a universal personal practice or even an ideological preference of the DL community—which is in fact not the case.

    To deal with the challenges of this Shmitta, the DL has tried to develop solutions (besides the Heter Mechira) that would be Halachically more preferable to it. These include Otzar Haaretz, which is s supply of produce which comes from Otzar Beis Din, Hydroponics, or from areas in EY which may not have the same level of Kedushat Haaretz in terms of Shmitta. It’s a shame that it was the DL community who came up with this idea first, as much of the Chareidi community unfortunately tends not to be so quick to endorse the good ideas of “outsiders”. Nevertheless, JR accurately points out that the DL community has worked hard to develop the aforementioned Halachically preferable solutions as a response to the national reality.

    While the Chareidi community is quick to dismiss the HM and its proponents (the above caveat notwithstanding), let’s look at two workarounds that the Chareidi community has embraced and see how acceptable they are Halachically and Hashkafically. For the supply of the produce itself, much of it is now being purchased from Arab farmers. Last time I checked, these farmers were not exactly our friends. they are either complicit with or guilty of terrorist activity and feel strongly that Israel (no difference between Chareidim and DL’im) should be wiped off the map. Forgive me if this sounds crazy, but there should at least be some minor trepidation before giving such a boost to the Palestinian and Arab economies just to observe shmitta in a particular way. I’m not quite sure that the Torah, Rishonim or Acharonim had purchasing produce from our enemies in mind when it came to observing Shmitta; but I suspect not. (Somehow, I see that purchasing produce from Arab farmers in Gaza to be more of a kulah that needs to be justified, rather than a preferred chumra.). Although I am not a personal fan of the Heter Mechira, I don’t see it as that much inferior Hashkafically or Halachically than the wholesale purchase of Arab produce.

    Second, are the farmers. As noted by JR, the Hashkafa of Shmitta is about “a test of faith” (Bitachon). I suspect that for many of the farmers in Israel today, Bitachon is a foreign concept. Yet, we all know of the publicized financial “incentives” collected by the Chareidi community for the farmers. (Much of the $$ is raised abroad through various funds and making plots of EY available for sale in magazine ads [I guess “Mechira” works for this]). While technically allowing the land to lie fallow, IMHO this does not represent this test of faith and in fact circumvents Bitachon.

    One point on which I disagree with JR is his assertion that Shmitta is no more difficult to observe today than it was when Israel was an agronomic society. With today’s global economy of which Israel’s sophisticated and diverse society is tied into, this presents a more complicated and therefore more challenging situation to observe on a national level. This is compounded by the fact that much of the country is not Halachically observant.

    As one Rav in EY pointed out, the Halachic solution of purchasing Arab produce is narrowly focused on the consumer —with the actual land, its farmers and the welfare of the country as a whole playing second fiddle. I don’t thnink that anyone can dispute that fact. That brings to light what exactly the priorities and goals of Shmitta observance are. And I think that requires more of a cheshbon than has been to date.

  26. Noam says:

    “A proper modern approach to shmita observance would seek new agricultural techniques that do not run afoul of the Torah’s requirement that the land lie fallow” – does this mean that the heter mechira is not proper? that Rav Kook and many subsequent rabbonim authorized an improper shmitta observance?

    “wiping the observance of shmita off the books, as the heter mechira effectively does today, is no cause for celebration, and would have been anathema to Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook” – Does Mr. Rosenblum claim to know what Rabbi Kook would authorize or not authorize in today’s circumstances?

    “Who knows if the brave farmers upholding shmita – as well as those who strive to develop new agronomic techniques fully consistent with shmita’s restrictions – are not the best protection of our security.” -this is correct, we really don’t know. It could be that Hashem is wondering why they are not using the heter michira and contributing to the economy of Israel’s enemies while wrecking their own. However,we do know that buying produce from Hamas will give Hamas more money, and allow them to perform more terror attacks on Israel. And, by the way, the farmers who are utilizing the heter mechira ARE upholding shmitta.

  27. Dov ben Moshe says:

    What does the author mean by test of “our” faith? How would his faith be tested if farmers did not use the heter michira?

  28. cvmay says:

    QUESTION: Land that is owned by Arabs, does it still possess kedushas haeretz? If so, how can Arab produce (eg, Chevron olives and veggies) be eaten without treating it as kedushas shivis?

  29. mb says:

    “In a famous story, preserved on film, a horde of locusts stopped at the boundaries of Komemiyut during the first shmita after the creation of the state, after having laid the surrounding farmland waste.”

    Where can one see that film?

  30. Dovid Shlomo says:

    EVERY consumer who buys produce in EY, whether or not they utilize the Hetter Mechira, is using a “dubious” hetter of one sort or another.

    Consumers who rely upon the Hetter Mechira—at worst—are in possible violation of the Rabbinnic injuction of shemmitta.

    On the other hand, consumers who prefer to purchase non-Jewish produce (when Jewish produce is available) are in possible violation of the Torah commandment to not strengthen the non-Jewish presence in the Land of Israel.

    Let us not forget that the Chazon Ish’s astonishing leniencies for Shemittah were in order to support Jewish farming.

    What evidence is there that he would have preferred the current situation, where the Charedi community prefers to buy from our enemies even in preference to buying from Otzar Beis Din (supported by the Chazon Ish), let alone in preference to buying from hetter mechira produce (which, given the way that the hetter mechira was done this year, the Chazon Ish would also permit)?

    In other words, while it might very well be true that little in Rav Kook’s writings supports the Shemitta/hetter mechira situation of 2007, so too is there little in the Chazon Ish’s writings that supports Charedi practice in Shemittah 2007. All we have are the assurances of their respective students.

    Halacha is decided based upon sources, not anecdotes. It appears to me, when looking at this from the standpoint of the halachic consumer, that the students of Rav Kook make a far more convincing case.

  31. Dovid Shlomo says:

    EVERY consumer who buys produce in EY, whether or not they utilize the Hetter Mechira, is using a “dubious” hetter of one sort or another.

    Consumers who rely upon the Hetter Mechira — at worst — are in possible violation of the Rabbinnic injuction of shemmitta.

    On the other hand, consumers who prefer to purchase non-Jewish produce (when Jewish produce is available) are in possible violation of the Torah commandment to not strengthen the non-Jewish presence in the Land of Israel.

    Let us not forget that the Chazon Ish’s astonishing leniencies for Shemittah were in order to support Jewish farming.

    What evidence is there that he would have preferred the current situation, where the Charedi community prefers to buy from our enemies even in preference to buying from Otzar Beis Din (supported by the Chazon Ish), let alone in preference to buying from hetter mechira produce (which, given the way that the hetter mechira was done this year, the Chazon Ish would also permit)?

    In other words, while it might very well be true that little in Rav Kook’s writings supports the Shemitta/hetter mechira situation of 2007, so too is there little in the Chazon Ish’s writings that supports Charedi practice in Shemittah 2007. All we have are the assurances of their respective students.

    It appears to me, that the students of Rav Kook are able to make a far more convincing case.

  32. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Clearly, there are Gedolim today who consider a $1B argo-industry that employs tens of thousands of people directly and many more indirectly crossing the necessary threshold of Sha’at Had’chak necessary to implement to the Heter Mechira. While the farmers who strictly adhere to the laws of Shmitta are to be praised, the land they farm represents less than 10% of Israel’s farmland.

    Nor is the implementation of the Heter “pro-forma”. This year, under the guidence of the Rav of Tnuva, Rav Weitman, many changes have been implemented in the Heter Mechira to both make the sale more legal and more valid halachically.

    When Rav Spektor instituted the Heter Mechira in 1865 (not Rav Kook in 1909) it was based on sound talmudic scholarship. Maybe it was controversial, but it had a basis. Once that halachic cat was out of the bag there was no turning back. The Rabbis of each generation have the right and the obligation to apply it if they see fit.

    Whatever ideology the Jerusalem Post editorial may have attributed to Religious Zionism, the fact is that finding acceptable halachic solutions to modern issues which bring as many Jewish Israelis under the rubric of religious observance is one of its goals.

    None of the current Shmitta solutions is ideal and each has its halachic deficiencies. However, each has those upon whom to rely.

  33. Charles B. Hall says:

    Notwithstanding the opinion of many (most?) Torah authorities, in practice we do today allow non-Jews to purchase and own land in Eretz Yisrael today. Indeed the Russian Orthodox Church is one of the largest landowners. It makes no sense to allow a farmer to sell his land to a Christian group but not to the retired Druze IDF general who bought most of Eretz Yisrael for the heter mechirah.

    I keep reading stories of how the refugees from Gush Katif have been struggling and need assistance; this seems to contradict that! This is very good news; can we have some more details?

    And we should not permit shmitah observance to negatively impact the non-Jewish agricultural workers. We are supposed to be a light to the nations, not an oppressor! They should be permitted to remain in Eretz Yisrael, working other jobs, so that they can return to the Jewish owned farms after shmittah. Remember that WE were once strangers in a land that was not ours. Kol v’chomer for the Jewish farmers; we should be willing to go to tremendous lengths to support any Jewish farmer, financially if necessary, if he/she chooses to observe shmitah. There is no lifestyle in our times that involves more mitzvot than being an observant Jewish farmer in Eretz Yisarel (not even full time learning!).

    Finally, is the use of the term “pro-forma” implying that the sale isn’t really a sale? Wouldn’t we have the same problem with mechirat chametz?

  34. Cosmic X says:

    “Whatever the justification for the heter mechira at that time, history has proven Rabbi Kook’s critics right. The heter mechira has been renewed every shmita since, with little attention to changing circumstances.”

    Wrong! Each time the Rabbanut renewed the heter, they paid great attention to the changing circumstances. To say otherwise is simply false, and what is worse it is also bizui talmidei chachamim. I am sure that the author of this article is aware that the Talmud mentions that one of the definitions of an apikores is one that engages in the activity of bizui talmidei chachamim.

    It is also surprising to read such a statement since the heter was renewed this year by Rabbi Metzger, who was hand picked by Rabbi Elyashiv to serve as Chief Rabbi.