Much Ado About Shmittah
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 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.
There’s one risk (though I’m open to hear why it doesn’t apply) – if a municpal Rabbi insists on a higher level of observance that one of his locals is not prepared for, then that local farmer might:
(a) not use heter mechira at all and therefore violate Shmita according to all opinions, or
(b) make private arrangements to join heter mechira, yet without the Rabbinic “sticker” his consumers think they are violating Shmita, further encouraging the consumers’ indifference.
This article is disingenuous from beginning to end. Yes, there are many people with a great deal of animosity towards charedim and much of it is uninformed and unfairly expressed. But wallowing self-righteously in victimhood can’t replace owning up to the consequences of one’s choices. If it is facts you want, consider some of the ones you neglected to mention:
1. Every individual and community has the right to set stringent standards for itself. But often these standards are such that they can be observed by a particular community only if the majority of people do not observe them. In plain English, much of the frumkeit of charedi communities in Israel is predicated on the fact that most Israelis are secular. I won’t go through the whole tired list of examples. This raises many basic questions about whether the Torah is intended as a way of life for the whole nation or is inherently limited to a frum minority supported by a minority of Jewish shabbos goyim. It may be that in the end many will decide, legitimately, that their stringencies trump global considerations, but the cost of that position might merit a few moments of reflection, none of which is evident in this article.
2. It is true that a small number of farmers can afford to take a year off and be supported by charity. But this is not a general solution. When you suddenly diminish the supply of produce with no parallel diminution in demand, there is more than a local bump in prices. Outside suppliers quickly take advantage of the situation, prices spiral upward along the whole supply chain, foreign customers abandon Israeli suppliers for more stable markets, and the whole agriculture-related economy can collapse. You might not personally know anybody who will lose their livelihood as a result but they are out there. In light of this, perhaps some of the rabbanim who are willing to sell twenty bucks worth of lokshen so their congregants can head off to Florida for Pesach without too much of a headache might have another look at the issue.
3. Arguing your case in the name of free choice is worse than disingenuous. Yes, a few local mashgichim have been given free choice by the Rabbanut that employs them, but people in the food industry and the consumers have less choice. They want the option of selling or buying produce using the heter mechirah. This produce would be marked as such so that everyone could choose whether to buy it or not. But this is precisely the choice that is being denied them, despite the consequences enumerated above, because the Rabbanut is legally a monopoly. Since you wish to argue in the name of free choice, you should support the initiative of those who wish to get legal sanction for a new kashrus organization that will give a hechsher to produce using heter mechirah. Are you in?
4. The revered elder to whom you refer chose to support the candidacy for Chief Rabbi of a rabbi who was clearly inferior to other candidates precisely because this rabbi, a former chavrusah (study partner) of the elder’s trusted assistant, had promised to defer to the elder on all matters. So I’m doubly perplexed by your defense of that rabbi against charges that he is a “puppet”. First of all, he is a puppet. Second, what is wrong with being the puppet of the Gadol Hador?
how do we reconcile the “unusual blessings” those who let the land lie fallow experience with the need for the “millions of dollars” raised by keren hashviis?
A number of Rabbis under the umbrella of the group Tzohar have offered to supply kashrut certification for those who wish to rely on the heter mechira. If Rabbi Shafran and Agudath Israel are in favor of pluralism as this article states, I am sure that they are supporting the Tzohar rabbis in their efforts to make sure that kashrut is observed even by those who want and need to rely on the heter mechira. Of course, if they are not supporting Tzohar, then this appeal to pluralism is really a figleaf that is being used to cover up a desire to impose their view of halacha on non-Hareidi orthodox society in Israel.
In addition, this appeal to pluralism fails in another dimension. Under previous Chief Rabbinates, when the heter mechira was in effect, anyone who chose not to hold by the heter mechira was not obliged to do so. They could buy produce that was not grown in Israel. No one forced anyone to eat or buy food that was allowed by heter mechira. On the other hand, now those who believe that the heter mechira is perfectly legitimate cannot buy or use food produced under the heter. Because, Rabbi Shafran omits a key detail. An organization is not allowed to issue a kashrut certificate without the approval of the Chief Rabbinate. Therefore, selling food without a certificate of kashrut from the Chief rabbinate results in selling food without any certificate of kashrut. So it is not so easy as the Rabbi implies to just do without the certificate from the rabbanut.
So, if the Agudah really was interested in letting everyone do what they think is halachically proper(within Orthodoxy), they would have been very happy with the previous situation, where anyone who wanted to be more stringent(machmir) had every opportunity to do so. However, they are now supporting a situation where a halachically acceptable option is being taken away from those who need and want to use it. That is not pluralism, no matter how nice you make it sound.
Speaking of money, I believe that we have a concept that the Torah cares about the money of the people, in other words that the rabbis are not supposed to impose halachic stringencies that result in significant lose of money. Ruling against the heter mechira significantly hurts the agriculture of Israel(even when the ruling comes for instance in England, where Israeli exports there may decrease as a result). I would note that changing a long standing halachic ruling also goes against the traditions of the city and the country. As Rabbi Shafran noted, the heter mechira has been in use since 1896. Since Hareidim in particular are loathe to change with established tradition, I wonder what and how halacha changed so that the heter mechira is now so odious that it cannot be used.
Rabbi Shafran does not mention that in our times, according to the accepted halachic opinions, the Shmittah prohibitions are rabbinic. This fact is essential for the heter mechirah to be valid.
Also, it is not the poor Jews in cities who are most effected by shimittah, but the farmers in Eretz Yisrael. I would defer to the rabbis who are the poskim for religious farmers as to whether the heter mechirah should be followed or not. Who are those rabbis, and how do *they* posken?
Avi Shafran: Suddenly, when it suits you you, you are a pluralist. And what sort of pluralism is it that allows a local rabbi to deny a kashrut certificate to a vendor who wishes to rely on the heter mekhirah that the Chief Rabbinate itself recognizes as a acceptable halakhic position? Genuine pluraism would require that those who do not wish to rely on the heter mekhirah — tavo aleihem berakah– should get certification from Hareidi authorities, while those who do wish to rely on the heter should get certification from those rabbis who are part of the Chief Rabbinate. Or if the Chief Rabbinate will allow local rabbis to deny such certification, then genuine pluralism should allow alternate halakhic certification from alternate halakhic authorities,say Tzohar. Do you support that? Or does your ”pluralism'” stop there?
And your suggestion that vendors who do not get such certification should sell their produce without a kahrut certifcate is frankly insulting. Did it not occur to you that there may be religious vendors who have during every shemittah been selling produce with the kashrut certificate of the rabbanut and who have relied in good faith on the heter mekhirah. And now you dare to tell them: ”Hey don’t feel so bad that the rabbnut will no longer certify you nor will it allow you to receive any alternate certification. You can always sell your produce without the certifcate. And, hey, you will even save some money by doing so. So what if you are religious Jews….”
Rabbi Shafran: Forget about pluralism. I generally disagree with you, but you are, I believe, a decent person. Don’t you see how deeply insulting your suggestion is?
Quite ironic that the Agudah Yisroel’s spokeman R. Avi Shafran is commending and complementing the chief rabbinate on their pluralistic attitude towards policy, hearby allowing each cities’ rav to make their own halachik decision. That is definetly a first!!
“imports from Arab-owned land (which meet the higher Shmittah standard)”- How does produce from Arab-owned land (there are those poskim who debate if permanent ownership of E”Y can ever be the hands of non-jews, and if so, kedushas haeretz does not change if it is ‘owned’ by nonjews?)meet a higher Shmittah standard? Fiqure out some equation for kosher produce without allowing the Gazaen farmers to benefit $$, and to broker through security barriers. If we expect our farmers to exhibit meserus nefesh for 13 months observing the holy mitzvah of shmittah, then have the kehilla show meserus nefesh by doing without Israel salads with Gaza cukes, tomatoes and peppers. Wait for the next Shmittah year when gdwilling, we can get our produce from Gush Katif.
This article implies that the choice is between following the original, Biblical approach to shmittah and relying on the heter mechirah loophole.
Unfortunately, observing shmittah precisely as the Torah intended is not one of the options. For example, one source of food the Torah permits is s’fichin – grains and vegetables that grow by themselves. But these are prohibited rabbinically.
The Torah does NOT specifically instruct us to rely on produce from Arabs (both Israeli and Palestinian) and from chutz la’aretz. Like heter mechirah, this approach is a modern innovation – not an “original standard.” There are legitimate halachic arguments that heter mechirah is in fact preferable to those options.
And no, rabbis who have a monopoly on kashrut certification for entire cities do not have an unlimited right to “rule in accordance with their consciences.” They can give up their monopoly and allow Tzohar to offer alternative certification, or they can take into account the needs of the entire community they are supposed to serve – including farmers, vendors, and consumers who wish to adhere to an Orthodox standard of kashrut (the suggestion that such people just do without certification is highly insulting), but do not follow the rulings of the hareidi rabbinate.
We are very priveleged to have decided to get on an airplane and move to Israel.
I’d just like to add one other point to the rejoinders posted by Moshe Koppel and Lawrence Kaplan. The so-called “community rabbis” in Israel are generally anything but. They are nothing similar to the concept of mara d’atra and usually have little to no following among the local populace (Tel Aviv, with Rav Lau, is a notable exception). They are mostly politically-inspired appointments. So there is not reason or justification to subject local residents to the personal opinions of the local rabbi on this topic- it is not as if that rabbi’s opinions reflect the opinions of the community, and I doubt that in most instances the local community has accepted upon itself the authority of the “community rabbi”. Take Herzliya for example. The chareidi rabbi of this overwhelmingly secular city (and even the religious are not chareidi) has decided to not accept the heter mechira.
I find it striking how many of the commentors (including myself) have made the same points. I eagerly await Rabbi Shafran’s response. In particular, I am curious to learn if he supports Tzohar, as the logic of his position would appear to require.
“rather than simply taken a pluralistic stance on religious standards’. My first reaction was that my good friend Rabbi Shafran is doing his job, which is to explain to the outside world, including the NY Times,the chareidi position. His job is to make it sound sensible and ,even if you agree, to at least not think Charedim are stupid. This is an American approach, as in Israel everything is so politicized that Haaretz doesn’t want to understand that anything chareidi is reasonable. The second point is that since kashrut standards do vary, it is reasonable to find a way that the rabbanut hechsher has credibility for the OU,Chof K, Star K,etc. so that Israeli products will sell in the Diaspora. Unfortunately, I think Avi got carried away. As a number of the commenters have pointed out, this is not a qustion of pluralism but of not allowing competing hashgochos , as we have in the USA. Why can’t there be mehadrin and regular? In the end the blame is not the chareidim for having the power, it is the Zionist Religious for losing their grip on the Rabbanut. Why they have lost is the real issue and the fact that the rabbanut is no longer in Mizrachi hands is the real change, how did this come about and is it the chareidim’s fault or the Mizrachi’s fault.
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.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. ………….
Keren Hashvi’is, which accepts donations by credit card, can be reached at 1-888-9-SHMITTAH.
Thank you for sharing such a beautiful encouraging picture. I have heard some Orthodox Jewish people saying we have deeds not faith. This story glorifies the G-d of Israel who blesses those who put their trust in Him.
Does Keren Hashvi’ accept donations fron non-Jews ?
“The Torah does NOT specifically instruct us to rely on produce from Arabs (both Israeli and Palestinian) and from chutz la’aretz. Like heter mechirah, this approach is a modern innovation – not an “original standard.” (Comment by ilana — October 21, 2007 @ 2:07 am).
I guess it depends on how one defines “modern”. The question of whether or not the laws of “shemittah” apply to non-Jewish owned produce was a topic of much debate in the times of the Beis Yosef, approximately 470 years ago. The Beis Yosef (in Teshuvos Avakas Rochel #24) maintains that they do not, and he writes that this had always been the practice in Eretz Yisrael. In more contemporary times, the Yerushalayim based “yishuv hayashan” follows this view, and on this basis the “hashgachah” of the “Badatz” of the “Eidah Chareidis” certifies produce grown in Arab-owned fields as free from shemittah-related problems. The Chareidim of the “Yishuv HaChadash” generally follow the stringent opinion, and treat all Israeli-grown produce as having “kedushas Sheviis” (shemittah sanctity).
“There are legitimate halachic arguments that heter mechirah is in fact preferable to those options.”
I find this comment very puzzling. The “heter mechirah” is PREDICATED on the view that produce grown in Arab-owned fields has no “kedushas Sheviis”, so how can it be halachically preferable to using produce that DEFINITELY grew on Arab-owned land? I could ask the ame question of Sima Ir Kodesh, who wonders how produce imported from Arab lands meets a “higher Shemittah standard” than Israeli produce grown on “Arab-owned” (via the “hetter mechirah”) land. Sima, though, seems to be bothered more by the fact that the Arabs would come out ahead. It’s a fair point, but I’m not sure how much consideration it warrants in the halachic process.
For those of you who read Hebrew, check out an opinion piece by Harav Daniel Shiloh in Hatzofe: http://www.hazofe.co.il/web/newsnew/katava6.asp?Modul=24&id=57827&Word=&gilayon=3121&mador=
Harav Shiloh, who learned in Kerem B’Yavneh and Merkaz Harav and served for many years as the rav of Kedumim, is one of the leaders of the Rabbanei Yesha group and father of Rav Emanuel Shiloh, the editor of B’Sheva newspaper. He takes the position that a public rabbinate has no right to exclude heter mechira as an option any more than all the manufacturers and marketers of ritual objects could require exclusively a Chazon Ish shiur or a local rabbi because he is Ashkenazi could exclude kitnios on Pesach even for Sefardim.
You do realize R’ Shafran, that the Torah’s promise of blessings apply when the Shmitta is kept deOrayta and that according to the overwhelming majority of authorities, Shmitta today is at best deRabbanan and according to some opinions (Raavad) does not apply at all today and that keeping it is simply a midat Hasidut?
Just another wrinkle to the general drift of the comments. All the Chareidim I know (and I know quite a few) continue not to rely on the hasgacha of Rabbanut Yerushalaim, despite the fact that Rabbanut Yerushalaim do not accept the heter mechirah. I was recently in Herzliya and did not see any Chareidim eating in eateries supervised by yje local Rabbanut. R. Shafran condones a provocative Chareidi intrusion into the religious life of non-Chareidim in a matter that is of little, if any, practical significance to the Charedi community. “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine.”
It is wonderful that so many Jews want to observe Shmitah Klhilcasa. However, despite the fact that Shmitah is a wonderful mitzvah, one cannot deny that Chazal and Rishonim were very worried about its economic cost and that the Heter HaMecirah was not an invention of RAYHK. Yes, the issue of the Heter HaMecirah was debated by many Gdolim but it is wrong to assume that the same had no respectable or major Gdolim among its supporters. Yet, it is important to note that the current economic dynamic of such observance requires that any produce be purchased from either the PA or other nations that can hardly be considered friends of the Yishuv of EY. FWIW, IIRC, both the CI and RSZA both paskened that someone who does not recognize the Heter Mecirah can both buy produce from a merchant and eat in someone’s house who followed the Heter HaMecirah.
Perhaps, one can approach the issue of relying upon the Heter HeMecirah by simply drawing an analogy to Meciras Chametz-does such a sale apply and have binding force with respect to Chametz Gamur? If one views both of these “sales” as having binding force, then one can argue that one should rely upon them. OTOH, if one views these “sales” as a mockery that have no binding legal effect, then one cannnot and should not rely upon them lchatchilah. Under this approach, one can argue that both approaches can be both utilized, as opposed to championing one approach as valid as opposed to the other.
To Chaim Wolfson: By “modern” I mean post-Biblical – the original article gives the impression that we (not just individuals, but the whole Jewish people) have the option of observing shmittah l’chatchilah exactly as the Torah intended, when every family had its own nachalah in Eretz Yisrael and agriculture was not a business.
Regarding heter mechirah – yes, afaik there is a halachic position that the symbolic transfer of land to non-Jews is not as serious a violation of “lo techonem” as the actual transfer of markets and very significant amounts of money – that would normally go to Jewish farmers – to Arab farmers.
I think there are also “mehadrin” versions of heter mechira that involve both selling the land and changes in farming techniques to avoid melachot d’oraita, but I don’t have any real expertise in this.
1. You are surely aware of one very obvious difference between chometz and land in EY — the issur of lo sechanem. (I wont’s spell out the details.) That is a major reason why the Chazon Ish rejected the heter mechira — and it has no application whatsoever to Chometz.
2. I find it exceedingly curious that all the armchair Zionists who blog on this topic think it is a good thing to not give any support to the Arabs from which some Charedim are purchasing vegetables and the like, The fact is that the State of Israel encourages such purchases because it is a source of income to those Arabs and stabilizes the situation there. That is why the IDF provides protection to BADATZ masgichim who travel to the territories for shemittah — not out of a desire to support Charedi chumros, but because it believes this enhances the security of the State.
Somehow the armchair Zionists seem to know what is better for security than do the professionals.
Rabbi Shafran presents the Shmitta question as being one of two choices: the “highest kashrus standard” and “Heter Mechira”. The truth is that there are a few options in between some of which may be preferable in terms of mitzvah power to his implied preferred option.
Let’s first take a look at his self-defined highest standard. That is for the most part, buying produce from Arabs, both in Israel and outside of it. Now, in Rabbi Shafran’s position, he has probably read a newspaper or two in the past several years. Anyone keeping up with current events understand that these Arab merchants are not exactly our friends. To cavalierly prop up the economies of our enemies without any compunction or hesitation about the moral (and by extension, perhaps the Halachic) implications of this commerce is not exactly my idea of the “highest standard”. Is it even on the radar screen that some of the profits of such commerce may be used to buy Kassam rockets aimed at us? Kashrus is important, but let’s put things in perspective before getting too self-righteous and knocking the Heter Mechira. (And if some of the reports are true, a portion of this “Arab” produce may actually be from Israeli farmers which they buy on the black market and then mark up for Chareidi consumption.)
Let’s look at another (non-Heter Mechira) option called Otzar Beit Din. This is not only universally accepted Halachically, but is by most analyses preferable to Arab-produce. That is because, by consuming produce and adhering to Kedushat Shvi’it, one is fulfilling the mitzvah of Shmitta (literally, one can have his cake and eat it too), as opposed to merely avoiding Heter Mechira.
A similar system is known as Otzar Haaretz, whose goal is for the most part to universalize the mechanism of Otzar Beit Din in keeping with Halacha and not relying on Arab produce. Unfortunately, this is not deemed to be the “highest standard” as the Dati Leumi community, and not the Chareidim, came up with the idea first. Maybe if Chareidim would be less exclusionist in their religious worldview and more of a team-player in Israeli society, they wouldn’t get the bad rap in the press that is the premise of Rabbi Shafran’s post.
[As for the major U.S. kashrus organizations not relying on the Heter Mechira, that is likely a policy decision. Given that there are Halachic issues with Heter Mechira. However, there are other Halachic problems associated with exporting produce with Kedushat Shevi’t. My above points notwithstanding, their options are more limited than what can be done in Israel.]
Since Rabbi Shafran ended his post with an infomercial for the Chareidi organization based in his office, I will end mine with a non-Chareidi one. The website for Otzar Haaretz can be found at http://www.hashmita.co.il
Thanks to all of you for your comments. I will try to address at least the substantive points raised.
First, though, let me note that some of you seem to have read my essay as a defense of the institution of an official Israeli rabbinate. It was, of course, nothing of the sort, but rather a simple attempt to balance the one-sided and bellicose media reportage with some facts and with a perspective that readers may not have been aware of. So all the comments here that are, in their essence, expressions of frustration at the existence or powers of the Chief Rabbinate or municipal rabbinical authorities are barking at the wrong tree. I am agnostic about whether an official rabbinate is “good for the Jews” or not; I simply write in recognition that such an entity exists, and that its members have the right (indeed the responsibility) to judge halachic matters as they (or those of greater scholarship they respect) see fit. The “Tzohar” endeavor, I believe, is (pace its focus on Shmittah) essentially an attempt to further empower the movement to dismantle the official rabbinate. That might be a good idea, but the havoc that would result with regard to issues, and records, of Jewish personal status (conversion, marriage, divorce) should give some pause.
A second, more important point. One can approach the issue here strictly from the perspective of economics and what some might choose to see as government “coercion.” 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. That is certainly the motivation of many farmers who have opted to leave their fields fallow this year, and was likely part of the calculus of those municipal rabbis whose choice has evoked such anger from many of you. Disagree if you feel you must but please respect that entirely justifiable point of view. It is that of many Gedolim — and of many ketanim, like me, as well.
To briefly address some of the points raised:
1) My reference to “pluralism” and “choice” was (and I think clearly so, to any objective reader) not intended to extol any unlimited embrace of those ideas. It was simply to note the disingenuousness of the media (which indeed extols them) in not recognizing their pertinence here.
2) Calling a rabbi who looks to an elder, more respected, authority for guidance a “puppet” rather than, say, a “talmid” or an “admirer”, says something not about the rabbi at issue but about the user of the word’s biases. My point was that the usage of the word in a NYT article was remarkable, and remarkably telling.
3) We live in a post-blatant-miracle, post-prophetic era. And so we cannot expect, and certainly not rely upon, the miracle of the pre-Shmittah year. At the same time, there are still apparently instances where unusual blessings become apparent to those observing Shmittah straightforwardly. But since we cannot, today, rely upon them, we are obligated to try to help Shmittah-observant farmers in a “natural” way. By doing so, we join in their observance, and further empower the merit of the mitzvah.
4) The Gedolim know as well as we do that the Torah cares about the money of the people. Some of us might feel we know better how and when to apply that principle, but some of us feel otherwise. (I recently heard a fire control expert explain that it was the many years during which Americans listened to Smokey the Bear and made sure to put out small forest fires that created the tremendous amount of brush that acts as fuel for today’s unprecedented “mega-fires.” Thinking we know best how to address an issue is no assurance that we actually do. The Talmud says as much: “The constructive acts of the young can be destructive.” It is part and parcel of being a religious Jew to not only respect the nation’s elder halachic authorities but to assume that their judgment is better than ours.)
5) That Shmittah today is, according to many authorities, a rabbinic imperative does not in any way lessen our obligation to observe it. Nor does it lessen the merit of our observance to bring blessings down upon our people.
6) That Jewish observance of a mitzvah as it was intended to be observed might benefit Arabs should be of no consequence to anyone who believes that Hashem is in charge of the world.
7) My job is indeed to present Torah and its authorities in a positive light, the light they deserve. No, not only my job as an organizational representative but my job as a Jew. I considered it my job well before I joined the staff of Agudath Israel and, should I ever leave the organization, I will consider it still my job. It is, I would venture, the job of every believing Jew.
8) Even the heter mechira’s most stalwart proponents when it was first used stressed explicitly that it was not a “blanket heter” for all time. It was characterized as something that, as a “fall-back” position, needed to be re-evaluated each Shmittah year. To imply that “if it was good enough for them it should be good enough for us” ignores their very words.
9) How the heter mechira differs from selling chametz to a non-Jew for Pesach was addressed by (among others) the Imrei Emes. His words are, in fact, very pertinent here. The “goal” of the mitzvah of possessing no chametz on Pesach, he explained, is entirely served by selling it beforehand; the Jew, on Pesach, is chametz-less. But the “goal” of Shmitta is that the Holy Land be untilled during Shmittah. To avoid owning such land might remove one’s obligation to help effect that goal, but it does not accomplish what Hashem intended. See my “second, more important point” above.
I would like to thank “One Christian’s Perspective” for his/her comment (and question!). Kein yirbu biYisrael (may there be many who appreciate the power of Shmittah, as you do, within the Jewish People). And, yes, I am sure that Keren Hashvi’is has no “religion test” for donors.
Finally, I would like to ask posters to understand that Cross-Currents is intended, at least as I understand it, to foster thoughtful give and take on issues. I not only tolerate criticism, I welcome it. But when comments include phrases like “disingenuous from beginning to end,” “wallowing self-righteously in victimhood,” “If the Agudah really was interested…,” “Suddenly, when it suits you…,” “Don’t you see how deeply insulting your suggestion is?” it leaves the impression that the commentary owes more to an abundance of testosterone (or ill will) than a desire to engage in dialogue l’sheim Shomayim and l’shem ha’emes. There is also much obvious pent-up anger at Agudath Israel evident in various comments to postings of mine. If I may, I would suggest that issues, not organizations, be focused on, respectfully even if critically. And anyone who has some complaint about the Agudah is invited to write me directly ([email protected]) .
Dear Rabbi Shafran,
Thank you for your gracious response to all the comments, many of which were critical. In mine, I certainly did not mean to imply that we may take a rabbinic commandment any less seriously than a Torah commandment. And if we are not to follow shmittah as commanded by the rabbis in our times, we need an acceptible halachic workaround. While many rabbis of great stature have not endorsed the heter mechirah, many of great stature have. Do you happen to know what is the current position of the rabbis who pasken for the religious farmers in Eretz Yisrael? For us in the diaspora on this blog this is mainly limud torah, but for the farmers, it is halachah le’maaseh.
“That Shmittah today is, according to many authorities, a rabbinic imperative does not in any way lessen … the merit of our observance to bring blessings down upon our people.”
– this is apparently in response to one of the commenters who suggested otherwise; but you do not state how you know your way is right. is there a source?
“it leaves the impression that the commentary owes more to an abundance of testosterone (or ill will) than a desire to engage in dialogue l’sheim Shomayim and l’shem ha’emes”
– I submit you are guilty of this yourself, if in a more subtle way. for example, in your post above you insert the phrase: ” … to any objective reader”. This phrase, not at all necessary to make your point, is clearly a shtoch, accusing your critics of deliberately making incorrect inferences from your words. ren avi, if you are sincerely interested in understanding where the frustration is coming from, please consider this: who’s to say that a bunch of those minor shtochs don’t have the same effect on others as the “egregious” ones do on you?
RABBI SHAFRAN: I AM SORRY TO SAY THAT YOU DO NOT RESPOND TO THE MAIN ISSUE. HOW CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE DECISION OF THE CHIEF RABBINATE TO ALLOW LOCAL RABBIS TO DENY A KASHRUT CERTIFICATE FOR PRODUCE USING THE HETER MEKHIRAH (WHICH THEY THEMSELVES RECOGNIZE AS HALAKHICALLY LEGITIMATE)AS BEING PLURALISTIC IN ANY SENSE, WHEN THEY DO NOT ALLOW FOR ANY ALTERNATIVE CERTIFICATION?
I, AND OTHERS, DID FIND YOUR SUGGESTION TO FARMERS OR VENDORS DENIED A KASHRUT CERTICICATE THAT THEY SIMPLY MARKET THEIR PRODUCE WITHOUT A CERTIFICATE AND THAT THEY COULD SAVE MONEY THEREBY TO BE INSULTING, AND I EXPLAINED WHY. I WENT OUT OF MY WAY TO SAY THAT I BELIEVE YOU ARE A DECENT PERSON AND DID NOT REALIZE HOW INSULTING YOUR SUGGESTION WAS. SUGGESTING IN TURN THAT I AM SUFFERING FROM AN EXCESS OF TESTOSTERONE IS NOT A ACCEPTABLE REPLY.
WHAT I FIND TROUBLING ABOUT YOU AND REB JONATHAN ROSENBLUM IS THAT YOU WILL NEVER ADMIT THAT PERHAPS IN THE HEAT OF BATTLE YOUR TONE WAS OVERLY SHARP OR THAT YOU GOT CARRIED AWAY AND PERHAPS DID NOT REALIZE THAT A COMMENT OF YOURS MIGHT BE DEEMED INSULTING. ALONG THESE LINES, I WILL ONCE AGAIN SET THE EXAMPLE AND APOLOGIZE FOR THE FIRST SENTENCE OF MY COMMENT.
Tal Benschar-the theory that supporting the economy of Israel’s neighbors stabilizes its neighbors may very well be Israeli policy, but one can certainly argue that there has been zero reduction in the support for terrorism and classical anti Semitism in the surrounding countries’ cultural and educational venues. IMO, that logic has the same merit as saying that one buys off terrorism by installing indoor plumbing, a dubious premise.
As far as the logic of the heter hamecirah is concerned, it is well known that RYBS used to tell many of his talmidim that their approach to the Heter HaMecirah should be identical to that of Meciras Chanetz. IOW,one should view both transactions through the question of whether they are halachically legitimate or a haramah. It is well known that RYBS gave different answers to different people on this issue depending on their levels of Torah knowledge.
“The fact is that the State of Israel encourages such purchases because it is a source of income to those Arabs and stabilizes the situation there”
– surely you are not surprised that a religious zionist can oppose a poliitical decision of the state. these “armchair zionists’ as you term them are doing no less than supporting their idealogical brothers in Israel. surely you are not unaware that thousands of Jews in Israel would not – as a policy – buy from Arabs during shmitah.
Rabbi Avi Shafran: But the “goal” of Shmitta is that the Holy Land be untilled during Shmittah.
Ori: If you could, would you make it illegal for Arabs to till farms in Israel during Shmittah? Or would you rent the fields from them and leave them fallow?
“To Chaim Wolfson: By “modern” I mean post-Biblical” (Comment by ilana — October 22, 2007 @ 2:10 am).
The view that the laws of Shemittah do not apply to produce grown on land owned by a non-Jew is an interpretation of BIBLICAL law. Certainly, it is not an “innovation”, modern or otherwise, intended to make it easier to cope with Shemittah.
“Regarding heter mechirah – yes, afaik there is a halachic position that the symbolic transfer of land to non-Jews is not as serious a violation of “lo techonem” as the actual transfer of markets and very significant amounts of money – that would normally go to Jewish farmers – to Arab farmers.”
If the transfer of land to non-Jews is only symbolic, so much so that it it is not a “serious violation” of “lo sechanem”, then how can it have any meaning with respect to Shemittah?! I do not believe that any serious proponent of the “heter mechirah” considers the sale “symbolic.
“Let’s look at another (non-Heter Mechira) option called Otzar Beit Din. This is not only universally accepted Halachically, but is by most analyses preferable to Arab-produce. That is because, by consuming produce and adhering to Kedushat Shvi’it, one is fulfilling the mitzvah of Shmitta (literally, one can have his cake and eat it too), as opposed to merely avoiding Heter Mechira… A similar system is known as Otzar Haaretz, whose goal is for the most part to universalize the mechanism of Otzar Beit Din in keeping with Halacha and not relying on Arab produce” (Comment by Dr. E — October 22, 2007 @ 11:10 am).
First of all, “Otzar Beis Din” is not a solution for the prohibition of “s’fichin”. Secondly, “Otzar Beis Din” produce is preferable to Arab produce only if the consumer in fact adheres to the laws of “kedushas Sheviis”. Obviously, you cannot assume that a secular or traditional populace will follow those laws. There are also numerous other conditions attached to the “Otzar Beis Din” mechanism that make it difficult to practice on a very large scale. So I’m not sure how the “Otzar Beis Din” mechanism can be “universalized”. I’m sure the proponents of this method have addressed these issues, but the fact that others may disagree with their solutions certainly does not indicate any “exclusionist” mentality.
“Somehow the armchair Zionists seem to know what is better for security than do the professionals.” (Comment by Tal Benschar — October 22, 2007 @ 10:10 am).
Tal, five years ago I would have agreed with you. But after what we’ve seen from the past few Israeli governments I begin to wonder.
“WHAT I FIND TROUBLING ABOUT YOU AND REB JONATHAN ROSENBLUM IS THAT YOU WILL NEVER ADMIT THAT PERHAPS IN THE HEAT OF BATTLE YOUR TONE WAS OVERLY SHARP OR THAT YOU GOT CARRIED AWAY AND PERHAPS DID NOT REALIZE THAT A COMMENT OF YOURS MIGHT BE DEEMED INSULTING” (Comment by LAWRENCE KAPLAN — October 22, 2007 @ 9:16 pm).
Professor Kaplan, I agree with you that some of the posters on this blog have at times been guilty of writing in tones that are sharp and perhaps even insulting. But please don’t include Rabbi Shafran in that group. I know him only from his writings, but on that basis I can tell that he is a very gracious and gentlemanly person. Also, please bear in mind that his post was not especially written for this forum; it was originally written as a response to the secular media’s reporting of the issue, and they were his intended audience. If Rabbi Shafran comes across as cynical when responding to those who insist on editorializing about a topic they know little, if anything, about, its understandable.
A number of points concerning the response by R. Shafran. Prof. Kaplan remarks on the article were more than sufficient.
#9 quoting the Imrei Emes is a good example of a teleological (taamei hamitzvot / what God meant)) argument being raised to halakhic significance. This habit of chareidim and the conservative / reform movement is normally used to promote chumrot and absurd leniencies, respectively. When the conservative allow driving to shul on Shabbat some would argue that the purpose of Shabbat is “whatever” and driving to shul is in that spirit. A halakhic argument on comparing sales to avoid shmittah and pesach might revolve around the possible issur in executing a sale (even were both not haaramah) because of lo titchonein that only impacts shmitah. The more significant argument, but hardly halakhic revolves around pruzbul. That speaks not to a halakhic comparison but to a historical example of how rabbis related to economic conditions when shmitah was d’oraysa!
#7: “My job is indeed to present Torah and its authorities in a positive light…” This is somewhat troubling. I would naively prefer the simple, unvarnished, precise truth as opposed to “a positive light.” The need for those who designs statements that while strictly true (or at least almost) is a sad reality increasingly replacing the unvarnished opinion of the Gadol themselves. An example – the words: a few, some, many, most, almost all, etc. represent a continuum. Preferring one word over the other has a one standard when committed to “truth” and another when committed to “the best possible light.’ Ask a (criminal defense) attorney – they are legally obligated not to lie, however putting things in the best possible light is also their professional obligation. Given my suspicious nature, whenever I read spokespeople, I assume spin-doctor or “criminal defense attorney.” Perhaps its just me.
#2: Calling a rabbi who looks to an elder, more respected, authority for guidance a “puppet” rather than, say, a “talmid” or an “admirer”. I agree that “puppet” shows bias. But between puppet and admirer/talmid there are many other alternatives to describe the relationship that may be more accurate certainly based on what is widely known.
Personally, for us in the Golah, it is easy to demand the strictest observance for ourselves even while in Israel for a week; the US kashrut organizations are giving the sleeves from their vest. And for those in Israel to impose standards on their own conduct is admirable; go without or purchase from an acceptable supplier. Buying from Gaza given current conditions appears to me to be less preferable than doing without. However, imposing your standards on others over this matter is hardly enhancing Kvod Shamayim, particularly given history and methods.
I think RAL’s remarks on shmitah on the har etzion web site present a very balanced perspective and are well worth reading, particularly given the rancor and added controversy this cycle.
“Ori: If you could, would you make it illegal for Arabs to till farms in Israel during Shmittah? Or would you rent the fields from them and leave them fallow?”
– OK, so you could say the goal is to have Jewwish owned land lie fallow. This is not a kushya.
Rabbi Shafran writes:
“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.”
“I simply write in recognition that such an entity exists, and that its members have the right (indeed the responsibility) to judge halachic matters as they (or those of greater scholarship they respect) see fit.”
“My reference to “pluralism” and “choice” was (and I think clearly so, to any objective reader) not intended to extol any unlimited embrace of those ideas. It was simply to note the disingenuousness of the media (which indeed extols them) in not recognizing their pertinence here.”
From the first two comments it is not “clear” at all that Rabbi Shafran’s reference to pluralism was being used facetiously. (And his “to any objective reader” qualification smacks of just the type of insulting inuendo he decried in his final paragraph.)
Furthermore, rabbinic members of the Rabanut historically do not have the right, “to judge halachic matters as they see fit.” Were that logic applied to issues of marriage, divorce, and conversion it would spell certain disaster for the Jews in Israel. Hopefully, the supreme court will soon rule on this issue, and, as much I hate the thought of such a precedent, I hope they rule to overturn the Rabbanut on this issue.
Rabbi Shafran Writes:
“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.”
While it’s certainly a nice ideal, in an ideal world, to have this as a goal, time and again we see Chazal, in their wisdom, acknowledging that we do not live in an ideal world. They actually have made such mundane concerns such as economics the “overriding” factor when certain Torah laws come face to face with “reality”. The sale of bread on Passover, the Heter Iska, which allows Jews to lend with interest, and the Pruzbul, which circumvents the forgiving of loans during the Shmitta year all attest to this.
Rabbi Shafran tells us that it is expected that 100,000 acres of land will remain uncultivated this year. While this sounds impressive, in fact, it represents less than 10% of Israel’s farm land. And already, just one month into the Shmitta year, we are seeing sharply increasing prices and spotty availability. Once Otzar Haaretz produce is exhausted it will become more acute. There is essentially a limit, far below 100%, as to how much land can lie fallow before the situation would become far more dire than anything the early Yishuv faced.
Basically, the only thing that allows some Jews in Israel to be machmir and not use Heter Mechira is the fact that most Jews do rely on it. It’s like the immunization issue. Some small percentage of parents can safely not immunize their children because the fact that the rest of us do protects them.
In light of this, I find it ironic that there are Chareidim who would attempt to coerce the rest of the population, via pressure on the Rabbnut among other things, to follow their stringencies.
It is also illustrative to note that historically most Jews have been in business, as are most of the Chareidim today. Their Shmitta “problem” was eliminated centuries ago with the Pruzbul. One has to wonder what this issue would look like if farming were the primary source of income for the Chareidi community.
Of course there is a strong political element shading the issue of Shmitta as well. A large part of the success of modern Zionism was the ability of the early Zionists to bring a dormant Eretz Yisroel to life with abundant produce. This prophetic fulfillment presented, and continues to present, quite a conundrum for religious anti and non Zionists who were, shall we say, less than thrilled that this prophecy was being fulfilled via so many non and anti religious Jews. On the other hand, many religious Zionists feel an imperative to be lenient, where they otherwise might not be, and support the Heter Mechira as a show of support for the Medina. (Fortunately, this year under the guidance of Rabbi Zev Weitman many of the halachic issues surrounding the Heter Mechira have been addressed.)
Contrary to encouraging greater observance of Shmitta as biblically ordained, the net effect of this decision by the Rabbanut will most likely be to cause fewer farmers to operate under the Heter Mechira and thus more Jews to be in violation of buying Shmitta produce. Which is in direct contradiction to their mandate.
Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I feel very privileged to be living here in Israel this year and to be able, on a daily basis, fulfill these Shmitta-related mitzvot. My 6 year old daughter came home from school the other day and handed me a rolled up ball of foil which she told me contained the remnants of her sandwich. Inside was a piece of tomato that she said had Kedushat Shviit and which she needed to put in our “Pach Shmitta”. There’s nothing like it!
6)That Jewish observance of a mitzvah as it was intended to be observed might benefit Arabs should be of no consequence to anyone who believes that Hashem is in charge of the world.
IIUC the issue is not benefitting Arabs but benefitting those who would kill Jews. Perhaps the words of Exodus 5:21 might be worth considering (KJV was easiest available on line) ” And they said unto them, The LORD look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us. ”
I would like to thank the more recent posters for their contributions. Since several of them posed questions or made statements for my response, I burden you with some further (and – due only to work and family time constraints – final) comments on this thread.
First and foremost, my apologies for my “testosterone” reference. The belligerence of some of the earlier postings was so off-putting to me that in my attempt to avoid concluding that the rudeness was sourced in pure ill will, I made a suggestion that was itself somewhat insulting. I will try to avoid using such insinuations, as well as the phrase “any objective reader” which, while it was not intended to hurt feelings, apparently did.
Let me at the onset reiterate something I wrote earlier: My essay concerned one thing: 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.”
Thus I did not – and do not – hold myself out as an expert in Israeli religious politics or in hilchos Shmittah, and so I don’t wish to comment on questions posed about either issue. What I can do, though, is state, without reservation, that 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). And to protest when the media, or others, present it negatively.
To those who see an illegitimate intrusion into the lives of Israelis by the Chief Rabbinate’s decision (and the decisions of municipal rabbis who chose not to grant hechsherim to heter mechira goods), I can only repeat that they are acting out of their consciences (whether as halachic experts themselves or respecters of greater contemporary authorities) and that they should be respected, not derided, for that choice. One can certainly wish that those rabbis felt otherwise; one can wish they had no authority or that other rabbis were in their place; one can wish that the Rabbinate be abolished altogether. But one may not, to my lights, belittle those who consider it proper to observe Shmitah in the most straightforward way. Especially considering that the mitzvah is a merit for Klal Yisrael’s protection (yes, even Shmitah d’rabbanana – every d’rabbanan is an echo of the d’Oraysa on which it is based), I would never deride someone who relies on the heter mechira, and I expect all religious Jews of good will to accord the same courtesy to those who don’t.
And I certainly expect any religious Jew to consider the opinion of someone like the Imrei Emes to be ipso facto respectable. One can cite, if there is one, another source of similar stature with a different approach. But to disparage a Chassidic giant’s words as evidencing a “habit [of] charedim… to promote… chumrot and absurd leniencies” is, to me, far beyond the pale of what should be transpiring on Cross-Currents (unless I have an erroneous understanding of the site, in which case perhaps I should not be here).
As to the example of Pruzbul, it is indeed a pertinent one here. To wit: Hillel did not institute a similar mechanism for Shmittah.
Furthermore, those who many of us consider to be today’s Hillels – the Ziknei Gedolei E”Y – have not done so either. Again, one can wish they would (based on one’s own economic wisdom) but the fact remains that they have not. And respecting zekeinim is part and parcel of an observant Jew’s world-view. What is more, each Shmittah year (as I noted in my essay) more and more farmers are signing on to observing Shmittah k’hilchasa. Instead of wishing it were otherwise, I think, we should all be endeavoring to promote efforts like Keren Hashvi’s. That was why I included its number at the end of my essay.
There is no contradiction between seeing a community, or person, in a positive light and seeing it, or him, truthfully. Avoiding loshon hora is not an affront to truth, and neither is being dan someone l’chaf zechus. All of us know people who see only the negative in others, but that does not mean they have a more “truthful” take than those who see the good. I will never lie or mislead anyone about the frum community or its institutions or authorities. But I will present them positively, and not stand by idly when they are unfairly, one-sidedly attacked.
I would not have found the NYT’s use of a nonjudgmental word for “follower” objectionable. But the word it used, and that I did find objectionable, and still do, was “puppet.”
When I invoked “pluralism” as something that was being conveniently ignored by some pundits, I was not being facetious (nor endorsing the concept without limits, as per my earlier comments). I was simply noting that an ideal usually coddled by those pundits seemed pertinent and yet was absent from their reportage or commentary.
My good wishes to all, and my hope that this site will indeed take the high road of respectful discussion (and, yes, even disagreement), not the low one of anger, snideness and personal attacks.
Rabbi Shafran stated:
“As to the example of Pruzbul, it is indeed a pertinent one here. To wit: Hillel did not institute a similar mechanism for Shmittah.”
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 in an Eretz Yisrael that has a 3 Billion Dollar agro-industry dependent on maintaining its position on the international market. One could even make a kal v’chomer relative the piddly amounts of commerce in his time.
“Furthermore, those who many of us consider to be today’s Hillels – the Ziknei Gedolei E”Y – have not done so either.”
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”?
“#9 quoting the Imrei Emes is a good example of a teleological (taamei hamitzvot / what God meant)) argument being raised to halakhic significance” (Comment by dr. william gewirtz — October 23, 2007 @ 8:07 am).
Dr. Gewirtz, the are in fact numerous halachic arguments to distinguish between the “heter mechirah” and “mechiras chametz”, as you allude to. A popular blog, however, is not the proper forum for a detailed halachic discussion. Rabbi Shafran, I am sure, simply chose a reason that would resonate with readers whose knowledge of the complex halachic issues involved is limited, and which, incidentally, is consistent with his “second, more important point”.
Your objection to Rabbi Shafran’s point #7 seems to me to be a matter of semantics.
“However, imposing your standards on others over this matter is hardly enhancing Kvod Shamayim, particularly given history and methods”.
The debate surrounding the “heter mechirah” has nothing to do with “standards”. “Non-glatt kosher” is a lower standard than “glatt”, and “cholov stam” is a lower standar than “cholov yisrael”. Personally, I eat only “glatt” and drink only “cholov yisrael”, but I would never impose my standards on someone else. 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”? You would not stand idly by when you see a fellow Jew eat “treif” if it was within your power to prevent it. That’s a HALACHIC imperative, not a political one. “Live and let live” is a cherished Western value, but it does not always hold true in Judaism. And yes, the main “puppeteer” is as aware as we are of the concept of “eilu v’eilu”, but that concept has its limitations as well. Suffice it to say, there are valid reasons for arguing that it does not apply in this particular case, given that circumstances have changed over the past 120 years since the “heter mechirah” was first proposed.
“Hopefully, the supreme court will soon rule on this issue, and, as much I hate the thought of such a precedent, I hope they rule to overturn the Rabbanut on this issue.” (Comment by Menachem Lipkin — October 23, 2007 @ 10:21 am).
Menachem, you can’t seriously hope that a secular court intervenes in a question of halacha and tells the Rabbanut how to run their operation. That is precisely what the opponents of the concept of a Chief Rabbinate feared, and Rav Kook himself found the idea unconscionable. 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.
“That Jewish observance of a mitzvah as it was intended to be observed might benefit Arabs should be of no consequence to anyone who believes that Hashem is in charge of the world”.
Believing that Hashem runs the world and is in charge of every minute detail does NOT grant you carte blanche in transactions that will (not might) benefit Arab terrorists (I am discussing the 6million shekel contract made bt Badatz and Hamas farmers in Gaza). Rav Ovadia Yosef stated, “It is an Issur D’oraisa to lend material support to those who actively seek to murder, kill, maim and drive us out of Eretz Yisroel”. This is also not a daas yachid.
Remember the issue at hand is vegetables not pikuach nefesh, (when we paid $$$$ to the Nazis to save Jewish lives), canned vegetables, imports and kedushas shivis can be eaten instead.
Dear Rabbi Shafran,
I would like to commend you for your conciliatory tone and expressions of remorse. I do think it is a step forward to your stated goal of taking the high road of respectful discussion.
Chaim Wolfson writes:
1) “Your objection to Rabbi Shafran’s point #7 seems to me to be a matter of semantics.”
Yes it is semantics in the abstract, but since there is a written record to examine, there is more than a semantic basis to judge.
2)”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, ”
I will let that speak for itself.
Chaim Wolfson: as to #9
A teleological arguement in a halakhic discussion needs to be identified, simple or complex. I dare say there are simple halakhic differences easy to state on a blog. I think i did.
“people who see only the negative in others”
ironically, seeing people this way might also say something about our view of them 🙂
“There is no contradiction between seeing a community, or person, in a positive light and seeing it, or him, truthfully”
– still, for the purposes of a blog I think we should apply this orientation (seeing … in a positive light) to all groups about whom we opine, not specfically those we see as being “right” (i.e. torah-oriented) as your initial post had implied.
The case is already before the supreme court. A decision should be coming soon. I am not at all happy about the situation. On one hand, the Rabbinate is a religious institution and should not be interfered with by the secular court system. In the past, it seems, the court has rarely if ever interfered with the Rabbinate.
On the other hand, the Rabbinate is an organ of the state and part of its mandate is exactly not to do what they are doing here. They are supposed to provide halachic consistency for everyone. This is a tremendous wrong which needs rectification, and soon. Unfortunately, it appears that only the supreme can provide this.
If this sets a precedent for court intervention in the Rabbinate, then the Rabbinate would effectively be finished. If it turns out to be a one-time event then it could act to set the Rabbinate back on course. Either way this is just small harbinger of what’s to come in the years ahead as the proportion of Chareidim in the country rapidly increases.
Chaim Wolfson writes:
First of all, “Otzar Beis Din” is not a solution for the prohibition of “s’fichin”. Secondly, “Otzar Beis Din” produce is preferable to Arab produce only if the consumer in fact adheres to the laws of “kedushas Sheviis”. Obviously, you cannot assume that a secular or traditional populace will follow those laws. There are also numerous other conditions attached to the “Otzar Beis Din” mechanism that make it difficult to practice on a very large scale. So I’m not sure how the “Otzar Beis Din” mechanism can be “universalized”. I’m sure the proponents of this method have addressed these issues, but the fact that others may disagree with their solutions certainly does not indicate any “exclusionist” mentality.
I think you missed my point(s):
First order of business, Sefichin are of course an issue. But, if the vegetables sprouted before Rosh Hashana but were picked afterwards, the Otzar Beit Din solution would work. If they sprouted afterwards, they would of course be prohibited and other sources would have to be found. (That will only be an issue later in the Shmitta year; not now.)
What I meant by the universalizing Otzar Beit Din through the “Otzar Haaretz” system was merely a network that helps Otzar Beit Din work in a more national way that is potentially acceptable to all. But, given that this solution was developed in non-Chareidi world it is de facto discredited by the Chareidi community.
As for the superiority of Arab produce over Otzar Beit Din for the non-religious community (who may not treat the produce with the requisite kedusha), you have still not addressed the moral (and perhaps Halachic) issues that should give pause before giving Jamaal’s parnassa a shot in the arm. That was the premise of my original commment. And certainly if you are that concerned about Kedushat Shvi’it for the non-observant, the Heter Mechira which you may not want to use personally (and for the record, I would not either) should be allowed as an option available to them.
“given that this solution was developed in non-Chareidi world it is de facto discredited by the Chareidi community”.
Did Hillel discredit all the pasak of Shammai, did Shammai discredit all the pasak of Hillel?
Everybody sees only the part of the elephant he wants to see. Some are mostly upset because the chareidim have taken over the rabbinate but no one has bothered to answer my question as to whose fault that is. Others have their “not one inch, to Hell with the Arabs”philosophy that blinds them to the reality that commerce may actually advance the process of giving the Arabs motivation to live and let live. If we totally ignore their poverty and only think of them as a stumbling block but not as people, we damage our own tzelem elokim. Others see only the pure halacha and feel that since the secular don’t keep shmitta anyway,why care. So they insist of super glatt as the only kosher and say that if you don’t like it, so eat without a hechsher what do you care. There are no simple solutions but live and let live does not seem to be part of the Israeli mentalilty. We want Moshiach now!
“no one has bothered to answer my question as to whose fault’ that the rabbinate is dominant by the Charedim”- I will attempt an answer, the appointment of dayanim/rabbinim is a political decision, coverted with much party handling. Since NRP’s power = 4-6 votes and the Charedi block (Shas, Agudah, Degel) = 20+ votes, it is obvious where the power is. You will also notice the relationships between the ‘honored position’ and political personel in power. BTW jobs in Dayanus/Rabbinate are scarce and come with numerous benefits (sort of like govt jobs in USA). Scholarship, midos, & yiras shamayim is not the only requirement for placement.
Pres Shimon Peres is convinced that commerce and ‘give every Arab a job’ is the answer for World Peace. When investigating the 9/11 & suicide terrorists, you will discover that high education and prosperity have been an overwhelming component of these killers. The bucks will not change the internal makeup…..
The court has ruled against the Chief Rabbinate
“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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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..
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.
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.
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.
“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”?
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.
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.