Volume 9 Number 51
                       Produced: Mon Oct 18 21:39:53 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Shmitta (6)
         [Eli Turkel, Shimon Schwartz, Allen Elias, David Zimbalist,
Elhanan Adler, Benjamin Svetitsky]


From: <turkel@...> (Eli Turkel)
Date: Fri, 15 Oct 93 15:55:04 +0200
Subject: Shmitta

     Since there has been some confusion over shemitta in some previous
messages I would like to briefly review some of the laws.
     The Torah forbids working the fields every seventh year and the
food that grows is available for everyone (hefker) but this food has
special holiness and cannot be thrown out or mistreated, it also cannot
be sold or sent out of Israel. The rabbis also prohibited sefichim
(can't translate) that grow by themselves to prevent farmers from
growing produce and then claiming that it grew but itself. Hence, these
sefichim have the same laws as vegetables that were grown during the
shemitta (sefichim does not apply to fruits).
     There is a three way argument among rishonim whether Shemitta
applies today. The majority feel it is only a rabbinic prohibition once
the ten tribes were exiled. Some say it is still a biblical prohibition
and a small minority claim it is not even rabbinic but only a nice
custom. Achronim in the early part of this century continued this same
disagreement. The general consensus today is that it is only rabbinic.
There is a second major disagreement about produce of nonjews. R. Yosef
Karo based on Rambam feels that shemitta rules don't apply at all and
there is no holiness to the produce.  Mabit disagreed and said that the
holiness still applies once a Jew buys the produce. (R. Karo and Mabit
were contemporaries in Sefad about 450 years ago). At the time there
were no Jewish farms in Israel and so R. Karo was the big leniency since
holiness of the produce is a major pain in that it requires keeping
peels and other leftovers from any shame (throwing directly into the
garbage, feeding to animals etc.)
    In addition to problems for the consumer there are greater
difficulties for the farmer, any one with a garden around the house, or
even plants in the house.
     In modern Israel there are 3 ways around this problem: 
1: Heter Mechira
      This assumes that we hold like R. Karo that the produce of nonjews
has no holiness and that Shemitta today is only rabbinical.  Then the
land is sold to a nonjew but major planting still cannot be done by
Jews. This was sanctioned by several prominent rabbis over a hundred
years because of the plight of the Jewish farmer in that day.  In was
later championed by R. Kook who however insisted that it was a temporary
measure based on economics. R. Kook personally never used the heter
mechira for himself. Also in his day each farm sold their land
individually. In has since been institutionalized by the rabbanut which
now sells all the land collectively.
     There are 2 major objections against the heter mechira. One that it
is prohibited to sell land in Israel to a nonjew (R. Kook said this
doesn't apply to temporary sales). The other was based on opinions that
Shemitta today is biblical or else that nonjewish produce is holy.
Others object that the original emergency situation no longer exists and
that if R. Kook were alive today he would also oppose the heter mechira.
Others disagree on ideological grounds.

2: Otzar Bet Din: This was pushed by the Hazon Ish who objected to the
heter mechira. Instead all produce is handled through a bet din who act
as agents for the final consumer. All farmers, middlemen etc.  are paid
only for their time and effort but not profits. No work is allowed in
the fields except to prevent loss of the product. Most "shemitta stores"
in Israel rely on the Otzar Bet Din. These prefer the produce of Jews
who keep the shemitta laws but will buy Arab produce when nothing else
is available. Shemitta holiness laws apply to all produce sold in the
shemitta stores.

3.: Badatz: The Jerusalem custom is to hold like R. Karo that nonjewish
produce has no holiness. To prevent any "problems" to the customer
Badatz only buys nonjewish or imported foods. They will not buy jewish
produce of Israel no matter which kibbutz since that would require
watching for the holiness of the produce which would inconvenience their
consumers. For financial reasons beginning this year canned goods from
Badatz are from the sixth or eighth year as the "Bnei Brak crowd" would
not but their canned goods.
     My understanding is that the percentage of food available under the
heter mechirah is severely reduced this year. This comes because of 2
factors. In the past Tnuvah had a almost monopoly on produce in Israel
and they insisted that all fields be sold. Tnuvah lost its monopoly and
is now only a large middleman. Thus they have reduced influence and many
places no longer sell their land through the rabbanut. From the other
side many people who previously relied on the heter mechirah now insist
on otzar bet din (I know of many people who use otzar bet din at home,
kosher at home at treif(=heter mechira) outside). The rabbinates of
Jerusalem and Rechovot discourage the heter mechirah. I know that in my
home town, Raanana, the rabbinate offers the heter mechira but is
working to expand the otzar bet din and I suspect this is true in most
cities. Hence it is impossible that 90% of the population support the
heter mechira. Most secularist oppose it, or don't care and the
religious community is very split.

      The latest issue of Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society
has an article on Shemitta (that I haven't read yet). I wish to stress
that I have been very simplistic in my description and it should not be
relied on. For those who wish more details there is an excellent
pamphelet by Dayan Grunfeld on Shemitta and Yovel (also part of his
book) written 20 years ago.


From: <schwartz@...> (Shimon Schwartz)
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 93 11:38:37 -0400
Subject: Re: Shmitta

Jonathan Katz begins to touch an aspect of the heter mechira that
bothers me.  Is the object of shmita that we should not work the land,
or that the land itself not be worked?  There is clearly a command for
individual Jews to refrain from field work, but there also seems to be
aspect that the land be allowed to rest.  I recently read a ma'amar
chazal that the 70 years of exile between the first and second Temples
compensated for 70 shmita years that were violated during the first
Temple period.  This focuses more on the land than the individuals.

The heter mechira relieves those individuals who accept it from
individual culpability, but effectively leads to the vanishing of the
"land resting."  As a techie, I have no feel for the personal trials of
not farming for a year.  However, encouraging people to go by this heter
seems to discourage bitachon baShem.  Is this the message that we want
to convey?

	---Shimon Schwartz

From: Allen Elias <100274.346@...>
Date: 14 Oct 93 09:09:12 EDT
Subject: Shmitta

>Now that several people have submitted postings on the heter of selling
>the land, I feel I have to point out several things.  First, although
>the heter was always questioned, it always found support from the very
>greatest poskim of previous generations.  Not only did Rav Kook support
>it, but the original heter was proposed by a number of gedolim even
>earlier, including Rav Yitschak Elchanan Spektor.

According to the book Shmita Kehilchata, the heter given by Rav Spektor
z"l and his contemporaries was given only temporarily and only for the
reason of pikuach nefesh (actual danger to life). Rav Kook's z"l opinion
was not accepted by most Gedolim. Most of today's poskim agree the heter
does not apply today.  Rabbi Kook himself gave the following reason for
the heter mechira:

If someone has to eat a neveila (unslaughtered dead animal) it is better
to perform shechita before eating it. Since most of the people are going
to eat forbidden shmita produce anyway it is better to sell the land.
This is also the opinion of the Chief Rabbis.

>Rav Kook's heter solved the problem of how to keep the Jewish settlement (now
>State), which relies heavily on agriculture, viable during and after the
>shmitta year.

This point of the cost to the economy of observing shmita is
questionable.  Much of Israeli agriculture is subsidized both directly
and indirectly.  Compensating farmers for observing shmita may even save
the country some money. Before one claims that observing shmita
threatens the State an objective study should be made of the costs to
the economy over a period of seven years.

>         By not relying on the heter mechira we are supporting the Arab
>farmers at the cost of not supporting those religious Jews who are
>trying their best to keep shmitta.

There are all types of Shmita stores, with and without supervision. The
Vaad Hashmita, one of the largest Shmita year suppliers, gives
preferance to Jewish produce. A spokesman for the Vaad Hashmita said on
the radio, repeated in the newspapers and street posters, the Vaad has
the following priorities:

1. The Vaad prefers to purchase produce grown in parts of Israel where
shmita is not required. Only parts settled by those who returned in the
days of Ezra from Babylonia are required to observe shmita. This leaves
the Gaza settlements, southern Negev, and Northeast Galil (area around
Kiriat Shemona, Metulla) not required to observe shmita. They are
considered halachically as chutz laaretz for the purpose of shmita.
Certain areas near Beit Shean were not required to observe shmita even
during the First Temple.

2. One may grow in greenhouses which are separated from the earth. This
is not an uncommon method of growing tomatoes and other vegetables.

3. When the above means do not fill the demand the Vaad Hashmita imports
items in short supply. Ordering in wholesale quantities makes this
competitive with local Arab produce. It is pretty common for Arabs to
charge exorbitant prices during the shmita year, sometimes double the
prices of other years.  Buying from Arabs has the lowest priority.

>                      All I am saying is that one should not dismiss
>the heter mechira out of hand.  It is by no means perfect, but it does
>try to solve the greater problem of Israel's economy, and indeed its
>very existence.  Surely this is worth considering.

Those who take the Torah seriously may consider Israel's existence
dependent on observing shmita. Parshat Bechukotei (chapter 26) warns
that Israel will go into exile if the land is not allowed to rest during
the shmita year: Vehirtza haaretz et Shabtotoeah. The Prophet Yirmiyahu
also told the exiles the reason for the destruction was their ignoring
the shmita year.

From: David Zimbalist <MDZIMBAL@...>
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 93 10:18:10 -0400
Subject: Shmitta

The most recent Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society
has a 50+ page article on this very subject.  It is, at the
very least, an excellent source of references.

David Zimbalist

From: <ELHANAN@...> (Elhanan Adler)
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 93 01:27:51 -0400
Subject: Re: Shmitta

I know of several highly respected rabbis who have stated (privately, at
least) that if the choice is between relying on the heter ha-mekhirah or
buying Arab produce, the heter ha-mekhirah is preferable. Of course, if
Jewish produce (Gush Katif, Southern Arava, Otsar bet-din) is readily
available it would be the first choice.

Unfortunately - our local Shmittah store seems to have only Arab produce
(and proud of it ... !)

* Elhanan Adler                   University of Haifa Library              *
*                                 Tel.: 972-4-240535  FAX: 972-4-257753    *
* Israeli U. DECNET:      HAIFAL::ELHANAN                                  *
* Internet/ILAN:          <ELHANAN@...>                          *

From: Benjamin Svetitsky <bqs@...>
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 93 16:42:07 -0400
Subject: Shmitta

I don't know how all these people do their statistics on who does or
doesn't accept the heter mechira for dealing with sh'mitta in Israel.  I
know plenty of people, Rabbanim included, who use the heter.  "Sh'mitta
stores," which sell produce guaranteed free of sh'mitta questions, are
few and far between outside of B'nai Brak, and one should remember that
most observant Jews in Israel happen to live outside of B'nai Brak, and
out of reach of Yeshiva cafeterias.  As for acceptability of the heter
to various gedolim, let's not forget that the heter originated with R'
Yitzhak Elhanan Spektor a hundred years ago, and was renewed by Rav
Kook.  Not exactly lightweights.

R' Ovadia Yosef made an interesting comment when he confirmed the heter.
One school of thought has it that sh'mitta in our day is entirely
de-rabbanan (and indeed the heter relies on this).  R' Yosef pointed out
that the Torah promises that the year before sh'mitta will give such a
large yield that there will be no problem letting the land lie idle for
a year.  When the Torah creates a problem (sh'mitta), the Torah gives
its solution (increased yield).  When the Rabbis create a problem
(shmitta today), it is only appropriate that they provide a solution
(the heter).

R' Soloveitchik, among others, held that elements of sh'mitta are
de-oraita even today.  This position, I believe, is one reason for the
decreasing popularity of reliance on the heter mechira.  And it is
definitely true that the feeling "on the street" this year is that one
should make more of an effort to eschew the heter.

The purpose of the heter is not "to diminish the culpability of those
who will farm during Shmitta regardless."  Its purpose, and only
justification, is to diminish the economic dislocation which would be
caused in the agricultural sector.  The feeling in the Rabbinate today
seems to be that the economy can survive more dislocation than in the
past, and so the heter is being used less than it was 7 years ago.  It's
not for the kiddush Hashem of observing sh'mitta in spite of the heter;
where's the kiddush Hashem in importing the country's foodstuffs, or in
buying it from Arabs?  The Rabbinate's exact position is of course the
result of various opposing pressures; the same can be said about any
p'sak.  I hope people in the Diaspora will still trust its hechsher, and
not be driven to boycott Israeli food exports.

The heter has always been a political football.  R' Spektor issued it at
the urging of R' Mohilever and the Hovevei Zion, in order to save the
Bilu settlers in Gedera.  It was opposed by R' Diskin and the rest of
"Rabbanei ha-chaluka" (Rabbis of the dole; their phrase, not mine) in
Jerusalem; if you read the correspondence, you can see that the latter
hoped to starve the Biluim out.

Ben Svetitsky    <bqs@...>  (temporarily in galut)


End of Volume 9 Issue 51