Jewish Law: How To Buy Products During Shmita

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The Jewish calendar currently marks the shmita which, in addition to canceling all debts, obliges the Jews to leave the Land of Israel fallow during this sabbatical year. In this column, we will explore the different options available for purchasing products in the Israeli food market.

Scholars cite many different reasons for this mitzvah. The Torah itself highlights the potential social benefits of providing time for the poor and underprivileged (as well as animals) to rest (Exodus 23:12) and enjoy the fruits of the forsaken fields (Leviticus 25: 6). -7). However, already in antiquity, the rabbis found that these laws could actually harm the underprivileged. The threat of debt cancellation caused lenders to stop giving loans to the poor, which eventually led Hillel to promulgate the famous pruzbul document, which allowed people to collect their loans after the shmita year. Many Talmudic sages, followed by most medieval scholars, believe that shmita the restrictions today stem only from a rabbinical decree. Some even assert that our observance of these laws is a pious custom.

This factor was essential for many rabbinical scholars who sought dispensations to help combat the economic problems posed by shmita when a large number of Jews returned to Israel at the end of the 19th century. Believing economically untenable to leave the land fallow, several rabbinical scholars, led by rabbis Shmuel Mohliver and Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, supported the heter mechira mechanism in 1888 (5649). This allowed the Jews to officially sell the land to non-Jews for the year, thus allowing the farmers to continue working the land. Many policymakers, including Rabbi Naftali Berlin, have categorically opposed this legal fiction, while others, including prominent Jerusalem scholars, Rabbis Shmuel Salant and Yehoshua Diskin, have fluctuated in their support based on their assessment. economic pressure. Over time, the main representatives on each side became Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who favored the heter mechira, and Rabbi Avraham Karelitz (the Hazon Ish), who opposed this solution.

Heter mechira is based on the following halachic assumptions: 1) Shmita today does not have biblical commandment status, as discussed above. 2) Land in Israel owned by a non-Jew does not need to be left fallow. This was the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Karo, which has been historically observed, although his colleague from Safed, Rabbi Moshe Trani, strongly opposed this position in a famous 16th century controversy. 3) Even a Jew can work fields belonging to a non-Jew. 4) Despite the general prohibition on selling Israeli territory to a non-Jew, one can temporarily sell Israeli territory to a non-Jew if the goal is to strengthen Jewish settlement of the land. 5) This legal fiction is executed correctly and with full intention.

Each of these claims has strong support in halachic literature, although they each remain questionable. It should be noted that Rabbi Kook himself has stated that he has only supported this dispensation in times when it remains economically necessary. In any case, given the continuing controversy over heter mechira, some researchers have attempted to find other solutions.

Obviously, one could buy products from a non-Jewish producer or import products from abroad, including the territory of southern Israel which is not considered part of the biblical homeland. Yet many academics have argued that this is a problematic solution as it strengthens foreign competitors and sometimes even supports enemies of Israel, such as when goods are purchased in Gaza. A recent solution is to use products grown using hydroponic technology. Since the products grow in closed and soilless areas, many researchers claim that this technology is not included in the shmita restrictions for fields. Others have found hydroponics problematic because they believe the ban encompasses all farming methods regularly used in contemporary society.

Another complex solution was suggested by Rabbis Kook and Karelitz at the turn of the 20th century, albeit with some objections. This involves an economic arrangement known as the otzar beit din (court warehouse). This system, which appears in a rabbinical text (Tosefta) but was not recorded elsewhere in the Talmud or by Maimonides, enabled the rabbinical court to take control of the fallow land, to hire outside workers (i.e. (i.e. not the owners) to harvest the products. , and distribute it to the needy. In the current version of this practice, the court is in effect hiring the owners of the fields to cut the crops and sell this product to the public for labor costs. The advantage of this system is that it makes it possible to harvest the products while observing the command and thus maintain the sanctity of the land and the fruits. As such, consuming this food is a mitzvah, which also means that any leftover food should be disposed of with respect. In recent years, the Torah Va-Aretz Institute has created the “Otzar Ha-Aretz” program w
who, where possible, supplies designated stores with hydroponic products or those harvested under an otzar beit din arrangement.

However, this solution has its detractors, because: a) It has not been used through generations or cited in later halachic literature; b) It makes it possible to pay owners only for their labor and not for the fruits. Some suggest that one could “charge extra” for labor for a period of time. shmita year, but others believe that essentially violates the entire ban; c) Sanctified products should not be consumed by the Gentiles or exported out of Israel, which poses a major problem for the whole industry; d) It does not allow the planting of fields, which means that this arrangement cannot help provide vegetables towards the end of the shmita year. For this reason, prominent policymakers like Rabbis Mordechai Eliyahu, Shlomo Aviner and Eliezer Melamed have asserted that heter mechira remains an equally legitimate, if not preferred, option.

My own belief is that while it remains important to develop additional options, heter mechira remains the main legitimate option, which the Chief Rabbinate must continue to support. It is hoped that this will be taken into consideration when electing the new Chief Rabbis in the coming year.

The author heads the Tikvah Overseas Students Institute and is the author of A guide to the resort: contemporary halachic debates (Magic).


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