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6 Ellul 5760 - September 6, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
It Is Hashem's Land

by HaRav Yosef Yekutiel Efrati

Yated Ne'eman recently reported that the Division for Land-Dependent Mitzvos of the Yerushalayim Rabbinate decided to prevent sefichin (vegetables that grew in the Shmitta year) from entering the general market in Yerushalayim. As usual for news articles the issue was not elaborated on, so please permit me to write a bit at length about the significance of this decision.

In previous Shmitta years, both the rabbinates and the Kashrus organizations provided mehadrin agricultural produce to Shmitta observers, but did not have anything to do with the fruits and vegetables that reached the general market. Even the mehadrin divisions of rabbinates that had Shmitta Committees whose activities were extensive -- such as the Shmitta Committee of the Yerushalayim Rabbinate which in the last Shmitta was one of the largest and supplied mehadrin produce on a large scale from the north of Eretz Yisroel to the south -- did not concern themselves with the general produce delivered to the wholesaler market. Everyone knew that those are fruits and vegetables of the "heter mechirah" (that were sold by the Chief Rabbinate to non-Jews) and ignored the issue.

Every private beis din tzedek too engaged only in supplying produce to the market of Shmitta observers and issued special directives to those Shmitta dealers who furnished both the chareidi and general public. I remember as a young boy that we would trudge our way from the Rechavyah neighborhood in Yerushalayim (where I grew up) to the faraway large store on Yaffo Street that was under the Kashrus supervision of a respectable beis din tzedek. Our parents would always warn us not to mistakenly buy at the wrong store since near that store the same owners run another store with forbidden produce of the "heter mechirah."

Without any doubt no badatz or mehadrin rabbinate would agree that the owners of a store under their supervision sell orlah in a next door store under the same name. No halachic organization would possibly agree that even in kosher stores "not for mehadrin," non-kosher produce be marketed.

The distinction within kashrus in general and particularly with regard to land-dependent mitzvos, between mehadrin and non-mehadrin produce, applies only to restrictions that we apply leniently according to most poskim, but some want to be stringent and eat only mehadrin produce. For example, supplying fruit of which the basic halachic status is that we do not have to fear its being orlah but some want to be strict and be 100% certain it is not orlah, or relying bishas hadechak on the separating of terumos uma'aseros done through breirah (something that, boruch Hashem, almost does not exist today). However, it was always unthinkable that store keepers sell, for example, tevel (fruit and vegetables of which the tithes were not separated and are forbidden to be eaten) in the non-mehadrin stores and the rabbinical body awarding the kashrus supervision keep silent.

About forbidden Shmitta produce the customary situation was altogether different. As mentioned before kashrus groups overlooked the selling of forbidden produce such as sefichin.

There were many causes of this disregard. It seems that the most significant reason -- without analyzing whether justified or not -- was the thought that the dealer selling sefichin produce in his store is not like a dealer selling neveilos utreifos. Even most people who do not eat any produce coming from the heter mechirah thought it impossible to complain to the store owner. After all, he is acting according to the directives of the rabbonim who permitted the mechirah, and especially according to the directives of the Chief Rabbinate. (See Minchas Shlomo of Maran HaRav Shlomo Auerbach, zt'l, 1:44). This created a tacit agreement to ignore the situation and agree that this fruits and vegetable store keeper is not a sinner, and that even on the door of his store he can place a sign acknowledging its being under rabbinical supervision.

Some kashrus organizations added to this kashrus certificate an indication that the produce is being sold according to the heter mechirah. This was the state of affairs in the past.

@Big Let Body=Before the current, 5761 Shmitta, a change occurred. Our gedolei Yisroel shlita announced their daas Torah that the heter mechirah is completely invalid, that its use causes a chillul Hashem, and annuls the mitzvah of Shmitta.

If we had thought a little about this subject we would not have needed our spiritual mentors to alert us. Even without their warning, every intelligent person who peruses what the gedolei Yisroel who originally permitted the heter mechirah wrote, or reads the material that the supporters of the heter wrote over the years, realizes that the heter is similar to a table whose legs were removed.

The initial need for this heter was at a time when the economic situation in Eretz Yisroel was extremely difficult and bordered on being life- threatening. "The national need" as it was then called, was because the small community in Eretz Yisroel depended upon agriculture and especially on exporting fruits and vegetables, and because of Shmitta it appeared to be in danger of collapse.

Despite this, most gedolei Yisroel and especially Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l, entirely discredited the heter. Following the guidance of Maran the Chazon Ish, zy'a, every Shmitta we strengthened ourselves more in its observance. Nonetheless, when today we discuss the need to support the heter, the basic assumption of all those who once permitted it was that there is an urgent need for it.

Even after the founding of the State of Israel, at the first Shmitta on 5712 (1952), supporters of the heter still tried to explain it as being a "national need" because of the agricultural export. I remember many articles in which was argued that without the heter the State's income would decrease and we would lack enough revenue to buy needed military equipment.

Today it is obvious to all that this need does not exist in 5761. (Today, because of the economy and the lack of water, it almost seems that the Finance Ministry might support observing Shmitta during all years.) We are not endeavoring, cholila, to belittle the difficult economic test of those farmers who observe Shmitta according to halocho, since their living is from agriculture.

Reflecting at these findings should have caused the Chief Rabbinate Council to reach a definite conclusion: "We are exempt from carrying out the heter mechirah." This is without going into the halachic question of how it is permitted to execute the heter (because of the issur of not being allowed to sell land in Eretz Yisroel to non-Jews), and without entering into the question of the obvious invalidity of the sale for many farmers in Eretz Yisroel and especially for non-religious farmers. These non-religious farmers consider this sale not worth the paper on which it is written.

The Chief Rabbinate should say one thing: Since the heter mechirah certainly does not any more cure an economical problem we are free from carrying it out. Its foundations -- even according to those who permitted it -- are so problematic today. After the situation changed the Rabbinate should have done the minimum and discontinue the use of this heter.

If the Rabbinate had disassociated itself from the topic and had stopped automatically putting the heter mechirah into action, this would have caused, with Hashem's help, a true revolution so people would realize that this mitzvah has stopped being, cholila, uprooted. Unfortunately, not everyone in Israel's Chief Rabbinate feels that way and in a meeting of the Chief Rabbinate Council that dealt with this topic, one member even tried to expand the heter to find a solution to the lack of livelihood (that no one, cholila, minimizes) of the gardeners working for the city governments, and that the heter mechirah should be effective even for home gardens, something never dreamed of in the past.

Even after the announcement of the gedolei Yisroel was publicized, a delegation from the gedolei Yisroel requested from the Chief Rabbis to agree that the Chief Rabbinate will not engage in the mechirah. Although it was felt that this request was taken seriously, in actual practice it was not heeded so that the Chief Rabbinate will act as the gedolei Yisroel requested. We still hope that eventually this will be done.

@Big Let Body=The announcement of the gedolei Yisroel caused the different rabbinates and Kashrus organizations concerned with protecting us from eating tevel and orlah to consider whether they should act like they have in the past: Should they continue to overlook the general market?

This is not at all an easy question. On the one hand, it is forbidden to assist employing this heter, but on the other hand if we sever our connections with the store keepers who sell the produce of the heter mechirah during the Shmitta year, who will guarantee us that after the Shmitta year we will be able to return them to the Kashrus system. Indeed it is logical to think that they will find other Kashrus groups that will be glad to award them an alternate hechsher.

In meetings and seminars arranged for Kashrus supervisors we constantly emphasize that our main duty is not awarding a hechsher for the chareidi sector, but to save those who buy in the marketplaces and their connected stores. It is enough to cite for example that the Department of Land Dependent Mitzvos of the Yerushalayim Rabbinate supervises more than two hundred and fifty locations. If we cut off our connections with the general market, who knows what will be in the future?

This was the consideration that also guided additional Rabbonim, yirei Hashem, who attempted to save our brethren from any issur. At a meeting that took place between two eminent rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel: HaRav Y. Yakobovitz, the rav of Hertzliah, and HaRav Simcha Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Rechovot, they discussed the magnitude of this tremendous problem while mentioning the fear that such involvement, and the declaring of an issur to bring sefichin grown according to the heter mechirah to the market, will cause factories, restaurants, and wedding halls to discontinue any Kashrus supervision at all.

No one should think that organized Kashrus supervision is something so easy to build up. Kashrus is built only with much effort, and if because of this ruling these businesses will be thrown out of the Kashrus system, no one can say for sure whether after the Shmitta year we will be able to bring them back. It is quite possible that they would get accustomed to working without any Kashrus standing. This was the halachic question.

And this was the answer of Rabbenu HaRav S. Eliashiv:

"Would any rav or Kashrus Committee agree that in the establishments underneath his supervision the owners cook chicken with milk although its being only a rabbinical issur? Surely not! It is likewise ossur that a rav or Kashrus Committee feed sefichin to others."

Maran HaRav Eliashiv later added that what he said was just a moshol since sefichin is only forbidden because of two overlaid rabbinical issurim: First of all the rabbinical issur itself of eating sefichin, and in addition that today Shmitta is only a rabbinical mitzvah. Nonetheless, the lesson we should learn is one: We should not award Kashrus certification where forbidden products are found.

My dear friend, HaRav Avrohom Rubinstein, told me (and it has been published in Ma'aseh Ish, 3:160) in the name of HaRav Yehoshua Diskin that his father visited Maran the Chazon Ish and asked him about his mother, the Rebbetzin, who lived in Pardes Channah. Doctors had ordered her to eat certain vegetables that could not be obtained from non-Jews during Shmitta. His question was if it is permitted for her to take those vegetables from the fields of the heter mechirah? Maran, zy'a, permitted him to do so because of her life-threatening situation but added how interesting it is that no one ever comes to ask him about a sick person who needs to eat chicken with milk.

We learn from this anecdote that indeed we must think deeply about what to do. Although we must weigh the reward of a mitzvah instead of losing it, we are not allowed to feed people with one issur to save them from other issurim. The issur of sefichin is just like any other rabbinical issur and it should be observed strictly.

According to this ruling the Department of Land Dependent Mitzvos of the Yerushalayim Rabbinate announced to all the dealers with whom they have connections in the general market, that in addition to the large organization of supplying mehadrin produce in the city and the vicinity, it would not agree that sefichin enter the general market that during all other years are under the supervision of the department. It would cut off any connection with those who bring forbidden vegetables to their stores.

After the halachic question was ruled, the doubts have stopped. Now our duty is to attempt to execute this ruling as forcefully as possible and to pray that we merit to soon have a Shmitta and Yovel which we will be obligated to observe according to the Torah.

We must make public those who do mitzvos. Boruch Hashem, we are not alone. There are others who are eager to fulfill the mitzvos as soon as possible. We heard that the Bat Yam Rabbinate decided to prevent the sale of forbidden produce in their supervised market. We are sure that when many Rabbonim hear that this is the psak halocho of HaRav Y.S. Eliashiv they will also act like this. May Hashem help us so we can remain firm against those who are attempting to frustrate this matter.

HaRav Yosef Yekutiel Efrati is the head of the Beis Midrash for Halocho in the Settlements, and of the Division for Land-Dependent Mitzvos of the Yerushalayim Rabbinate, as well as the secretary of HaRav Y. S. Eliashiv.

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