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28 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Struggle for Shmittah Observance This Year: Jewish Produce, the Heter Mechirah, Sefichim and Geuloh

By HaRav Yosef Yekusiel Efrati

Part II

The first part of this article discussed the fact that the origin of the heter mechira was closely followed and applauded (and at least to some extent encouraged) by the maskilim of the late nineteenth century, who wanted to ensure that shmittah would not be observed. Their preferred method was brutal coercion of individual farmers, but they were willing to make do with the hetter when they could not coerce the farmers into working without it.

The Soton is still trying to prevent Klal Yisroel from observing shmittah and now he also has new weapons. One of these is the call for a boycott of Arab produce which is not heard throughout the other years, when considerable quantities of the produce sold in general Israeli markets is from Arabs, but only during shmittah.

Recently a flyer was printed with the caption "Do not eat." On top of the caption you see a picture of a tomato filled with blood, and underneath it an explanation about how the purchase of three kilograms of cucumbers and tomatoes helps the Arabs to buy bullets, petrol bombs and hand grenades. The conclusion to be drawn is obvious: do not buy Arab produce! The authors make one more modest request: to distribute the flyer to the general public and spread the message.

I have no idea who is behind the distribution of this leaflet, whether they are supporters of a certain chain of stores who boast of not selling any non-Jewish fruit or just people who oppose shmittah observance. Unfortunately, the propaganda is beginning to have some effect.

Last week I had the privilege of being asked by HaRav Y. Silver to teach hilchos shevi'is to some Russian newly- religious immigrants. One of the participants asked the big question: is it not forbidden to use non-Jewish produce?

For the sake of those upright Jews (as the Ridvaz calls them) who are influenced by these statements, let me make it absolutely clear: [whatever the status of using non- Jewish produce] there is certainly no heter to use forbidden Jewish produce. We must not be misled by new theories and principles, rooted in falsehood.

Also, during the six-year periods in between shmittah years the market is inundated with produce from the Arab sector. Most cucumbers, okra, strawberries, beans and more come from the Arabs all the time. The consumers during the shmittah year decide which agricultural produce to buy. We buy produce from the Arabs, and the forbidden produce ends up in the general market.

Moreover, their argument is fundamentally flawed, because if it is true that it is forbidden to buy Arab produce, does the money from a cucumber only turn into a bullet during the shmittah year, and for the following six years the cucumber becomes kosher? If giving money to the Arabs is causing the intifadah, why has no order been given to stop hiring Arabs in stores, factories, greenhouses and fields?

A few weeks ago while I was giving a shiur in one of the settlements in Yehuda and Shomron, one of the participants predictably raised the issue of Arab produce, but another participant got up and objected to the question, wondering how he was not embarrassed to ask such a question when all their houses are built with Arab labor, and their cars taken to Arab garages to be fixed because it is cheaper and so on. Only during the shmittah year do we hear about the prohibition not to buy from the Arabs.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no limit to the hypocrisy surrounding this subject. I have in front of me a booklet put out by Machon Hatorah Vehaaretz entitled, Emunat Itecha, which says the following: "We would suggest that one of the main points to stress at the outset of this stormy shmittah year, during which the Jewish people examines its connection to the land, is that the support of Jewish agriculture is necessary from both the moral and halachic points of view, as part of the struggle for Eretz Yisrael. We must refrain from buying fruit and vegetables from non-Jews who are rising up against us."

Many people can testify about how much we have helped farmers from the area with which this institution is connected (Gush Katif) by making sure that their greenhouses are kosher lemehadrin. Towards the end of 5760 the directors of that company asked us not to give hechsherim to non-Jewish greenhouses. They even added an implied threat, stating that if we would grant a hechsher to such greenhouses, some people would stop using the kosher greenhouses and rely on the heter mechirah.

We asked the rabbonim shlita and based on their response our reply was as follows: "We shall use all possible means to support produce coming from your greenhouses, but we shall not prevent the marketing of produce of non-Jewish greenhouses, because there are some who have a halachic preference for this produce. This is in accordance with a ruling addressed to us by HaRav Y. S. Eliashiv shlita."

It goes without saying that the questioners were not happy (to put it mildly) with this reply, but eventually, in the middle of the shmittah year, when the company realized that it made economic sense to sell produce from non-Jewish greenhouses, they started marketing it as well, and are now pressuring us to give it a hechsher. We are only left to wonder what happened to their concern for the prohibition to buy from Arabs.

@Big Let Body=Some people are also doing their best to thwart the efforts of the Jerusalem Rabbinate, which is trying to prevent the "traditional" (i.e. somewhat observant) population from consuming sefichim. They are working day and night, making use of any strange argument, so long as it will help them win the struggle.

I would first like to stress again what I have said in the past: stores with a non- mehadrin hechsher are not meant chas vesholom for the chareidi public. The only purpose of these hechsherim is to prevent people from transgressing the issur of eating sefichim. At the behest of our rabbonim, we are working to minimize the prohibitions relating to shevi'is which our "traditional" brethren inadvertently transgress.

Apparently, the yetzer hora is not satisfied with this either, and every day we hear of yet another measure undertaken which would coerce stores into making their customers transgress the sefichim prohibition.

This non-mehadrin hashgocho is a bedi'eved one, and its only purpose, under the direction of the rabbonim, is to prevent the entry of produce which may be sefichim. Every time we give a shiur, we appeal to frum Jews not to buy from these stores, explaining that they are only meant to be used by the wider public, who will thereby be saved from transgressing the prohibition of sefichim. Goods sold in these stores are certainly not mehadrin. The religious population who wants to buy products with our hashgocho should buy only from mehadrin stores.

@Big Let Body=In Har Nof, Yerushalayim, some people who were misled by the false propaganda convinced the owner of a fruit and vegetable store to give up the mehadrin hechsher of one of the kashrus committees and sell instead produce which satisfies the new "halachic" criterion of "Jewish produce." One of the rabbonim in the neighborhood asked for my reaction.

I wrote him a letter in which I explained the halachic drawbacks of these goods, and why religious people should buy only from mehadrin stores.

This letter was subsequently published (without my consent) and I received a letter from a rov -- a staunch supporter of "Jewish" goods -- which contained some harsh accusations. His main point was that I should not be opposing stores which will limit the use made of the heter mechirah.

Let me therefore make my position clear: every act which results in people relying less on the heter mechirah is welcome, provided the following two conditions are fulfilled. First, any such act has to receive the approval of the gedolim, who can use their insight to ascertain whether the proposed act may not result in people chas vesholom coming to the conclusion that the heter mechirah is valid, but just needs to be improved. Second, all those supporting a proposed restriction of the heter must state explicitly that they are proposing the measure only because the wider public has not yet come to the full realization that the heter has no basis whatsoever. G-d forbid that we should adopt a path which would cause frum Jews to buy doubtful produce because of false propaganda claiming that it is preferable to the mehadrin produce.

@Big Let Body=The struggle for shmittah observance is not an easy one. Stating the truth is not always a pleasant task, and arguments come from both the right and the left. But it is our duty to shout out: we have it on the authority of past and present rabbonim that the heter mechirah has no halachic validity.

It is impossible to rely on a heter which was based in the past on considerations of pikuach nefesh relating to the destruction of all the Jewish settlements in the country. It consisted of the sale of all the land in the country to a non-Jew, an act which so obviously lacks the requisite halachic intention (gemirus daas).

We must also speak out against those sitting on the fence, who on the one hand support full observance of shmittah and on the other hand, come up with heteirim and objections to non-Jewish fruit. Some of them meet with farmers, holding deeds of sale in one hand, and Powers of Attorney for the otzar beis din in the other! They argue vehemently that although there are problems with the heter mechirah, it would be inconceivable to buy goods from the Arabs, and they formulate new theories about the prohibition of buying Arab produce.

We make this heartfelt plea to our dear brethren: do you not realize that handing over land to a non-Jew for one year is bound to be followed by our relinquishing territories for many years? If we are privileged to observe shmittah properly, on the other hand, Hashem will expedite the Geuloh bimhero beyomeinu omen.

This article was seen by HaRav Chaim Kanievsky shlita before publication.

(Note: I talked about some of the issues contained in this article at the end of a shiur in the kollel Mishkan Rotem in the memory of Rav Sh. Rotem z"l. In the article I have added certain points.)

HaRav Yosef Yekusiel Efrati is the head of the Beis Hamedrash for Halocho relating to Agriculture and the secretary of Maran HaRav Eliashiv.

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