Monday, May 28, 2007

Matters of Lettuce, Life and Death

The upcoming Jewish year (only 4 months away) is the 7th year of the 7 year Sabbatical cycle of Eretz Yisrael.

During the 7th year, the "Shmitta" year, Jewish residents of Israel are forbidden to work the land, and rely on G-d's promise of an abundance of produce the previous year -- and take a step back, relax and study Torah. The idea is similar to that of "Shabbat", the 7th day of the week, when we are commanded to rest from work.

In our modern era of mass produced agriculture, we find ourselves with luxuries that didn't exist thousands of years ago; supermarkets, retail produce available at affordable prices, and an availability of produce never dreamed of even a few hundred years ago.

Options for Shmitta observance in Israel include:

"Heter Mechira" (Permission to Sell)": Similar to a halachik Jewish-legal method, "Heter Iska" instituted by great Rabbis over 100 years ago (Rav Yitzcah Elchonon and others) due to the extremely difficult financial situation of the small yishuv in Israel at the time and was continued by R' Kook, one of the leading rabbis in Israel about 80 years ago. This "heter" (permission) allows for only the top soil to be sold to a non-Jew, thereby all the produce is harvested from non-Jewish owned land. After Shmitta the land is sold back to its Jewish owner.

Problem: There are many who frown upon this permission, saying it's either not applicable at all (there were great Rabbis who disagreed completely with the heter to begin with i.e. Chazon Ish, Beit Halevi, Netziv and more… ); R' Kook only instituted this solution for a specific year, and it would need to reexamined by a Beit Din on a year-by year basis; and R' Kook instituted this for years when no alternative, "better" solutions could be found. For more information on Heter Mechira, its issues and controversy, please see this excellent article by R' Howard Jachter.

Otzar Beit Din. This is the standard partial solution that Halacha (Jewish Law) provides, in which the land becomes the property of Beit Din, a Jewish court, and Jewish farmers act as emissaries of the court, thereby they aren't working their own land. The produce can be sold by the Beit Din at cost, and in turn, the Beit Din pays the farmers for cost and not at profit. The produce still retains "Kedushat Shevi'it" -- the holiness of the Shmitta year (as opposed to "Heter Mechira")

Problem: Not enough farmers engage in such a solution, therefore, not enough produce exists.

Buying produce from non-Jews. Some organizations buy produce from non Jews in Europe and other places outside of Israel. The Eida Chareidis, an ultra-Orthodox oragnization has just contracted a multi-million dollar deal with the Palestinian Authority to receive produce from Gaza.

Problem: Money to the Palestinian Authority is quickly converted to guns, bullets and Qassam rockets which are routinely shot at Israelies.

The Chief Rabbinate has called on all the bodies that issue kashrut certificates in Israel to refrain from purchasing fruits and vegetables from Palestinian farmers during the next year, which is set to be Sabbatical year (shnat shmita), for fear the proceeds will be used for funding terror. (From YNET this past week)

As a side point, it's hypocritical for some to buy from Gaza or West Bank Palestinians all year round for a cheaper price, and then beat their chests at those who only buy from Palestinians during Shmitta.
So what does the Jewish resident of Israel do? Another solution exists;

Otzar Haaretz (Treasure of the Land):

The Torah and Land Institute, which used to operate in Gush Katif up until the disengagement, has set up a system called Otzar Haaretz (treasure of the land), which offers kosher marketing of fruits and vegetables during a shnat shmita [and does not rely on Heter Mechira]

Driven by Zionist motives and founded on agrotechnical innovations, the new system aims to strengthen Jewish cultivation of land in Israel, contrary to the strictly Orthodox kashrut committees, which approve only the purchasing of produce from non-Jews during the fallow year.

Many prominent rabbis have given their blessing to this move, including former chief rabbis Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliyahu. (from YNET)

Otzar Haaretz plans to provide fruits and vegetables from sources such as:

1. Produce grown in greenhouses, where the soil is physically detached from the ground, thereby the produce is not "grown on the land"

2. Produce grown using "Otzar Beit Din" (see above)

3. Produce grown during the sixth year whose shelf-life has been prolonged.

4. Produce from the Arava, (regions in Southern Israel which are outside the Biblical borders of Israel, and therefore, Shmitta does not apply there)

To get produce from the Otzar Ha'aretz program, you need to sign up in advance (to help ensure the money goes to the farmers), and for every 50 NIS you give Otzar Haaretz, you receive a 50 NIS voucher to buy produce during the Shmitta year. The initial outlay is 50 NIS, so if things don't work out, your maximum liability is 50 NIS. Other than that, you pay for the vouchers on a monthly basis.

Problem: For this to be successful, enough people need to sign up in advance, guaranteeing enough Otzar Haaretz produce for those that want to observe Shmitta in this matter. If this as important to you, and you would like to be able to buy Otzar Haaretz produce during the Shmitta year, please call them at 08-684-7325 or 1-700-709-177, or by e-mail otzarhaaretz at

When you sign up, you are guaranteeing that you'll buy at least 50 NIS of stuff per month. (You can of course buy more).

"The idea is that they need to get an idea as to how many people are interested, and even more important for us locally, WHERE people are interested." (from the Ramat Beit Shemesh mailing list)

Additional Info: The Institute for Torah and the Land

The institute was established twenty-one years ago in Gush Katif, in order to provide guidance to Jewish farmers who want to fully observe the mitzvot related to the land, especially in view of modern technological developments in agriculture and agricultural mechanization. The institute is deeply involved in the halachic and conceptual approach of Rabbi A.Y. Kook and his disciple, the late Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli. It operates under the guidance of the former chief rabbis, Shapiro and Eliyahu, who advise the staff and the rabbis of the institute in practical matters. The heads of the institute are Rabbi Yaacov Ariel and Rabbi Yigal Kamintsky.

During the six years of planting, the staff of the institute advises farmers in such matters as identifying specific species, kela`im (intermingling of species), orlah, terumah, and maaser. As part of this activity, the ``Beit Ha`Otzer`` fund, which provides a practical way to observe the mitzvot of Maaser Rishon (given to a Levi), Maaser Ani (for poor people), and redemption of Maaser Sheini. Beit Ha`Otzer serves thousands of people throughout our land, giving them a simple way to observe the mitzvot of maaser and terumah. The rabbis of the institute have responded to dozens of questions from all around the country, in addition to writing books and teaching about the mitzvot that are related to the land.

One year is special in every seven year cycle, and that is next year, 5768, which is Shemitta. This has many complicated laws. The institute has taken on several central tasks as the next Shemitta year approaches: To publish the full text of the book by Rabbi A.Y. Kook, ``Shabbat Ha`Aretz,`` from handwritten manuscripts, and to educate about the laws of Shemitta, printing both scholarly rabbinic texts and summaries for the general public, using modern audio-visual techniques. The objective of all the work is to benefit Jewish farmers.

Next year will be the first one that the institute does not operate from its natural site, in Gush Katif. The expulsion that we experienced did not curtail our spirit, and as preparation for the Shemitta we have established an organization known as "Otzar Haaretz." This will provide consumers with fruits and vegetables mainly from Jewish farmers who observe the laws of Shemitta, in order to encourage Jewish farming within our land. It will provide fruits and vegetables exclusively from Jewish and not Gentile sources.

Otzar Haaretz, which was established under the guidance of four rabbis – Shapiro, Eliyahu, Lior, and Ariel – sees as its objective to raise the spiritual level of Yisrael to new heights, both in observance of the laws of Shemitta and in increasing contact within the nation, specifically between food producer and consumer. The greater the number of consumers who are willing to observe the laws of Shemitta, the more farmers will be privileged to observe Shemitta and its laws. The result will be ever greater amounts of fruits and vegetables that have the sanctity of Shemitta. It is a mitzva to eat produce that has Shemitta sanctity. There are those who wash their hands before eating fruit from Eretz Yisrael, and during Shemitta there is an additional element of added holiness. We should make an effort to reveal the sanctity of the fruits of Eretz Yisrael.

The public is encouraged to support the farmers by signing up to the "Otzar Haaretz." Details are available by phone, at: 1-700-703-177

Note: I am not affiliated in any way with Otzar Haaretz, but I have signed up to join their produce program for Shmitta, and personally think its an excellent way to observe Shmitta, a way to continue supporting Jewish agriculture in Israel, all without giving a single Shekel to terrorists.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


Anonymous said...

Wha an amazing idea. I think those of us outside of Israel should definitely consider signing up as a sign of solidarity.

We have a responsibility to support ideas and people who innovate ways to strengthen our observance of torah and strengthen the connection of our nation to our Land!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about this...we contacted them a few weeks ago (by phone) but we haven't received anything in the mail...should I e-mail them, or do you think they are overloaded?)

Akiva said...

Great post. I'm amazed and saddened by the Eidet Charedit's stance.

If you can check out and find out if support from chul would make a difference, I'm sure we could line up at least a bit of support via our blogs.

Anonymous said...

Eida chareidis' position is utterly disguisting!!!! How can a yid put in his mouth food that was grown by sonei yisroel, on stolen land!!!! IMHO zionist rabbis should make a huge outcry about it, saying that it's proper to refrain from eating at people's houses if they buy that produce.
And if the rabbis don't have the nerve for that, then common good yiden should tell that to their chareidi friends. That's what I plan to tell every jew I know.

Michael said...

That was the single most interesting post I have ever read on modern religious conundrums in Israel.
Thanks for writing that.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Michael: My pleasure! Come back and visit this blog often :)

Moshe F: Just one word of caution; I was very careful in this posting not to cast blame on the entire Chareidi community, only the Eida Chareidis which has no problem signing a 60 million NIS contract with Gaza terrorists.

Akiva: I will try and find out tomorrow and publish that infomation.

Safranit: I suggest calling them again by phone. Hopefully, they are overloaded with requests...

mevaseretzion: I will try and see if there's a way to support this, just as a tzedakka donation.

Jack Steiner said...

Lettuce consider the merits of this idea. ;)

Cosmic X said...

I signed up with Otzar haAretz. Did you?

Rafi G. said...

great post. it is such a complicated situation, you laid it all out nicely and clearly.

Anonymous said...

I am a big fan of Otzar Haaretz and, good for you for plugging it.

However, your explanation of otzar beit din is inaccurate.

1. The land does not become the property of beit din. The land remains the property of its Jewish owners, and the produce is hefker. The beit din hires the farmer to guard and harvest the produce, which remains hefker.

2. The farmer is not paid "cost and not profit". The farmer is hired by beit din to guard and harvest the produce on its behalf, and is paid a fair wage. Grocers are also hired by beit din to distribute the produce, and are paid a fair wage. The beit din charges the consumers cost and not profit.

3. The problem last shmitta was not that not enough farmers participated, but that not enough city folk were willing to buy the produce, and the batei din were stuck with surplus produce, and were not able to meet their obligations to the farmers. After that fiasco, it is not hard to understand why farmers are reluctant to sign up again this time.

That is why it is important to sign up for Otzar Haaretz way in advance of shmitta, so that the beit din can make credible financial promises to the farmers.

Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

We signed up. Last shmitta our makolet was one of 20 outlets and we hope it will be again!

I'm forwarding this post! Thanks Jameel.

Pragmatician said...

How appalling that a Chareidi body would engage in any sort of contract with the palestinian ‘authorities’ (who are they btw?)let alone a multi million one....
I do get though that people need food and vegetables.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

ironi burgani -- thanks for your clarifications!

1. Yes you are correct.

2. My comment about "cost" was that the farmers make a salary, but it's not exorbitant or profit based.

3. In our area last shmitta, there was never enough Otzar Beit Din produce (and it's quality was rather dismal)...but I guess we're not "city folk" :)

And yes, the more people that sign up and commit, the better!

Pragmatician: What bothers me is that the Eida does not view accessory to murder (ie, giving money to the Palestinian Authority) as being more severe halachikally, than the issur dirabanan of shmitta observance. (And there are shmitta observance alternatives!)

Anonymous said...

Jameel: Wether the entire chareidi community is to blame we'll see when they'll have to make a choice wether to put this food in the mouth (hopefully not). But if they do - yes, they'll get the blame too. The issue is not as much halacha as basic sensitivity to one's jewish brother who was kicked out of his land, and now you're eating produce grown on his land by people who stole from him and murdered him!!!! I don't claim to be an expert in what Hashem thinks, but it probably doesn't sit too well with Him...
Haven't we learned that lesson yet? How much suffering do we have to go through to knock that into our heads!!!!

That's why I think there should be major protest against this by common chareidi jews who have some basic fear of Heaven.

Shira Salamone said...

This reminds me of a guy with whom we once drove home from a Jewish educational conference--he told us, in no uncertain terms, that he'd once traveled from coast to coast (New York to California) eating almost nothing but kosher ice cream because it's one of the few kosher foods that one can get almost anywhere. I never cease to be amazed at the dedication of Orthodox Jews to following the law, even in difficult circumstances. I wish you all the best in maintaining your standards of observance.

CJ Srullowitz said...

This is, lulei demistafina, a wonderful suggestion. Can Americans sign up?

Anonymous said...

Even if the Arava is outside the biblical borders of Israel, by failing to observe shemittah in this region, we are sending the message that the Arava does not really belong to Israel.

bec said...

thanks for ensuring that my family won't support terrorists and that we won't contract scurvy or other lack of fruit & vegetable ailments. i just sent an email off to otzar haaretz.
once again, jameel saves the day.

Anonymous said...

Great job publicizing an excellent way to observe shmitta, Jameel.

Wish I could be here all of next year to observe this mitzvah.

Anonymous said...

Greattt post.
If only for this post -Dayenu.

Anonymous said...

Thank for all the pertinent info re: Shemitta. Is there a way those living in America can give a helping hand to making this system work (without any dependence on our Yishmaelite brothers)?

Michael said...

I do come back frequently; your blog is on my regular "rounds."

Anonymous said...

Useful... thanks!

Unknown said...

I want to follow up the story on the Eida Chareidis deal - where did you see it reported?

Thanks for the post, I enjoyed reading it.

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