Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shemitta, Jewish Land Sabbatical, The Pros and Cons

For clarity's sake I'm going to re-title/explain this as "What I Like and Hate about Shemitta."

As a chronic blogger, it's no surprise that I have opinions about everything. That's why I can blog on two very different blogs ever single day, excepting Shabbat and Jewish Holidays, of course. And as a salesperson, I have always told my customers that their opinions count. I won't tell them that their taste is awful. So, some people may not only disagree with what I'll be stating here, they may even think it's sacrilegious to dare blog on such a subject.

First of all, for those who don't know, Shemitta is a mitzvah, a Torah G-d given commandment, the Shabbat, year of rest, for the Land and the farmers.
For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to the L‑rd; you shall not sow your field, you shall not prune your vineyard, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth of your harvest . . . And [the produce of] the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat for you, for your male and female servants, and for your hired worker and resident who live with you . . . (Leviticus 25:3–6)
This sounds pretty simple at first, but of course it's horrendously complicated in practice, and there are more interpretations for the actual observance than anyone can imagine.

Since Shemitta only affects the Holy Land and Jewish landowner farmers, until the advent of quick and safe food import/export most Jews never had to deal with it or even know about it. And for close to two thousand years there weren't any Jewish landowner farmers in the Holy Land, the questions of Shemitta were mostly academic.

With the advent of Zionist farmers, who understood the importance of reclaiming the Land in the most intimate way possible, using it for all Jewish needs, suddenly Shemitta needed practical solutions for the farmers and the consumers.

The Kibbutzim and private farmers of those early Jewish settlers couldn't just give up their livelihoods for a year plus every seven years. The rabbis came up with the solution known as "Heter Mechira," a "fictional" sale of the Land to non-Jews. Read this article on  The Kosher Point. Not everyone accepts the Heter Mechira solution, and that's how things get very unpleasant especially here in Israel. There are two main opposing solutions.

  • eat only fruits/vegetables from non-Jews, whether local or foreign
  • Otzar Beit Din, Public Treasury
Many people refuse to support Arabs, seen very accurately as our enemies, over Jews, so they won't knowingly eat from those suppliers. The Otzar Beit Din solution satisfies both the halachik, social and econimic needs:
A third approach to Shemittah that has been increasingly making inroads is the Otzar Beit Din, or Public Treasury. It is based, inter alia, on the idea that Shemittah fruits are forbidden to be sold, but not to be eaten, and in fact have a sanctity that renders their consumption extra meritorious. The poor must be able to share in the fruits equally. To this end, the harvesting and distribution, as well as the upkeep of the fields, are carried out not for commercial profit, but by a public body acting as the public's representative.  (Arutz 7)
While Heter Mechira followers and those eating from Arab agriculture frequently refuse to eat in each other's homes, Otzar Beit Din is pretty much accepted by all.

The thing I absolutely hate about Shemitta year is that "I won't eat your food" custom/syndrome which will reach its peak by next Rosh Hashannah and the first few months of 5776, when there won't be any "sixth year" produce in the stores. I so hate all of the contradictory rules/rabbinic decisions that I can't get myself to even go to the classes and information seminars that have been going on for months here in Israel.

It's additionally complicated in places like Shiloh where even the most non-gardening family, like us, has some delicous edible fruit in their gardens. Pretty much everyone but us has been busy getting their gardens pruned, and cleaned like US Marine buzz cuts.

Now to tell you that there is one thing I really like about Shemitta. It's based on the halacha, Jewish Law, that says that individuals are forbidden to benefit in any way from the fruits/vegetables growing on their private Land/garden, but others may take just enough for their needs. My neighbors will be allowed to eat our delicious grapes, and we will be permitted to take their figs, grapes, apples etc. One can only take what is needed for the next meal, not for the week and certainly not to sell.

The marketing/shopping Shemitta dilemma doesn't start the day after Rosh Hashannah. It begins gradually as vegetables then fruit from the sixth year are no longer marketable. No doubt I will be writing more about the seventh aka Shemitta year.

May everyone be respectful and tolerant concerning various rabbinic opinions concerning Shemitta, because Derech Eretz, how we treat other people is an equally if not greater mitzvah.


Hadassa said...

"The thing I absolutely hate about Shemitta year is that 'I won't eat your food' custom/syndrome..."
Unfortunately there's no way to avoid it. We don't eat yevul nochrei, other than what Otzar HaAretz certifies or heter mechira (at all) and we feel very strongly about it. We're not going to call heter mechira "treif", because it isn't, or harp on other people's choices, because that's not the right way to observe the shemitta.
We host foreign students frequently on Shabbat and I am certain that many of them are not going to be eating any produce that has kedushat shevi'it, which is going to make hosting even more *interesting* this year. It won't be just a matter of asking guests about kashrut standards for meat (that's the only kashrut question we personally ever have with guests), but we're going to rise to the challenge, find produce that's acceptable to both us and our guests and use Shabbat during the shemitta year as an opportunity to discuss the mitza and the various options available for observing it.
Shana Tova to all!

Batya said...

Hadassa, good attitude, difficult problem.
Shannah Tovah

Netivotgirl said...

Rav Butbul, Rav Ovadia z'l's Chatan was discussing this issue a while back. While not generally in favor of heter mechira, he said it is ridiculous to pay exorbitantly high prices for produce so one should be flexible during the year and NOT rigid, for R'Ovadia DID permit Heter Mechira NOT bediavad.

Another point mentioned on a different occasion by R'Avraham Yosef of Holon was that the Otzar Beit Din was supposed to be set up as a non-profit apparatus and sadly, today in many instances that is not the case.

I for one am used to people on Pesach who choose not to eat at others homes, and will not be insulted if someone chooses not to eat at my house for halachic considerations. To each his own. However the WAY this is done can be with derech eretz, and in such a way to cause the least amount of upset.

As far as I'm concerned avoiding machloket is FAR more important than being mehudar on shmitta!!