The upcoming year, 5775, is a Shmittah year.
During Shmittah, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting, is forbidden by Halacha. Other cultivation techniques (such as watering, fertilizing, weeding, spraying, trimming and mowing) may be performed as a preventative measure only, not to improve the growth of trees or other plants. Additionally, any fruits which grow of their own accord are deemed hefker (ownerless) and may be picked by anyone. A variety of laws also apply to the sale, consumption and disposal of Shmittah produce. All debts, except those of foreigners, were to be remitted.
In the late 19th century, Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, the Rov of Kovna, came up with a Halachic means of allowing agriculture to continue during the Shmita year. He ruled that the biblical prohibition consists of not cultivating the land owned by Jews (“your land”, Exodus 23:10), and therefore he devised a mechanism by which the land could be sold to a non-Jew for the duration of that year under a trust agreement. Under this plan, the land would belong to the non-Jew temporarily, and revert to Jewish ownership when the year was over. When the land was sold under such an arrangement, Jews could continue to farm it. Israel’s first Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, adopted this principle, which became known as the Heter Mechira (lit. “sale permit”).
Last week, Mr. George Streikhman, a Ukrainian Non-Jew who follows the Seven Noahide Laws, entered the office of Religious services of the Government of Israel, and sat down with Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau; Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, and a leading Rabbi of the Zionist-Orthodox movement; Rabbi Avraham Yosef, Chief Rabbi of Holon, and son of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef; Rabbi Eliyahu Bendahan, head of the religious services department of the Government of Israel; and Mr. Bentzy Lieberman, director of Israel’s Land authority.
After negotiating a sale price, Mr. Streikhman purchased the land of Israel from the Government of Israel, and paved the way for Israel’s residents to enjoy produce grown in Israel.
What Does The Rebbe Say About This?
As Chabad Chassidim, the first thing that comes to mind is, what does the Rebbe say about this?
In a letter dated the 21st of Shvat 5711, a mere 10 days after accepting the mantle of Chabad leadership, the Rebbe writes to Rabbi Schneur Zalman Garelik, Chief Rabbi of Kfar Chabad:
“Regarding Shmittah – the reports I have received is, that the Hareidi Kibbutzim in Israel are not planning on relying (Heaven Forbid) on any leniency, and are planning on keeping the laws of Shmittah properly.”
While the Rebbe discouraged the Rabbi of Kfar Chabad from accepting the leniency of Heter Mechira; in a Yechidus with Rabbi Yisroel Meir Dushinsky, head of the Beth Din Eidah HaChareidis in Jerusalem, the Rebbe said:
“Despite the fact that the Hareidim are not lenient and do not accept the Heter Mechira, and likewise in Kfar Chabad, this leniency is not accepted; however, since many of our brethren rely on said Heter, it is of utmost importance that the sages of Israel immerse themselves in this topic and ensure that the sale is done in the best way possible.”
A few years later, on the 11th of Tamuz 5717, the Rebbe wrote to the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, author of the Talmudic Encyclopedia, citing a number of comments on his book “L’ohr Ha’Halacha”:
“Page 117: I am sure you are aware that Rabbi Kalman Kahane has already printed his rebuttal of said statement; specifically, he cites numerous sources which completely disagree with the Heter Mechira, but [for some reason] you only mention them in passing.”
Two weeks later, on the 25th of Tamuz 5717, the Rebbe wrote to the above-mentioned Rabbi Kalman Kahane, commenting on his book regarding Shmittah:
“…I wonder why you didn’t mention [in your book] regarding the Heter Mechira for trees, for some of the work that the farmers do is prohibited, as you describe in your book, and according to leading authorities, selling the land to a Non-Jew will prevent the Jew from transgressing these prohibitions [obviously, my point is [not to rely solely on that, rather] that the trees should also be sold to a Non-Jew for the duration of the year… but not to permit the farmers to do other related work during the year, because this is only a leniency].
If this [Heter Mechira] is implemented, you will save those Jews (who would otherwise not follow the laws of Shmittah) from transgressing these prohibitions…”
In 5732, Rabbi Shlomo Goren (then Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv), sent the Rebbe some of the books he has written in Halachic topics, including a book on Shmittah. On the 3rd of Tamuz 5732, the Rebbe sent him a letter thanking him for the books and commenting on some of them:
“Regarding what you write about Shmittah – I have not found (in your book, or in any other book that I saw on this topic) the answer to my question: Taking into consideration Israel’s safety and security situation, selling the land of Israel to anyone, especially a Non-Jew, makes the sale look like an ill-conceived sham. Therefore it would be better that after the land is sold, it should also be made Hefker [ownerless], and Israel’s Army can be considered as the ‘guardians of the fruit’…”