The Jerusalem post reports:
Farmers are concerned that a haredi power struggle to monopolize the fruit and vegetable market in the upcoming shmita [Sabbatical] year could cause growers as much as a NIS 700 million loss and result in a sharp rise in retail produce prices.
Yusta Bleier, Chairman of the Farmers Association, said Wednesday that fruit and vegetable growers were "very concerned" about "aggressive marketing tactics" being pursued by certain haredi kosher supervision organizations.
"Haredi kosher supervisors are trying to monopolize all the major retail chains," said Bleier, "And many local rabbis are refusing to allow fruits and vegetable that are not under haredi-run kosher supervision to be sold in their towns and cities, even when the majority of residents are not even religious."…
[I]n Jewish legal tradition there is a solution to the restrictions of the shmita year. Known as "heiter mechira," which can be loosely translated as "the sale option," the solution entails selling Jewish-owned land in Israel to a non-Jew…
But haredi rabbinic leadership has traditionally opposed heiter mechira since it was first introduced at the end of the 19th century. The haredi rabbis scoff at the attempt to stage a fake "sale" of the land so as to permit farmers to continue to work as usual during the shmita year.
[Of course, these same haredi rabbis implement and make money from an equally "fake" sale every year – the selling of hametz before Passover. Other such pro forma sales are used throughout Jewish law, as well. But I, Shmarya, digress into reality …]
Instead, haredi rabbis demand that all fruits and vegetables be bought from non-Jewish, mostly Arab, farmers inside Israel who have legally registered ownership of their land or from farmers outside Israel.
Haredi leaders are also trying to put pressure on the Agriculture Ministry to increase produce imports, which would be a serious blow to local farmers.
In previous shmita years, said Bleier, haredi rabbis were concerned solely with providing kosher supervision over fruits and vegetables earmarked for their own followers.
"But this shmita year the haredim have become much more aggressive. They are now waging a war against heiter mechira. They are doing everything they can to block the sale of heiter mechira produce.
"But we won't let them. If we need to we'll set up our own fruit and vegetable stands outside the supermarket chains and sell our own produce."
In several cities local rabbis have announced that they will refuse to allow heiter mechira produce to be sold in their cities. Grocery stores will have to choose between no kosher supervision whatsoever and the stringent, haredi supervision.
For instance, the rabbis of Rehovot, Petah Tikva and Herzliya have already announced they will not allow the sale of heiter mechira. Wholesalers in Herzliya have petitioned the Supreme Court to force the local rabbi to allow the sale of heiter mechira. The wholesalers argue that since the majority of Herzliya's residents are not haredi the local rabbi cannot coerce them to accept a stringent haredi kosher supervision.
In Bat Yam, Ra'anana, Afula, Kfar Saba and Ashdod the chief rabbis are also opposed to the sale of heiter mechira.
In Jerusalem, where there is no chief rabbi, the situation is similar. Only the more stringent kosher operations will be allowed to give supervision.
Rabbi Moshe Rauchverger, a senior member of the Shmita Council in the Chief Rabbinate, said that the rabbinate's policy was to allow each local rabbi to decide for himself which kosher supervision to adopt. Rauchverger admitted that this shmita year a concerted effort was made by the rabbinate and its head, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger, to reduce to a minimum the use of heiter mechira. In fact, one of the reasons Metzger received haredi support for his appointment as chief rabbi was the promise he gave to oppose heiter mechira.…
Bleier said that annual agricultural production in Israel was NIS 7 billion. While last shmita, the haredi market only accounted for about 6-7% of the market for agricultural goods, the demand has grown so that today they represent about 17% of the market, translating into a loss for farmers of about NIS 700m.
However, the head of shmita year kosher supervision for the Edah Haredit denied his organization, which is the single largest kosher supervision apparatus catering to the haredi population, has any interest in monopolizing non haredi markets.
"We are focusing solely on predominantly haredi areas such as the haredi neighborhoods in Ashdod, Beit Shemesh, Modi'in Ilit, Beiter Ilit and Safed."
The Edah Haredit source admitted, though, that his competitor, Efrati's Kashrut Le'mehadrin [please see below], was pursuing an aggressive campaign to expand his organization's influence beyond the haredi sphere.
First, any locality's chief rabbi that refuses to allow heter mehira produce to be sold should be dismissed. The state has no business paying these rabbis' salaries.
Second, it would be wise if a movement could be started to boycott all haredi-endorsed produce and food. What they try to do to us should be done to them, but legally and in spades.
I believe "Efrati's Kashrut Le'mehadrin" is run by Rabbi Efrati, haredi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv's right-hand man.
Rabbi Metzger was backed for election as chief rabbi by Rabbi Elyashiv, despite Rabbi Metzger's previous ethical lapses, the then last of which found Metzger before a Rabbinate panel of three senior rabbinic judges charged with extorting money from people as he was performing their weddings. (He was also accused of sexual harassment of both women and men.)
Rabbi Metzger threatened to sue the Rabbinate in civil court and the panel backed down, accepting Rabbi Metzger's promise not to run for chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. Later, Metger declared his candidacy for Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel and received the backing of Rabbi Elyashiv.
Haredi spokesman Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum told me then that Rabbi Elyashiv was "fully aware" of Rabbi Metzger's ethical and legal problems including the judgment against Rabbi Metzger by the Rabbinate's panel of judges and the allegations of sexual harassment, but said that Rabbi Elyshiv chose to back Rabbi Metzger anyway to "return the glory" to the chief rabbinate.
Of course, what Rabbi Elyashiv really wanted was the weakest candidate that he could propel into office. That would weaken the Rabbinate and, at the same time, put it under Rabbi Elyashiv's control.
So haredim under the leadership of Rabbi Elyashiv are inflicting their stringencies non-haredim. At the same time, their actions may very well bankrupt Israel's farmers.
Rabbi Elyashiv does this in the name of Torah but, make no mistake about it – it is political power and the money that comes with it Rabbi Elyashiv seeks.
Many religious leaders are misguided. Some, as you know, are criminals who parade in the clothing of saints. But I think few religious leaders are truly evil. However, Rabbi Elyashiv is, in my eyes, one of those truly evil men.