The haredi move to force non-haredim to use Arab-produced or imported vegetables for the shmita year – the year of release where the land is to lie fallow and unworked that begins Wednesday evening – rather than use Israeli produce grown using the pro forma sale of land to non-Jews, heter mechira, has reached a new level of silliness.
Israel's Supreme Court is about to rule on the haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate's move to allow local city rabbis, who are on the government payroll no less, to ban heter mechira produce from their cities and to refuse to grant kosher supervision to vendors selling heter mechira produce – even if they also sell so-called "mehadrin" produce imported from abroad or purchased from Arabs. This will force all vendors to use only "mehadrin" produce and will wreak havoc in Israel's economy.
As this is about to take place, amid complaints of haredi coercion from across the political spectrum, a haredi rabbi explains what is wrong with the rest of us:
"It's not religious coercion," said Shabatai Markovitz, a manager of Kashrut Le'mehadrin - a kosher supervision outfit under the rabbinic guidance of Rabbi Yosef Yekutiel Efrati, who is himself a disciple of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the most respected rabbinic authority for Lithuanian haredi Jewry.
"We just want the land of Israel to rest in the shmita year, because that is what God wants," Markovitz said Sunday. "If some hotshot economist were to come along and tell secular Israelis that abiding by the rules of shmita would make the economy flourish, they would listen. So why is it that when God says so, they don't?"
Rabbi Markovitz knows very well that we possess hametz every year and do so by a pro forma sale of the leaven to non-Jews. He also knows that we collect debts during and after the sabbatical year even though the debts are biblically waived and are biblically forbidden to collect. Yet we do so using a pruzbul, a pro forma transference of one's debts to the local beit din (religious court) which, as an entity rather than a person, is allowed to hold and collect debt during and after the sabbatical year. Who instituted this? Hillel the Elder, no less.
Yet haredim – who contribute little to Israel's economy and who are a tremendous drain on its welfare and other resources, and who do not serve in the army – want to force Israel to comply with the strictest interpretation of shmita law.
Israeli farmers estimate their loss will be NIS 700 million if this haredi madness is not stopped. That works out to about $170 million US dollars. If adjusted for population size, this would be the equivalent of the US economy losing $8.5 trillion dollars.
Haredim ask us to rely on a miracle. I think it's time we asked haredim to rely on themselves.