By now you know that haredi rabbis have tried to stop the sale of Jewish-farmed produce raised during the shmita (sabbatical) year using the pro forma land sale known as heter mechira, and that they have done so using thuggish tactics.
Now comes word that, for the first time since the founding of the State, the ceremonial sale of land was not conducted by Israel's chief rabbis or by the Rabbinate, and the ceremonial sale was for the first time not hosted in the Rabbinate's offices.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the highly influential Sephardi rabbi, publicly backed a controversial land sale of 2 million dunams Tuesday to meet the religious law of shmita, obliging farmers to let land lie fallow for a year…
Yosef, former Sephardi chief rabbi and spiritual leader of the Shas party, hosted in his Jerusalem home the symbolic sale of 2 million dunams (approximately 500,000 acres) of Jewish-owned land to an Arab man from Abu Gosh near the capital.
The chief Ashkenazi rabbis - headed by the leader of Israel's Lithuanian non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox community, Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv - are opposed to the practice of symbolic land sale. The detractors regard the symbolic sale as a way of dodging religious obligations. The Ashkenazi rabbinical establishment is therefore attempting to deny farmers who participate in such a sale kashrut certificates for their produce.
Eliashiv's followers are also lobbying Israel's chief rabbis to oppose the symbolic land sale. If they succeed, Israel might experience a severe shortage in locally produced kosher produce, costing farmers untold sums of money.
Ovadia Yosef's son, Rabbi Avraham Yosef, who attended the bill of sale's signing, told Haaretz that his father had "saved the country" by sanctioning the sale. However, Ovadia Yosef did not attend the actual signing.
The discontent over the symbolic sale resulted in its being conducted for the first time since the founding of the state outside the Chief Rabbinate Council's offices. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar were not present at the signing.…
The affair has also reached the High Court of Justice. Last week, the court demanded the Chief Rabbinate Council find a solution that will allow farmers to keep on cultivating land without losing their kashrut certification.
Of course, Rabbi Metzger is a puppet of Rabbi Elyashiv. Rabbi Amar, the Sefardic Chief Rabbi, is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's successor-designate to lead the Shas political party Rabbi Yosef founded.
Why didn't Rabbi Yosef attend the sale? I'm sure there could be many reasons (and many may be given) but I think the most likely is that Rabbi Yosef wanted to both "save" heter mechira and, at the same time, keep Rabbi Elyashiv's forces calm and at bay.
Rabbi Yosef's absence can be viewed as a lukewarm endorsement of heter mechira while, at the same time, his chosen successor's refusal to host the ceremony in his office at the Chief Rabbinate can been seen as saying that, next time shmita comes around, Shas will oppose, not support, heter mechira.
The long-term answer to problems created by a State religion and it's apparatus is to erect a complete wall of separation between synagogue and state. Let citizens freely choose what level, if any, of shmita or kashrut or Judaism in general they keep. Let them make those choices free from coercion in an open marketplace. Take religion out of politics. That would truly save Israel.