The Israel Farmers Association threatened to refuse to sell produce to the IDF until the IDF clearly explains its new policy on observance of shmita, the biblically ordained sabbatical year in which all land in Israel is supposed to law fallow.
Israel Farmers Association Threatens To Refuse To Sell To IDF Over Haredi Shmita Accommodation
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The Israel Farmers Association threatened to refuse to sell produce to the IDF until the IDF clearly explains its new policy on observance of shmita, the biblically ordained sabbatical year in which all land in Israel is supposed to law fallow, the Times of Israel reported.
The IDF decided to use imported and hydroponic produce for the first half of the shmita year to comply with the strictest haredi understanding of shmita law rather than rely on produce grown in Israel by Israeli farmers who rely on heter mechira, a rabbinic legal fiction in which the land is “sold” to a non-Jew for the duration of the sabbatical year in a pro forma sale, much as hametz (leaven) is “sold” to non-Jews in pro-forma sales just before Passover, and the way debts that are supposed to voided by the sabbatical year are instead “sold” to a beit din (Orthodox rabbinical court), which then collects the debts from borrowers and gives the collected money to the original lenders.
Haredi rabbinic leaders accept and use the latter two rabbinic fictions but reject heter mechira.
The number of actual haredim in the IDF is very tiny, and Israeli farmers argue that the IDF should buy those haredi soldiers special meals for the duration of the shmita year rather than deprive Israeli farmers of produce sales to the IDF for the entire year.
Farmers Association president Dov Amitai reportedly said the IDF’s promise to buy local produce from mid-year onward was insufficient. He threatened to organize all Israeli farmers to boycott the IDF until it explains its six month on, six month off policy. Amitai also asked Minister of Agriculture Yair Shamir to call an emergency meeting on the IDF’s decision to buy imported produce and he also asked him to block the import of produce meant for the IDF.
Amitai also reportedly said that hotels had received unspecified “requests” to use imported produce, something Amitai is afraid will grow to include other industries, as well, and could cripple Israeli farmers.
The IDF previously claimed that its move to imported and hydroponic produce was a decision made by its Orthodox rabbinate because of the “5,000” haredi soldiers currently serving in the IDF – a number that is by many independent estimates inflated by something like 400%.
“The population of the IDF is diverse, including over 5,000 haredi soldiers, who do not recognize the heter mechira during the sabbatical year. In order to preserve the unity of the camp, and to allow the entire IDF population to eat in a single kitchen, and in order to attain the national goal of drafting haredim into the IDF…the army rabbinate has decided to avoid procuring vegetables [grown under] the heter mechira for the first half of the sabbatical year, until the end of February 2015,” the IDF reportedly said in a prepared statement, adding that during the first half of the shmita year, most of the IDF’s produce would come from the Arava Desert in southern Israel, an area that lies outside the biblical boundaries of the Land of Israel and which is therefore exempt from shmita law, and from storage produce like potatoes and apples.
“Only in the event of scarcity will there be a limited purchase of non-Jewish or imported goods,” the IDF insisted, noting that from March onward, it will buy heter mechira produce and haredi soldiers will be given catered meals.
It is this half-year on, half-year off policy, which appears to satisfy no halakhic (Orthodox rabbinic legal) opinions, the Farmers Association is demanding the IDF fully and completely explain – something the IDF and its rabbis have so far refused to do.