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Saturday, September 20, 2014 

IDF angers farmers by partly adhering to Haredi view of shmitta custom

The army's taken up a decision that's offended farmers, who, unlike various Haredis, have served in the IDF:
The Israeli army, in a precedent-setting decision, has decided to partially adhere to an ultra-Orthodox interpretation of the laws governing the upcoming agricultural sabbatical year, raising the ire of Israeli farmers.

“The Defense Ministry and the army have declared war on Israeli agriculture,” the Israel Farmers Union Chairman Meir Zur wrote Thursday in a statement.

The conflict revolves around the biblical prohibition against tilling the land and cultivating crops during the sabbatical year, which occurs every seven years.

The shmita year’s mandate to let the land lie fallow is relevant only to Jewish-owned tracts in Israel. Thus, it remained dormant for millennia until the dawn of Zionism and the rise of agriculture in the Holy Land.

In 1889, shortly after the first wave of Jewish immigration to Israel, Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spektor of Kovno issued a heter mehira, a religious ruling allowing Jews in Israel to sell their land to a non-Jew for the duration of the sabbatical year, while retaining the right to work it and reap the fruits of the land.

That ruling was upheld by Israel’s first chief rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, and has since been adopted by the State Rabbinate, but remains a source of contention between the Zionist and ultra-Orthodox camps in Israel.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders note that Rabbi Spektor of Kovno, in first authorizing the exemption, wrote, “It must be explicitly stated that this exemption is only for the year 5649 (1889) but not for future shmita years… Then further meditation will be necessary…”

At the time, Jews in Israel were in constant danger of starvation and disease.

Zionist leaders, both religious and secular, assert that while the ultra-Orthodox world unquestioningly embraces a 2,000-year-old ruling known as the prozbul, nullifying the laws of debt remittance during the sabbatical year — a commandment that is very relevant to the urban population — it frowns upon the agricultural exemption.
It's very stupid that they should be agreeing to this concept since it's bound to offer exemptions that are better avoided. They'd do better to back off of it.

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