Monday, 17 September 2007

Another Shemittah Year, Another Headache

Originally published 9/17/07, 12:43 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
"Garnel Ironheart"
(Garnel Ironheart is a the mythical hero from "The Unending War Trilogy" [see] and the pseudonym for a new addition to those posting on the Nishma Blog.)

Rosh HaShanah 5768 is the start of another Shmittah year in Eretz Yisrael with all the regulations and restrictions that implies. Every seven years the Yishuv prepares for this holy time by engaging in the traditional Jewish practice of --- in-fighting.

In the case of the Shmittah year, it surrounds the question of whether to observe the Heter Mechirah, OR whether to reject this understanding of the halacha and follow the traditional restrictions of the halachah on agricultural work in all its fullness. The Heter Mechirah is a process in which Jewish-owned land in Israel is sold to a non-Jew (something like Mechiras Chometz on Pesach) thereby permitting Jews to work the land during the Shemittah year.  Naturally, disputes like this bring out the worst in us.
Two sides form every seven years. On one side are those who strictly oppose the use of the Heter Mechirah but also represent, basically, a community far removed from the world of agriculture. On the other side are people who actually farm for a living and their supporters. They feel that not relying on the Heter would result in financial hardships they would not be able to overcome.

This Shemittah year has been no exception. In recent days, the Israeli newspapers have been carrying stories of the conflict between the two sides. First was the announcement ( that the anti-Heter leadership, through its proxies in the national and regional branches of the Rabbinate, have forbidden any of their rabbonim from giving a kashrut certificate to an institution or business that uses Heter Mechirah produce. Then the other side decided to use the national court system and even the Attorney General stepped into the fray [Link to Jerusalem Post Article] . It's a safe bet that neither side invited the other over for dinner on Shabbos Shuvah.

Now, I'll admit my bias up front - I personally am not convinced by the arguments for the Heter Mechirah's validity and therefore, personally, don't recognize it. On the other hand, I'm not an Israeli business or farmer who faces bankruptcy in the coming year if I can't rely on it. Of course, such a concern cannot affect a psak but it can affect our motivations and sensitivities in regards to a psak.

However, I have determined that there is a perfect compromise to be made. Mostly, this problem between the two sides revolves around money. The farmers and business stand to lose a lot of gelt if the Heter Mechirah is banned. I happen to know where there's a lot of money to be had.
Here's my suggestion. Every year Israel spends tens of millions of shekels (if not more) paying able-bodied individuals to sit around and read books all day. The response to this government initiative has been less than grateful. In fact, I'm not aware of any of these individuals showing any heker panim at all.
So I would suggest to the Israeli government: Take every last shekel in the budget meant for this sector and hand it out to the people who stand to lose everything from the banning of the Heter Mechirah. That's right, now the farmer can afford to take the year off, maybe also read a couple of books (isn't one of the reasons for Shemittah to allow time to learn?). And the restaurateur? Why, he can use the "grant money" to pay for imported fruits and vegetables.
What about those who are now not going to get any money? I'm not worried about them. After all, they're the ones who always say "God will provide." Isn't that there argument in regard to the Heter Shmittah, as well?


Nikol said...

That's all fine. What, however, do you think about Obadiah Shoher's criticism pf Rosh Hashanah as aholiday that has nothing to do with New Year? Here, for example

Garnel Ironheart said...

Okay, that post has plenty of problems. For one thing, Obadiah Shoher is obviously working with an agenda. He's decided that the answer ot his question and is ignoring those facts that get in the way.
For example, the idea that our Sages moved Rosh HaShanah to the fall from spring is absurd. The Torah says that Nissan is the first of months, not years. Secondly, the Torah clearly describes a holiday on the first day of the seventh month. It's not called a New Year, but then, Rosh HaShanah means the head, or the prime part of the year because it leads into Yom Kippur. The concept of calling it a New Year is simply one that has evolved from our immersion in Christian culture.
As for customs, as long as people remember the underlying meaning of the holiday, what's wrong iwth adding a little colour to the celebration? It's only when the customs take over (I forgot to do Tashlich and now God won't forgive me!) that they become a problem.
May we all have a level headed year!

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

I used to think that Autumn had zero Torah Basis for Rosh haShana. However, the Torah itself describes "Hag ha'Asif" tekufat Hashana" meaning the harvest festival [Sukkot] is at the turn of the year. A very strong HINT that this is season "turns" the year.

Plus the 10th of Tishre is the New Year for Yovel/Jubillee.

An interesting spin on the davening is that the world was created in Spring and that Tishe is "hayom Harat Olam" the date that the world was CONCEIVED and not created. [i.e a seven month baby!]

But I have another spin. In the Northern hemisphere the world comes alive during Spring hinting at a spring creation. However, I believe Adam Harishon ws created during Tishre and it is following ADAM that Seder Olam bases his calendrical calculations!

Think about it the dating of 5768 is NOT based upon physical creation per se, but 930 years after Adam's death. If you choose to see the six days of Creation as non-literal, allegorical or metaphorical, etc. then it makes sense to see that there is a DUAL creation:
1) the big bang of the universe
2) The Creation of Man and therefore Relgion

Also if SPRING is indeed the beginning of Creatin we MUST remeber that there are TWO of them and that Tishre is the SPRING of the Southern Hemisphere! The rabbis were cognizant that there NEVER was one single NEW YEAR.

In Canada, the secular/Christian year is Jan. 1st, but CANADA's New year is exactly 6 months later on July 1st beacause that marks the anniversary of Confedration!

Simlarly, Tishre is the secular/universal New Year for Jews but Passover [Nissan] is our SECTARIAN new year because we then formed a peoplehood A confederation of 12 tribes!