Farmers outraged by rabbi's annulment of 'heter mechira'
Herzliya's chief rabbi decides to grant kashrut certificate only to hotels and restaurants that buy imported fruits and vegetables during shmita year. High Court petition against decision claims move deals terrible blow to business owners, farmers
Herzliya's chief rabbi has decided to ban the "heter mechira" practice in the town, a move which local restaurateurs say could destroy their livelihood. The rabbi's decision will be brought before the High Court in the coming days, following a petition against the rabbi and the Chief Rabbinate on the issue.
Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakobovitch announced that hotels and restaurants in the city would have to use imported fruits and vegetables during the shmita year if they wished to receive a kashrut certificate. This new decision could double the expenses of business owners and threatens to seriously harm Israeli farmers.
"Heter mechira" is the practice of selling Israeli farmland to a non-Jew to avoid the prohibition of working the land in Israel during the shmita year (sabbatical year), in which the land must remain uncultivated. The "heter" is a controversial halachic solution, which most haredim reject, preferring to buy produce from Arab farmers or from abroad instead.
The Chief Rabbinate recently agreed to allow local chief rabbis to set their own policy regarding the use of "heter mechira" ahead of the coming shmita year.
'Decision could ruin businesses'The High Court petition was filed by Eli Yisraeli, CEO of Asif, a company that distributes fruits and vegetables. Yisraeli claimed that Rabbi Yaakobovitch's "arbitrary decision" forced on restaurateurs and their clients strict kashrut (as opposed to regular kashrut), which they do not want, and at a high cost. He explained that imported produce could cost up to twice as much as local produce, a fact which may lead to the financial collapse of many businesses.
Yisraeli added that the chief rabbis of other cities, including Jerusalem, Netanya, Raanana and Rehovot, were contemplating such a move, but were waiting for the High Court's ruling on the matter.
Raabi Yaakobovitch claimed in response that "heter mechira" has been banned by many rabbis in the past, and that the Chief Rabbinate's decision enabled him to determine his own policy on the issue.