The controversy against the ‘heter mechira’ as an expression of opposition to Zionism and secularism * The opposition of the Chazon Ish to the ‘heter’, and his claim that the sale falls under the category of ‘shlichut l’davar aveira’ * The Chazon Ish’s claim dishonors rabbis who disagree with it, completely invalidating their opinions * The severe affront of Haredi fanatics and rebels has caused distortions within Haredi society, and led to the fear of eminent rabbis to express their views * Those who hold that it is forbidden to eat heter mechira fruits lump one chumra speculation onto another, thus damaging the honor of the Gedolei Yisrael who were in favor of the ‘heter’
Last week I wrote about the history of the heter mechira, as was implemented by the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis). I also mentioned that from the beginning of the second generation, the defining characteristic of the opponents to the heter was their antipathy to the Yishuv HaChadash, and their emphatic disapproval of the Zionist movement which, in the meantime, had been founded in 5657 (1897), and whose leaders and activists were predominantly non-observant.
Without such an explanation it is difficult to understand the reason for their strong opposition to the heter, seeing as according to halakha it is extremely well-founded – much more so than similar heters which all observant Jews rely on.
For in the opinion of an important group of eminent Rishonim (among them Ra’za, Raavad, Nimukei Yosef, Meiri, and others), there is no obligation to keep shmitta in our times. And even according to those poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who believe shmitta is obligatory, they agree that the obligation is merely of rabbinic status (except for a few Achronim, whose reasoning is problematic).
In addition to this, there is a genuine doubt as to when shmitta actually occurs: According to the opinions of Rashi, Rosh, and Tur, the Sabbatical year was in 5774 (2014); according to Raavad it was in 5772 (2012); and according to our custom, which follows the opinion of the Geonim – 5775 (2015). This safek (doubt) is so significant that Mahari Engel wrote that because of it, shmitta could have been cancelled entirely, because each possible year could be annulled by the two additional possibilities (Otzarot Yosef, Shevi’it, pg.96).
Indeed, upon analyzing the heter mechira, it tends to be a chumra (an obligation that exceeds the bare requirement of halakha) compared to what is customary in similar cases of sha’at dachak (times of distress).
The only explanation for the fierce Haredi opposition to the heter is that the machloket (controversy) against the Zionist movement kilkala et shurat ha’din (defied the rules of proper debate), to the point where they ignored all the well-founded sources of the heter, while assembling all the possible chumra arguments.
The Heter in the Third Generation
In the third generation of the new settlements in Eretz Yisrael, the Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Herzog and the Rishon L’Tzion Rabbi Uziel, along with Rabbi Frank, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and most of the city and community rabbis in the country, implemented the heter mechira.
In contrast, the opponents were led by the Chazon Ish, who immigrated to Israel in the year 5693 (1933). It should be noted that unlike the rest of the opponents of the heter, the Chazon Ish demonstrated responsibility and concern for the religious farmers, made an effort to guide them, and even introduced extreme kulot (leniencies) in the laws of shmitta so they could manage without the heter mechira. However, similar to the other machmirim, he also opposed the Zionist movement. It must also be pointed out that, regrettably, in his opposition to the heter, he raised the dispute to a grave level.
The Argument about the Validity of the Heter from the Prohibition of “Lo Techanem”
One of the central claims of the Chazon Ish is that, since it is forbidden to sell land to a non-Jew in Eretz Yisrael because of the prohibition “lo techanem” (‘do not give them any consideration’, which may be rendered ‘do not give them a resting place in the land’), when farmers appoint rabbis as agents to sell the land, the rabbis become ‘shlichim l’davar aveira‘ (agents for a prohibition), and as such, their actions are invalid because their shlichut is void, for we have the principle “ain shaliach l’davar aveira” (there is no agency for prohibitions) (Chazon Ish, Shevi’it 24:4).
Of course, the rabbis in favor of the heter had a convincing answer, for the prohibition of “lo techanem” is designed to strengthen Israel’s presence in the land, as the verse says: “When God your Lord brings you to the land you are entering, so that you can occupy it, He will uproot many nations before you…When God your Lord places them at your disposal and you defeat them, you must utterly destroy them, not making any treaty with them or giving them any consideration“(Deuteronomy 7:1-2). If so, when selling the land is for a limited time and is intended to strengthen Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael, there is absolutely no prohibition (Yeshu’ot Malko, Y.D. 55; Aderet; Avnei Nezer, Y.D. 458).
Moreover, even if the mechira was needless for the strengthening of settling the land, the Rishonim explained that l’chatchila (from the outset), the prohibition of “lo techanem” only applies to a permanent sale, or at the very least when the non-Jew intends to act as the ba’al ha’bayit (owner) for a certain amount of time; but when the sale is for a limited amount of time and the non-Jew has no intention of acting as the ba’al ha’bayit, there is no prohibition of “lo techanem” (Ramban, and Chinuch 339, and so can be understood from the Rambam, Laws of Avoda Zara, 10:3-4).
The Difficult Argument against the Chazon Ish
Thus, in the opinion of the Gedolei poskim (eminent Jewish law arbiters), the rabbis conducting the mechira are fulfilling a mitzvah by assisting farmers settling the land. This being the case, even those who disagree with them cannot claim they are sinners – just as Sephardic Jews who follow the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch and refrain from warming-up soup on Shabbat cannot claim that Yemenite Jews who follow the Rambam and do warm-up soup, are sinners.
The claim of the Chazon Ish, therefore, is a huge insult to the Gedolei rabbanim (eminent rabbis) of Eretz Yisrael. Not only did he disagree with them, although they were the local rabbinic authorities and greater than him in wisdom, public responsibility and understanding of the situation – he went even further, claiming that their opinion counts for nothing, to the point where those following them are considered as having sinned.
The Harsh Consequences
Unfortunately, as a result of such severe and harsh positions against the Gedolei rabbanim, for three generations rabbis from the Haredi community have been afraid to clarify major issues appropriately. They fear that if they express an opinion that does not see eye-to-eye with the machmirim and the fanatics who support them, all of their opinions will be disqualified, and they will be denunciated and driven out of the camp, as being instigators and accomplices to sinful acts.
In this manner, Haredi society has deviated from the path of Torah in a number of issues, to the point where many of them have become used to degrading Gedolei rabbanim, such as Maran HaRav Kook and his students, despite the fact that in private, many of their Gedolei rabbanim oppose it. In a similar fashion, many of them became inclined to abolish the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), about which our Sages said it is equal to all the mitzvot, and many of them dare to publicly deny the great mitzvah the soldiers fulfill by defending the people and the country. They have even invented new prohibitions against secular studies and Sherut Leumi (national service), and various other chumrot that deviate from the letter of Jewish law. And in all of these issues there are numerous Haredi rabbis who privately oppose, but they do not clarify their views openly due to the risk of being attacked by the ba’alei machloket (‘masters of dissension’).
However, in regards to the Chazon Ish, there is room for a bit of limud zechut (benefit of the doubt), for he was extremely tenacious in nature, and everything he derived from his studies he wrote, paying no heed to those greater than himself. Furthermore, the Chazon Ish displayed particular honor to Rav Kook, by addressing him as, “his honor, Maran, shlita“.
A similar type of limud zechut can be given to the Ridbaz, one of the fiercest opponents of the heter, who by nature was fervent and impassioned and compelled by the fire of Torah that burned within him, and often expressed regret that he humiliated Rav Kook. For example, when a certain rabbi started to consider himself the Rabbi of Jaffa, while undermining the authority Rav Kook, the Ridbaz wrote that it was an act of villainy, “because it is ludicrous to think that a wingless fly can wage war against the Great Eagle, whose name is famous in the entire world…”
However, it is difficult to give benefit of the doubt to all those Haredi rabbis who are of normal character, and nevertheless, negated the opinion of the Gedolei rabbanim entirely. And certainly, limud zechut cannot be given to those who went further, adding obscenities and humiliation against the rabbis in favor of the heter, who were greater Torah scholars and more righteous than they were.
Those Who Boycott Heter Fruits
The continuation of their sin is that they boycott the fruits grown under the framework of the heter mechira. For in addition to their position being based on the sin of contempt for Torah scholars of the most severe level, it also runs contrary to the fundamental rules of halakha, for we know a dispute exists whether it is permissible to eat fruits that were grown and saved in a prohibited manner in the shmitta year. According to most poskim, fruits grown by means of work prohibited in the shmitta year are permitted to be eaten (R”Sh, Ramban, Rashba). The same holds true for shmitta fruits that were saved in a prohibited manner and not made hefker (abandoned) – according to most poskim, they are permitted to be eaten (Rambam). And although there are poskim who disagree and prohibit the fruit, since the opinion of the majority of poskim is to be maykel (lenient), and additionally, shmitta in our times is of rabbinic status – the halakha goes according to the lenient opinion – kal v’chomer (all the more so) when there are opinions that there is no obligation at all to keep shmitta nowadays, and there is also a doubt about when the shmitta year actually is.
Thus, the machmirim pasken contrary to the rules of halakha, kal v’chomer when the farmers are not working in a prohibited manner, but rather according to the rulings of the leading rabbis; therefore there is no room whatsoever to claim that the fruits are forbidden because they were grown b’issur (in a prohibited manner).
Crops of the Field
Indeed, some poskim argue that concerning crops grown in the field there is a special prohibition, because our Sages decreed that sifichim (grasses and vegetables that grew on their own accord in the Sabbatical year), are forbidden to be eaten, kal v’chomer is it forbidden to eat vegetables that were grown b’issur. All this would be true if the farmers planted the seeds without a heter, but since they planted the seeds according to the instruction of rabbis, there is no prohibition to eat the vegetables. And even those who disagree with the heter must agree with this, since the entire gezeira (decree) of sifichim is a rabbinic prohibition in order to prevent an issur, and therefore, when the farmers acted according to the directives of rabbis – there is no room to prohibit the crops.
Some argue that just as it is forbidden to buy fruit from those who are suspected of working in the Sabbatical year, in order not to l’sayea l’dvar aveira (assist a transgression), it is likewise forbidden to buy fruits grown under the framework of the heter mechira. However, since the farmers work according to a heter of the rabbis, there is no transgression in their actions whatsoever. And those who claim it is forbidden to assist them, completely annul the words of the rabbis who permit it, and transgress the severe prohibition of bizuy Talmedei Chachamim (contempt of Torah scholars), and asi’at machloket (causing a dispute).
The Sin of the Boycotters
Thus, those who believe that it is forbidden to eat fruits grown in the framework of the heter mechira, lump one sevara (speculation) onto another l’chumra (to be stringent), in contradiction to the rules of halakha. In addition, they undermine the honor of the Gedolei Yisrael who implemented the heter in accordance with the opinion of the majority of poskim, so as to assist the holy Jews returning to their Land.
This argument is not directed towards those who have studied the issue and concluded that it was not proper to employ the heter mechira, and therefore, they prefer to avoid eating fruits grown under the heter – provided they do so as a personal minhag chassidut (a desire to fulfill the mitzvah according to all opinions), and instruct the public at large that according to the letter of the law, it is permitted to eat fruits grown under the heter (as explained in Ma’adenei Eretz Shevi’it, 159:2).
This argument is directed against those who claim that heter fruits are forbidden to be eaten by one and all, and that one should not eat at the home of someone who relies on the heter, nor should one trust hechshers that rely on the heter mechira, and should even boycott public or family events because of this. Such people transgress the sin of bizuy Gedolei Yisrael (contempt for eminent Torah scholars), and raise their hand against the sanctity of Clal Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. And anyone who lends a hand to this boycott is partner to their sin.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/