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Friday, December 19, 2014

On The Mitzvah of Shmita

On The Mitzvah of Shmita


This, week, I respond to a Talmid in Eretz Yisroel who strives to shed light on one of the key Halachic Inyunim of the day.

Tzioyn writes:

Rebbe - I saw this beautiful woman on the beach in Tel Aviv. I engaged her in a conversation about Torah subjects, and the topic of Shmita arose.

The woman was wearing a new cotton Gottex bikini, and since Gottex uses natural Israeli fibers, the material probably came from cotton grown with Kedushas Ha’aretz and therefore should not be used. I pleaded with her to take off her bikini, but she preferred to violate the laws of Shmita.

Rebbe, can you please validate my position on this topic so I can get a little action?

Your talmid

Zion in Tel Aviv

Reb Tzioyn, thank you for your brilliant and meaningful question that promises to shed light upon the dark, provide sustenance to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and display cleavage to the lustful.

Indeed, your shailah raises so many critical Halachic questions, I do not know where to start:
-- Shall I focus on the topic of Shmita, about which you are clearly an ignoramus?
-- Shall I address the notion of how to integrate Halacha with the modern world, you behaimah?
-- Or shall I contemplate why you are on the beach in Tel Aviv, while the rest of us are off studying Toirah or selling life insurance, you mechutziff?

Before I answer your question, there is something I would like to share with you: As I sit and write this Teshuvah, I am currently snacking on an apple. However, this is not just any apple from some Kibbutz run by pig eating Socialists, or even worse, hairy Communist rabbis. This apple was imported from a farm in Antarctica owned by a gentile, to avoid being oiver on the issur of eating Shviis, violating the laws of Shmita. Just to be on the safe side, the shaygitz also symbolically sold his land to a different goy. In addition, the farm was leased by the local Bais Din, and the farmer is being treated as a schlepper, being symbolically compensated at minimum wage to work his own land. In addition, once I finish eating the apple, I plan to stick my finger down my throat to force myself to puke. The apple, by the way, cost me $400.

All in all, it is a worthy price to pay in order to keep such a critical mitzvah.

Yes, Shmita is a core mitzvah that we must all go to great lengths to observe. It is a Mitzvah that has been practiced by Klal Yisroel since the days of Bayis Rishoyn and the kingdom of Shloimoi HaMelech, and our lives have certainly not changed much since then. It is troubling that many vilda chayas like you would find the topic of Shmita an opportunity for laytzonis. It is because of people like you that there is Sin’as Chinum, that the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed, and that the stock market is going down.

As we all know, the Toirah commands us to observe Shmita, a sabbatical year, when we are required to let the land lie fallow – we do not work the land, and we do not plant for the coming year. In addition, we are commanded to forgive all debts that were issued over the previous six years.

In a Mishnah in Shviis, there is a famous machloikess between Rebbe Yehoishua and Rebbe Yoichanan, two Tanaim who lived in late Second Temple times. According to Rebbe Yehoishua, Shmita produce should never be eaten, under any circumstances. He brings as proof a Gezairah Shavah -- the fact that the Toirah uses similar language for both Shmita and Yoim Kippur. Both are referred to as “Shabbas Shabbasoin”. Rebbe Yehoishua makes the link, stating, “just as one is required to starve all day on Yoim Kippur, one is required to starve all year of Shmita”. Adds Rebbe Yehoishua, Shmita is the Toirah’s natural diet plan. He even published the book “The Rebbe Yehoishua Diet Plan”, available wherever quality paperbacks are sold.

However, Rebbe Yoichanan holds farkhert. The Reboinoisheloilum wants us to give the land a rest, but certainly does not want us to suffer as a result. Consequently, we are sanctioned by Halacha to pick up the produce that has fallen on the ground, and to make the rest Hefker, available without charge to one’s friends, neighbors and the poor. However, Rebbe Yoichanan points out that you are still allowed to put some rules in place around the gathering of the produce, For examples, a landowner is allowed to insist that only hot, large breasted women with low cut dresses pick up the produce by bending forward, to remind the landowner that the Ikkar Mitzvah of Shmita is to express our faith in Hakadoshboruchhu that he will provide plentiful fertility and bountiful sustenance to all of Eretz Yisroel, “A Land Flowing with Milk and…”.

Even back in the time of the Mishnah, however, the basic notion of Shmita was not without its controversy. Rabban Shimoin Ben Gamliel insisted that Shmita no longer applied, and was to be replaced by taxes paid directly to the Nasi of Eretz Yisroel, made out to the “RASHBAG Discretionary Fund” or to cash. And Rabbi Tarfon insisted that Shmita be practiced by all married men in Klal Yisroel, whether or not they were land owners, by offering aging, white bearded rabbis with silly names the opportunity to sleep with their wives once every seven years.

After the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash and the emerging pre-eminence of the leadership of the Jewish community in Bavel, Chazal were confronted by a new set of questions: Does Shmita still apply? Should it also be relevant outside of Eretz Yisroel? What new strictures were required?

According to Rish Lakish, Shmita still applied, and was also incumbent upon people living outside of Eretz Yisroel. However, due to the challenge of dating the actual start of Shmita, in Chutz La’Aretz one was required to observe Shmita for two years instead of one. On this, RASHI points out that Rish Lakish was known throughout all of Babylon for having six anorexic daughters, and a wife who was willing to be mezaneh with even the filthiest of strangers in exchange for a piece of three month old kichel.

However, according to Rabbi Chiyah bar Abba, Shmita was no longer Dioraisa, a Biblical requirement, but was a DeRabbanan. In addition, it was only to be observed in Eretz Yisroel. As well, according to the RASHBA, Shmita is applicable only in areas where Klal Yisroel held territory during the Second Temple. Consequently, areas such as the Arava Valley and Eilat are not subject to the laws of Shmita. These areas are also exempt from kosher laws in general, and one may eat pork and shellfish there, especially Bain Hashmushois.

Of course, in our day, there is a raging dispute about how to apply the laws of Shmita in a modern state. The debate is between the followers of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor and HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Yankif Kook on one side, who hold that you can symbolically sell the land of Israel to a gentile, the so-called Heter Mechira, and between the followers of the Chazoin Ish, who oppose the Heter Mechira on principle.

Historically, Heter Mechira was the policy of the state, but with the Rabbanut’s slide into complete moral corruption… err… with the increasing trend towards Halachic stricture, there has been growing opposition to the Heter in ultra-Orthodox circles. Thankfully, there are a few other Halachically sanctioned options:

-- Oitzer Bais Din Option – A farmer may lease his farm to the Bais Din, a body that is immune to the requirements of Shmita. The Bais Din pays the farmer a minimal wage to work his own land after charging him a processing fee, and also charges the marketing, distribution and retail agents extra fees for their participation in the gevaldikka exploitation… err… innovation of Toirah requirements. The consumers of course pay four times as much for each item, which they are happy to do, you Am Ha’aretz, while the Bais Dins use their new found revenue to go on underage Tashmish HaMitah tours in Thailand.

-- Buying from a Gentile/ Importing Produce Option – According to most Halachic authorities, Goyim are not required to observe Shmita in Eretz Yisroel. And certainly, gentiles in Chutz La’Aretz are exempt. So what better way to celebrate Kidushas Ha’aretz than by buying produce from the Palestinians and the French. It’s Takkeh a Kiddush Hashem!

-- Tzedakah Option – Every option outside of Heter Mechira is bound to raise prices for the tax paying citizens… ummm… tax-exempt Yiddisheh residents of Eretz Yisroel. But thankfully, there is an extensive network set up to collect Tzedakah from all of Klal Yisroel to support the great works and sacrifices of our Gedoilei HaDor and their followers in Eretz Yisroel. The people in Brooklyn, Queens, Los Angeles, London, and Brussels are more than happy to increase their contributions, so that our brethren in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem can buy a cantaloupe grown by Shiite pygmies in Saudi Arabia for forty dollars. In fact, Rav Eliyushiv himself has declared that all Jews should have pushkas raising money for this cause installed in their bathrooms to guarantee long life and healthy bowel movements.

-- The Carlebach Option – This option stems back to the First Bais HaMikdash. Farmers are allowed to grow extra organic items, preserve them, and store them for the coming year. In addition to refrigeration, this method relies on freeze drying and smoking. The option is named after the late Rabbi Shloimoi Carlebach who, along with his followers, used to grow a double amount of his special herbs the year before Shmita, and store them in a safe place far away from sunlight, moisture, and the legal authorities.

-- The Kfar Chassidim Option – One innovative approach that has been suggested is that instead of selling its land, Eretz Yisroel should sell the ultra-Orthodox for the year. However, the representatives of the Goyisha governments have refused to comply because they are afraid that Israel won’t want to take the ultra-Orthodox back at the end of the year. In addition, the prospect of having the ultra-Orthodox disappear for a year threatens to bring the government down, since the government would not know how to manage the resulting budget surplus.

-- The Annapolis Option – One interesting option being explored is a political option, based on the majority position that holds that land owned by gentiles is not subject to Shmita. Just as a little land in the hands of the Goyim can yield edible produce exempt from Shviis, Kal V’Choimer, a lot of land in the hands of the Goyim will yield even more acceptable produce. This, of course, is different from the Hamas Option, which suggests that all the land should be in the hands of the Goyim, and the Ann Coulter Option, which suggests that we should all be Goyim.

In any case, Koolay Alma Loi Pligi, everybody agrees – that at the end of the year we will celebrate the conclusion of Shmita with the wonderful mitzvah of Hakhel. In this Mitzvah, the political leader of Klal Yisroel gets up and reads from the Toirah, a tradition that dates back to Shloimoi HaMelech himself (who found the time to engage in the Mitzvah despite his 700 wives and 300 concubines). Indeed, at the end of Shmita two Shmitois ago, the Nasi, President Moishe Katzav, read from the Toirah. Afterwards, he blew the shoifar. And immediately at the end of the ceremony, he went back to his official residence and got bl…errr… received Metzitza BiPeh from three members of his household staff. And now he is sitting in jail, possibly for the rest of his life, Imirtza Hashem.

Which goes to show that things haven’t changed all that much from the time of Shloimoi HaMelech after all.

Ah Gutten Shabbos und Ah Freilichen Yuntif, You Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess


Alter Cocker Jewish Atheist said...

You have a great sense of humor and encapsulate so much of Orthodox Judaism. Shemita almost certainly originates in Ancient Near East agricultural practices conflated with fertility cults. This is true for much of the Torah's rituals.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein said...

Thank you.

Yes very likely. So many of the Pentateuchal holidays are rooted in the agrarian calendar, specifically the Shalosh Regalim.

However, as with the Shalosh Regalim, ancient Israelite religion placed its own imprint on the custom, which was further modified and reinterpreted by later Jewish and rabbinic tradition. No to mention Chassidic tradition...

The beauty of Jewish tradition is how customs evolve; when they are stagnant, they become meaningless and anachronistic.

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