Thursday, November 01, 2007

More on Shemitah and the Chief Rabbinate

R. Avi Shafran asks (link):

So what’s with all the negative press? Good question.

This year, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate declared that while it still did not oppose reliance on the heter mechira, it was, for the first time, permitting municipal rabbis in Israel’s towns and cities, when issuing kashrus certifications, to decide for their localities whether to rely on that fall-back standard or opt for the original one.

From the reaction, one might think that the Chief Rabbis had declared an extra year of Shmitta rather than simply taken a pluralistic stance on religious standards. Israel’s agriculture minister, Shalom Simhon, thundered a threat to forbid imports from Arab-owned land (which meet the higher Shmittah standard). Media like the Jewish Week misleadingly described the new policy as some sort of prohibition. Even in cities where the municipal rabbi has not granted kosher certification for heter mechira produce, nothing prevents a vendor from selling such produce (sans a Rabbinate kashrus-sticker) – which will surely be less expensive than the rabbinically-sanctioned fruits and vegetables.
These are good questions. Here are some of the answers that, to a degree, undermine his attempt at apologetics.

1. Any posek, particularly one that serves in a role of ruling for an entire country, needs to take into account the impact of a ruling. The result of this ruling of the government is three-fold: 1) many produce sellers abandoned all attempt to observe shemitah (and kashrus!) in any way, 2) there will simply be grossly insufficient produce that is halakhically permitted to feed the country and therefore there will be rampant non-observance of shemitah, and 3) the high price of shemitah-permissible food will lead large amounts of "traditional" Jews to purchase forbidden produce.

2. The Israeli Rabbinate includes many leniencies in its kashrus policies that allow for broad availability of kosher food to the broad public. This leads to the very common occurrence of local rabbis certifying as kosher food that they personally will not eat and that they believe is only permissible according to certain opinions. Doing the same for heter mekhirah is no more an infringement on their rights than any of these other lenient rulings.

3. Produce sold under a heter mekhirah requires rabbinc supervision for consumers to be assured that the food is permissible. Rabbi Shafran's suggestion that a vendor sell heter mekhirah produce without a hekhsher is infeasible.

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