Rabbi Chaim Jachter doesn’t want the shmitta year to turn into a boycott of Israeli fruit and produce.
Rabbi Jachter leads Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also heads the bible department at the Torah Academy of Bergen County. And as the author of three volumes tracing the halachic discussions of various issues, he may be the area’s most published writer on Jewish law.
“My opinion is to rely on the heter mechira” – the process by which the Israeli rabbinate permits agriculture during the shmitta year by selling the land of Israel to a Gentile, much as chametz is sold before Passover.
He has advice for consumers in New Jersey who want to observe the laws of shmitta when they shop. When they buy packaged goods made in Israel, he said, there is no need to worry about eating produce from the shmitta year that might have been grown improperly. Kashrut agencies such as the Orthodox Union “take care of that for you,” he said.
The Orthodox Union, for its part, does not rely on the heter.
“All OU-certified products use either pre-shmitta produce, produce grown outside the halachic boundaries of Israel, or produce grown by non-Jews,” according to an article in the organization’s Jewish Action magazine.
Rabbi Jachter said that the OU is following the lead of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik – and the charedi world – in rejecting the heter.
But though Rabbi Jachter was ordained at Yeshiva University, where Rabbi Soloveitchik taught, he said he preferred the view of “Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who ruled that one who wants to can rely on the heter,” he said. “I would think you should follow Ovadia Yosef’s opinion at a time when you should be supporting Israel.
“I know it’s very controversial, but Jews should always be supporting the Israeli economy.”
Those who don’t rely on the heter mechira will not be able to eat produce exported from Israel that was grown during the shmitta year.
“If religious Jews are going to boycott Israeli produce, people in Costco are going to see that Israeli produce is not selling,” Rabbi Jachter said. “That’s terrible. We should go out of our way to buy Israeli produce. If our great-grandparents had had the opportunity to buy Israeli produce in their markets, they would have gone crazy. For the mitzvah of supporting the Israeli economy and our brothers and sisters who are in Israel, and especially after this past summer, you can rely on the heter.”
However, he said, Israeli produce from the shmitta year – which would could include fruit that was harvested after next year, but blossomed this year – has a special sanctity that requires special care.
It must be eaten, not discarded. Which means to eat it all – something our great-grandparents would have understood.
“If there are any leftovers of Israeli produce, put them in a plastic bag and let them rot,” he said. Once it spoiled, shmitta produce loses its sanctity and can be thrown away.