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Bnei-Netzarim - Israeli Farmers Observe shemitah _ With a Wink

Published on: October 26, 2014 10:04 AM
By: AP
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In this Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014 photo,  Gilad Fine, a religious Jewish farmer from Bnei Netzarim stands inside his greenhouse, between the southern tip of the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian border. Fine grows lettuce and kale using hydroponics on raised platforms to fulfill the biblical commandment to let his farmlands rest every seventh year. His greenhouse follows specific guidelines that certify the produce kosher for the sabbatical year called “shmita” in Hebrew, that began last month on the Jewish New Year, and extends through the fall of 2015. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)In this Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014 photo,  Gilad Fine, a religious Jewish farmer from Bnei Netzarim stands inside his greenhouse, between the southern tip of the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian border. Fine grows lettuce and kale using hydroponics on raised platforms to fulfill the biblical commandment to let his farmlands rest every seventh year. His greenhouse follows specific guidelines that certify the produce kosher for the sabbatical year called “shmita” in Hebrew, that began last month on the Jewish New Year, and extends through the fall of 2015. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Bnei-Netzarim, Israel - Every seven years, according to the Bible, Israeli farmers must give their lands a rest for a year.

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So how do modern-day growers reconcile the ancient spiritual practice with a need to feed the country’s 8 million mouths?

Most market their produce thanks to a clever workaround: they temporarily sold their farms, valued together at $33 billion, to a 25-year-old non-Jewish telemarketer named George.

“I own all those lands, and I don’t even own an apartment,” joked George Shtraykhman, an immigrant from St. Petersburg, Russia.

The seventh-year sabbatical, called “shmita” in Hebrew, began last month on the Jewish New Year, and extends through the fall of 2015.

Though only a minority of the Israeli population abides by strict Jewish religious law, nearly all Israeli Jewish farmers choose to follow the biblical directive, in part so they don’t lose their Orthodox customers’ business.

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, who helped write the government’s detailed how-to pamphlets for farmers and gardeners, said the practice serves as a spiritual reminder.

“We are not owners of the land. There is a master of the universe,” Ariel said.

Out of some 6,700 Jewish farmers in Israel, only about 50 ignored the religious rules, while only about 450 abandoned their farms altogether this year, said Efraim Antman of Israel’s Religious Services Ministry.

Most of the rest opted for George Shtraykhman.

They sold their farms to the government, and last month, over cookies and orange juice, the government sold the lands to Shtraykhman, turning the non-Jewish telemarketer into one of Israel’s biggest private landowners.

Technically, the yearlong sale is legally binding. In practice, it is symbolic. He didn’t even take home a copy of the contract.

Shtraykhman, who has Jewish roots, said he spent time in a religious seminary when he moved to Israel and considered formally converting to Judaism.

“In the end, I decided it wasn’t for me because I like cheeseburgers,” he said in jest, referring to Jewish dietary rules banning the mixture of dairy and meat, “and because not everyone needs to be Jewish. I can be a good person and that’s it.”

He maintained good ties with a rabbi from the seminary who introduced him to Israel’s chief rabbinate for the sale. He said he “paid” 2,000 shekels, or about $540, for the land, with money gifted to him by an official involved in the ceremony.

Some farmers employ another clever solution to avoid tilling the soil: they use hydroponics, growing produce not in soil but in nutrient-enhanced water.

Gilad Fine, 40, a skullcap-wearing farmer in the small desert community of Bnei Netzarim, grows organic romaine lettuce and kale in thin white troughs connected to an automated grid that circulates the enhanced water to feed the plants the nutrients they need.

His greenhouse follows specific guidelines that certify the produce kosher for the sabbatical year: the troughs are raised high and the ground is covered in dark tarp.

“There’s no relationship between the land and the root,” Fine said. “So we are keeping the shmita in a certain way, by not using the land.”

The most devout Jews do not accept these loopholes, preferring to import produce from abroad or from Palestinian farmers.

What eases the concerns of Fine’s most pious Jewish consumers is the fact that, despite the lengths he has gone to satisfy the biblical requirements, perhaps the biblical rules don’t fully apply to him.

His greenhouse is in a tumbleweed-swept corner of the country between the southern tip of the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian border.

According to religious tradition, it’s an area that was not under Jewish control 2,000 years ago during the time of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem - partially exempting it from the biblical law.



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Read Comments (7)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Oct 26, 2014 at 10:31 AM Kashrus pro Says:

Why would we expect shgutzim like the ones at associated depressed to understand even sightly understand simple halocha.
That being said, he SHOULD have a copy of the contract. When I arrange the sale of chometz at any of my companies owned by frei yiddin I make sure to stress OVER AND OVER that this is legally binding and they should take it seriously. Most often it's the goy taking it more seriously than the frei yid.

It is important to stress that one should only buy produce, or anything for that matter, from EY ONLY with reliable acceptable hashgocha.

2

 Oct 26, 2014 at 12:36 PM rebbe Says:

Before the rabunim tell farmers that heter mechirah is invalid they should stop watering and tending to their own gardens in their multi-million dollar homes across israel.

3

 Oct 26, 2014 at 12:42 PM rebbeofalltherebbes Says:

Reply to #1  
Kashrus pro Says:

Why would we expect shgutzim like the ones at associated depressed to understand even sightly understand simple halocha.
That being said, he SHOULD have a copy of the contract. When I arrange the sale of chometz at any of my companies owned by frei yiddin I make sure to stress OVER AND OVER that this is legally binding and they should take it seriously. Most often it's the goy taking it more seriously than the frei yid.

It is important to stress that one should only buy produce, or anything for that matter, from EY ONLY with reliable acceptable hashgocha.

As soon as you say, "shgutzim" , I understand that you are a "Kashrus Pro"

4

 Oct 26, 2014 at 01:15 PM Anonymous Says:

So who gets all the donations I saw advertised?

5

 Oct 26, 2014 at 03:25 PM abilenetx Says:

I reply to this story WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE KIDDING? Hashem is 24/7

6

 Oct 26, 2014 at 01:28 PM klazno4 Says:

Reply to #2  
rebbe Says:

Before the rabunim tell farmers that heter mechirah is invalid they should stop watering and tending to their own gardens in their multi-million dollar homes across israel.

Come on! like they water their gardens during shmita. Stop trashing rabanim or yidden that want to keep halacha. Everyone knows that you dont water , and they certainly do not tend their gardens during shmita. The Heter Machira fiasco (for lack of better description) was problematic 135 years ago when it first came out and today is a constant tug of war between the many factions in Israel. If you read the original solution put forth by the Kovno rav in 1880 it was only given so that people dont starve. It was never meant to be used as a first means of practice. The Otzar BD solution seems to be a better one. But hey, why not leave the ground follow and see what happens???? Worse case you can always import. Unlike 130 years ago.

7

 Oct 26, 2014 at 02:37 PM lakewooder Says:

Reply to #2  
rebbe Says:

Before the rabunim tell farmers that heter mechirah is invalid they should stop watering and tending to their own gardens in their multi-million dollar homes across israel.

Motzi shem ra is ossur even when wholesale. Most rabbonim and rebbes dont have gardens and those who do, dont water them in shemittah

8

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