Farmers, Rabbis Clash Over Tradition
The Bible calls for farming in the Holy Land to cease every seventh year. Some rabbis want to strictly enforce that law
BEIT UZIEL, Israel (AP)--Farmer Eli Sella considered the choices:bankruptcy or blasphemy. It was a no-brainer. He defied a religious edictand planted his artichokes.
Farmers like Sella are rebelling against a prominent rabbi who has done awaywith the wink-and-nod deception traditionally used for getting around thebiblical command that fields in the Holy Land must lay fallow once everyseven years.
As part of the old arrangement--condoned by most rabbis--farmers wouldsell their land to non-Jews in make-believe transactions during the seventhyear, the so-calledShmitta
year, and keep tilling their fields.
However, Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv, considered the greatest living adjudicatorof religious issues, has ruled that the sabbatical must be strictly enforcedthis year.
This would mean that no Jewish-owned farm in the Holy Land can grow cropsfor a full year, starting Sept. 30, the Jewish New Year.
For consumers, even the non-religious, it means importing food and sky-highprices. Most Israeli farmers are secular, but in the past have soughtrabbinical approval in order to appeal to the widest possible market. Abouthalf of Israel's Jews observe dietary laws and might not buy produce withouta rabbinical seal.
However, secular farmers have threatened to ignore Elyahsiv's strictures andset up their own rabbi-free markets. Yosef Lapid, head of Shinui, a secularrights party, offered practical backing. ``We'll buy their produce,'' Lapidsaid.
Those who follow the strict interpretation will buy food from outside thebiblical boundaries, including places like the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights,and Jordan, paying higher prices for their piety.
Sella, 51, a traditional Jew, said following the new ruling would have meantdefaulting on loans and losing his property. ``I was facing bankruptcy,''said the mild-mannered muscular veteran of three Shmitta seasons, lookingout at his artichoke fields from the picture window in his living room.
Rabbi Shneour Revach, who oversees religious practice in Beit Uziel, afarming village of 70 families in the center of Israel, said Elyashiv'sruling was too unbending.