As Jews have done for thousands of years, I am in Jerusalem celebrating the festival of Sukkot. As one journalist put it to me the amazing thing about Israel is that on any given day there are 10 stories that each could make front page news. And yet with all the drama engulfing Israel, there seems to be one more story that can make you nod your head in disbelief. One of the highlights of celebrating Sukkot in Israel is the fresh fruit and produce.
For years the Chief Rabbinate has created a legal loophole to allow Jewish farmers to continue to sell agricultural products in the sabbatical year. For 119 years the rabbinate has permitted Jewish farmers living in Israel to sell their produce through the legal concept of heter mechirah. Yet, this year the increasingly Haredi, fundamentalist, group has outlawed the selling of any produce in the seventh year. In other words, when every Jewish person around the world is promoting “buying Israeli” the Chief Rabbinate is in effect promoting buying agricultural products from Hamas. As one source has reported:
“The Egyptian Times ran a feature article about Palestinian farmers who are praying that they could prevail and sell Israelis the produce.”
In some cases, rabbis escorted by soldiers have made the trek to the Arab fields. ‘With God’s help, this year is going to be great for business,’ said 53-year old Azam Jaber, a farmer just outside of Hebron. ‘All of my family and many friends are working in the fields to keep up with the demand, which has grown threefold to reach some 397 tons this year, Jaber says’ In the past, we have used helicopters over fields in the Gaza Strip and, today, we use sophisticated camera systems….There are massive expectations from this year among Palestinians. This year will guarantee an income for thousands of farmers’ families, and they are ready to do anything to please the rabbis,’ Muadi said. The trade, expected to reach $100 million over the coming year, has earned criticism among mainstream Israeli rabbis.”
The good news is that the Haredi dominated chief rabbinate is not the only voice or even the only Orthodox in Israel weighing in on the issue. Kudos to the Orthodox rabbinic group Tzohar who just this week came out with a ruling against the chief rabbinate. Tzohar will now issue there own certification allowing Jewish farmers to continue to earn a livelihood and provide food for Israelis. Many see the move by Tzohar as a rebellion against the Chief rabbinate. I hope they are right but as things now stand the verdict is still out. The bottom line is that all Tzohar has done is re-institute a 119 year precedent. If thats a revolution….