'Shmita' costs expected to soar without Gush Katif produce

The shmita practice applies only to lands that lay within biblical Israel. Produce that came from Gush Katif was permitted.

By SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL
June 19, 2007 07:37
1 minute read.
kibbutz beeri 298

kibbutz beeri 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

The destruction of Gush Katif's agricultural industry and Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip will increase the cost of providing produce during shmita (sabbatical year) by more than NIS 75 million, according to the Agriculture Ministry. On Tuesday, officials from the Agriculture and Finance ministries will present a preliminary budget of NIS 103m., up from NIS 27m. that was needed for the previous shmita in 2000. Those costs include compensating Israeli farmers who observe shmita and providing Jews who observe shmita with other produce for the year. Officials were reluctant to ascribe the huge jump in cost to one factor, but acknowledged that the loss of Gush Katif's agricultural industry was a significant factor. Shmita is a biblical year of rest for Israel's farmlands and orchards in which Jews allow their land to lie fallow every seven years. The shmita year also allows for debts owed to individuals to be forgiven or put into remission. Rosh Hashana will mark the beginning of shmita. The shmita practice applies only to lands that lay within biblical Israel. Produce that came from Gush Katif was permitted. The government had originally planned to buy produce from Palestinians who have taken over Gush Katif, but Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip has negated that plan, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon said. "We are using diplomatic channels, namely the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office, to try and determine if it still might be possible to buy produce grown in Gaza," he said Monday at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting. "Currently that does not look possible." A committee has been formed to deal with shmita issues, Simhon said. Last month the Chief Rabbinate urged people not to buy produce from Palestinian farmers, lest the proceeds "be used to fund terror or otherwise go to terrorism-related activities." Due to the security situation, kashrut supervision in the West Bank had become increasingly difficult, leading many supervisors to stop visiting Palestinian farms, the Chief Rabbinate said. Many shmita observes buy produce from non-Jews to be sure Halacha is not violated. At the Finance Committee meeting, some MKs wanted to know if produce could be bought from Jordan and Egypt. A Finance Ministry representative said the current policy was to try and buy as much as possible from Israeli farmers. Israeli farmers could produce fruits and vegetables and maintain the laws of shmita due to "agro-technical innovations," an Agriculture Ministry representative said.


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