(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A decision by the London Beth Din, the largest kosher supervision operation in Britain, would effectively translate into a situation in which the British Jewish community hurt Israeli Jewish farmers' business during the shmita [sabbatical] year.
The Beth Din posted an announcement Tuesday night on its Internet site stating that "it is preferable to avoid products grown in Israel" during the shmita [sabbatical] year.
The announcement went on to explain that "the accepted view among both European and American authorities was that one should avoid relying upon heter mechira outside Israel where other products are readily available." The London Beth Din also expressed a concern about "reports that many Israeli farmers did not sign up to the heter mechira and thus we cannot be certain that produce exported to the UK is indeed covered by the heter."
"Heter mechira" or "permitted sale" is a halachic loophole in which Jewish farmers sell their farmland to a non-Jew for the duration of the shmita year, which began on September 13.
After making the sale Jewish farmers can continue to work the land of Israel during the shmita year since, according to many rabbinic opinions, land in Israel that does not belong to Jews does not have to be left fallow.
However, heter mechira has been controversial since it was first implemented over 100 years ago during the First Aliya.
Also, many rabbis argue that the plight of the modern Israeli consumer is not as dire as that of the Jewish consumer living in Israel 100 years ago.
Meanwhile, argues the London Beth Din, Jews living outside Israel who have the option of buying fruits and vegetables from non-Israeli sources have no justification for buying Israeli produce.
However, Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, chairman of Tzohar, an Israeli organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis who recently launched a pro-heter mechira campaign, pointed out that the London Beth Din's decision ignored the plight of the Israeli farmers who depended on Jewish consumers both in Israel and abroad to buy their products.
The London Beth Din's announcement also said that if a Jew accidentally bought Israeli produce grown under the aegis of heter mechira it could be eaten.
This was a softening of a previous notice, posted on Sunday that stated, "If produce from Israel is inadvertently purchased, do not throw it away, rather contact the London Beth Din for further guidance."
Shimon Cohen, spokesman for the London Beth Din, said the previous notice was a rough draft of a decision that was accidentally posted.
A list of Israeli produce that may have already arrived in Britain and which should be avoided included: cherry tomatoes, corn, fresh herbs, melons and sweet potatoes.