(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
At the posh law offices of Ya'acov Salomon and Lipshutz and Co., near the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange, everything was ready.
Rabbi Ze'ev Weitman, who is responsible for selling all Jewish-owned farmland to a non-Jew before the shmita [sabbatical] year, was busy making last-minute corrections. Ofer Shweitzer, the attorney overseeing the sale of the land, pored over the 20-page sales contract to make sure there were no mistakes.
Everything seemed to be in order. But as the minutes went by it became clear that the most important cast member in the sale of Jewish-owned farm land was missing.
Hemda Genam, the Druze IDF officer who had been appointed to buy the remaining NIS 1.5 billion worth of Jewish-owned farm land before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year that ushers in the shmita year, did not show.
"Where can he be?" asked Weitman nervously into his cellphone. "Didn't you tell him there was more land to buy?"
Apparently, Genam, known as the "shmita goy," had not been reminded that the Jewish people were counting on him to purchase the last 30,000 dunam of farmland.
Last week Genam, a colonel in the IDF reserves, had made the really big purchase: 1.75 million dunam for NIS 70b. which included land inside the Green Line that was held by the Israel Land Authority or land in Judea and Samaria held by the Abandoned Assets Authority.
The remaining 30,000 dunam, which, so far, remains unsold, belongs to private farmers.
According to Jewish law, for six years a Jewish farmer living in the land of Israel can plow and sow and harvest. But on the seventh year the entire land of Israel takes on a special sanctity. The Jew is commanded to let the land lie fallow.
But since 1889, when large numbers of Jewish farmers began returning to the land of Israel, it became clear that refraining from working the land was simply not realistic. How would a farmer make a living? In that year heiter mechira, which involved selling Jewish farmland to a non-Jew, was offered as a legal solution to the severe Godly restrictions against working the land.
But what happens if the gentile does not show up? "We still have time before shmita," said Weitman.
Eventually, late Monday evening, Genam met with Weitman, hurriedly signed the sale contract, provided a NIS 5,000 down payment and was gone.
"Next shmita year I'll sell all the land at once," said Weitman. "If you split it up into two separate sales, people don't take you seriously."