Alternative shmita kashrut supervision dismantled

Senior rabbi: Move a 'stunt' to force Chief Rabbinate to recognize heter mechira.

shmita shuk 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
shmita shuk 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Tzohar Rabbis and the Religious Kibbutz Movement announced Monday that they have dismantled their alternative kosher supervision apparatus that was set up for the shmita (Sabbatical) year. The alternative kosher supervision was created in protest against the halachic policy of several chief rabbis of cities, including Herzliya, Hadera, Kfar Saba, Rehovot, Bat Yam and Petah Tikva. These rabbis rescinded kashrut certificates of restaurants, hotels and caterers that sold Jewish-grown vegetables because they refused to recognize a halachic solution called heter mechira (authorized sale) in which Jewish-owned land was temporarily "sold" to a non-Jew. This "sale" was supposed to circumvent the biblical prohibition against working the land of Israel in the shmita year by abrogating the sanctity of Jewish-owned land during that year. Tzohar rabbis, many of whom are employed by the Chief Rabbinate, began issuing alternative kashrut certificates two months ago. The Chief Rabbinate's governing body opposed the move and took the side of the local rabbis, who refused to recognize heter mechira. The Chief Rabbinate, which recognized in principle the legitimacy of heter mechira, nevertheless argued that local rabbis should be given full autonomy to rule in accordance with their conscience. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court - in a blatant intervention by a secular court on a religious matter - responding to a petition by wholesale suppliers and Jewish farmers who said they would lose millions of shekels worth of business if heter mechira were not recognized, ruled that the Chief Rabbinate was obligated to provide kashrut certificates to business that sold heter mechira vegetables. The Supreme Court argued that since the chief rabbinate itself recognized the legitimacy of heter mechira, it could not deny restaurants, hotels and caterers certificates for selling heter mechira vegetables. Rabbi Moshe Rauchverger, a senior member of the chief rabbinate's governing body, said in response that Tzohar had never really established a significant kashrut supervision apparatus. Therefore, there was nothing to dismantle. "The whole thing was a stunt to force the chief rabbinate to cave in to pressure to allow the sale of heter mechira products," said Rauchverger. "Even some of Tzohar's own rabbis do not recognize heter mechira as legitimate." Rauchverger said that as a result of the Supreme Court decision, three rabbis were given authorization to provide kashrut certificates in cities where the local rabbis refused to. Kiryat Arba-Hebron Chief Rabbi Dov Lior is responsible for central and southern Israel, including Judea and Samaria. Haifa Chief Rabbi Shear Yishuv Cohen is responsible for the North. Yosef Harel, the rabbi responsible for the Judea region, provides kashrut certificates to businesses in Jerusalem.