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Nov 21, 2013

Will Chief Rabbi Dovid Lau allow use of the Hetter Mechira in Shmitta 5775?

Shmitta and Hetter Mechira is always a big issue for the Chief Rabbis, and for those who are the "powers that be" behind them...

During the campaign for the election of the Chief Rabbis there were reports that Rabbi Dovid Lau had committed to the Haredi position of not allowing hetter mechria in order to get their support for him as Chief Rabbi.

What happened, happened, and Rabbi Dovid Lau is now Chief Rabbi Dovid Lau. And it looks like those reports were wrong. Maybe.

The other day Chief Rabbi Lau announced that he has decided to approve use of the hetter mechira again for this coming shmitta year. Allowing full use of hetter mechira would keep the prices of vegetables down.

Hetter mechira would be one of three option presented to farmers and agriculturists  for the coming year.
The three options are:
1. not working at all, leaving the fields completely untouched
2. Otzar Beis Din
3. Hetter Mechria

It is still unclear what Rabbi Lau's position is. Some say that he has decided to allow it for the coming year only because he knows that if he does not the Supreme Court will force it as an option, as happened last time when Rabbi Metzger did not want to approve it.

It does seem clear though that even of Rabbi lau does approve of the use of hetter mechira, it will not be as a preferred choice. Rabbi Lau said that there is plenty of time until the beginning of shmitta and he will be setting up a shmitta committee to ensure that everything will function during shmitta 5775 in the best possible way.

Rabbi Abba Turetsky, a kashrut expert who has been involved with the shmitta committees in the past, explained that Rabbi Lau's words are being misunderstood and he is not in favor of the hetter mechira. He explained that Rabbi Lau knows that many farmers will not abandon their fields or use the Otzar Beis Din system and for many years have been using the hetter mechira system. He says that Rabbi Lau believes the hetter mechira does not work as a valid option - even bdieved. Even the rabbonim who allow it, bdieved, still do not allow certain types of work to be done. Yet, throughout the years the farmers have violated these rules, performing even the prohibited types of work in the fields. Rabbi Lau, Turetsky explained, is working to ensure that at least those farmers who insist on using the hetter mechira will do so only in a way that will not include performing the prohibited types of work and will follow the strict rules of what can be done.

Rabbi Turetsky also says that he expects many more farmers this time to choose the system of Otzar Beis Din because Rabbi Lau has succeeded in getting unprecedented cooperation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Otzar Beis Din system.

Turetsky says that the publication that Rabbi Lau supports hetter mechira was publicized in a way to try to torpedo the efforts Rabbi Lau is putting forth to minimize the use of the hetter mechria.
(source: Kikar and Bechadrei)

It seems pretty clear that the hetter mechira will, once again, be employed as an option for farmers, but it does seem to me that Rabbi Lau is working to minimize as much as possible the number of farmers that rely on it, and to improve the hetter mechira system as well.

It is always good when systems are improved and standards are raised. Even if the hetter mechira system must be used, at least it should be done in a way that is the best possible method. I hope Rabbi Lau will be successful in his efforts to improve the hetter mecira system for those who want to employ it.

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