Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Halachic Fictions

Speaking of Christopher Hitchens, here is a news item from Ha'aretz. No, this time I'm not complaining about Ha'aretz, but about the mixing of religion and politics.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/898515.html

This articles essentially explains that in order for us to eat "kosher" fruits and vegetables during the Shmita, or Sabbatical, year coming up, we must "sell" the farm land to a non-Jew, so that the Shmita laws don't apply. (A Jewish owned farm may not be cultivated for the whole year). The Israeli rabbinate holds by this "sale" (which is symbolic and on paper only), although many ultra-orthodox don't, and insist on buying their produce from abroad or from Gaza, which is considered outside of Israel. During Shmita when you go into a restaurant or store you'll see various certificates signed by different rabbis indicating which type of supervision is used for the fruits and veggies.
This is similar to other legal fictions in Halacha, such as selling chametz on pesach to a non-Jew, or transferring loans to the rabbinic court on the Jubilee year to avoid the Biblical imperative of forgiving all loans. Another example is the "Heter Iska", which is the legal loophole permitting payment of interest on loans and investments, circumventing the Biblical proscription of charging interest. This reminds me of the joke about the Orthodox rabbi bragging to the Reform rabbi about how he deals with the problem of smoking among his congregants, by arranging for the sale of their lungs to a non-Jew.
What other religion does such things? We must look pretty damn stupid.
It is very clear that there was (and will continue to be) a progressive development of Halacha over time that was forced upon it by the changes in society, but the rabbis had to create the impression that these changes were consistent with the Torah. Nothing wrong with changes, but let's be honest!

1 comment:

Eugene said...

It is ridiculous that Shmita brings huge income to Israeli enemies in Gaza and the Palestinian territories. Whatever are the religious overtones, they cannot excuse purchases from HAMAS voters. What do you think of Obadiah Shoher interpretating Shmita as charity obligation rather than agricultural rule? (Here, for example http://samsonblinded.org/blog/shmita-year-is-about-charity-not-agriculture.htm ) Anyway, I'll better buy from atheist kibbutzim than from Gaza.