Sunday, October 21, 2007

Heter Mechira


"When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a sabbath to God. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops. But the seventh year is a sabbath of sabbaths for the land." [Lev. 25:1-4]

A Brief History of the "Hetter Mechirah"

As the Jewish people began to return to the Land of Israel in the late 1800's, establishing farms and moshavot (agricultural settlements), the question of letting fields lie fallow during the sabbatical year became - for the first time in many centuries - a burning issue. With the approach of the sabbatical year in 1889, the Jewish settlers turned to the rabbinate to issue a hetter (permit) to allow them to continue working their lands during the seventh year, so that the young and fragile agricultural settlements would not collapse.

In response, three respected scholars met in Vilna and designed a "hetter mechirah", based on temporarily selling the land to a non-Jew over the sabbatical year. The hetter was approved by Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, chief rabbi of Kovno and the pre-eminent Halachic authority of that era.

During the sabbatical years of 1889, 1896, and 1903, many of the new settlements utilized the hetter. However, a number of highly respected scholars vociferously opposed the leniency. Among the opponents were the Beit HaLevy (Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik), the Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin), and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

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