In the previous Halacha we have discussed the historical background and the general laws of Heter Mechira (the permissible method of selling land in Israel to a non-Jew in order to absolve it of the sanctity of Shevi’it) practiced during the Shemitta year and which Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l ruled unequivocally must be upheld and implemented by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in order to accommodate those who are interested in selling their lands to an Arab during the Shemitta year so that the sanctity of Shevi’it does not rest on the produce grown while in their possession.
During the Shemitta year of 5768 (2008), we had written that once the lands have halachically been sold to a non-Jew, one who wishes to purchase and consume Heter Mechira produce may indeed do so without any hindrance and there is no reason to be concerned with the opinion of those who oppose the Heter Mechira. This is especially true when there is a noticeable difference in price between the “Mehadrin” produce which is astoundingly more expensive than Heter Mechira produce, in which case there is certainly room to permit purchasing specifically Heter Mechira products.
After publishing this, some individual raised concern and doubts regarding our position and a follower of Maran zt”l from Ashdod sent a letter to Maran with the following question:
“To our esteemed leader, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef Shlit”a:
Attached please find a copy of the Halacha published by “Halacha Yomit” who quote Maran Shlit”a as saying that ‘one may rely on the Heter Mechira which is well-founded and well-based; even Kollel men and Yeshiva boys should purchase Heter Mechira products.’ I read these words and I was unsure whether or not this was correct, especially after Maran had written to the members of the religious community of Ashkelon that Yeshiva families should purchase Mehadrin produce and not rely on the Heter Mechira.”
Maran zt”l replied, as follows:
“Indeed, there is certainly room to rely on the Heter Mechira which is well-based and a clear halachic leniency. Of this I have no doubt. Only those who are especially meticulous about Mitzvah observance may act more stringently, as long as they do not impact the other members of their family by lacking the usual amount of fruits and vegetables.”
These are the exact, unadulterated words of Maran zt”l. He had written likewise on several different occasions, as has been published in several works.
Indeed, last Shemitta year, we had consulted with Maran zt”l regarding whether or not we may write in his name that Heter Mechira is applicable and worthy of being followed even by Kollel and Yeshiva men once we had seen the steep prices of Mehadrin produce. Maran instructed us to write in his name that it is crystal-clear to him and he has no doubt whatsoever that Heter Mechira is completely and absolutely halachically permissible. He went further and instructed us to tell all of our friends in the prestigious Kollel Yechave Da’at to purchase Heter Mechira produce.
Approximately fourteen years ago, a video of Maran speaking about this issue has been disseminated on the internet on several different websites (against our wishes), however, those who published this video failed to mention that the whole discussion which appears on the video was regarding the Halacha we had published on “Halacha Yomit” and Maran was merely instructing us to write everything we have written above in his name. Maran added that the majority of the publicity that the opinion which opposes Heter Mechira enjoys is because of monetary and political considerations as opposed to authentic fear of Heaven. Maran had indeed spoken with us countless times bitterly about those who discredit Heter Mechira in political and crooked ways, for this is not the Torah way.
Upon seeing the Halacha we had published, the former Chief Rabbi of France, Hagaon Harav Yosef Chaim Sitruk Shlit”a, went to visit Maran zt”l and inquired if there were any limitations related to Heter Mechira. Maran replied, as follows (a recording of the conversation has been attached to today’s Halacha):
“There are no limitations, it is permitted! Nevertheless, one who wishes to act piously may do so on his own but not rule this way for others. One may act any way he wishes by himself but for others, one must rule based on the Heter Mechira, for it is real and true. Who formulated this Heter (permissible leniency)? Hagaon Harav Yaakov Shaul Elyashar, a Rishon Le’Zion who lived approximately one hundred years ago and was a halachic genius. We merely broadened it so that no one would question it; however, the original leniency was his. There was another pious and holy individual in those times, Hagaon Harav Refael Meir Panizel, and he agreed with him.
Hagaon Harav Panizel was once in Tunis after having been sent there on a mission from Israel. Once, a lion broke through the gate of the local zoo and roamed free in the streets. Everyone ran for their lives. Only Harav Panizel approached the lion, for he was not afraid of it, and chased it away as one would chase away a dog. People asked him, ‘How were you not afraid?’ He replied, “One who is righteous and guards his Berit need not be afraid of anything.’
These were righteous individuals and halachic giants who formulated this Heter; they saw the oppression of the poor who had no source of livelihood and they had mercy on them.
There are many similar ideas like the sale of Chametz (on Erev Pesach). What is more severe, Chametz or Shevi’it? Chametz is a Torah prohibition for which one is liable for Karet while Shevi’it nowadays is merely a rabbinic enactment and yet everyone carries out the sale of Chametz. Maran writes this leniency (of selling Chametz to a non-Jew) in his Bet Yosef, Chapter 448 and no one makes a ruckus about it. However, here (regarding Heter Mechira), every seven years people make problems while acting contrary to Halacha.”
These were the words of Maran zt”l, without whom the valuable leniency of Heter Mechira could not have endured and through the actions of those opposed to it, the Chief Rabbinate would be prevented from selling the lands; as a result, a large part of the Jewish nation would be consuming Shevi’it produce with no Heter whatsoever.
Nevertheless, we must still discuss the proper way to treat Shevi’it produce, for this behavior would apply to non-Heter Mechira produce, such as “Otzar Bet Din” and the like, as we shall explain further.