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Heter mechirah at agricultural schools

Question

Is it possible, and is it proper, to sell part of the area of the school's fields to a non-Jew, or, alternatively, to assign the responsibility to a non-Jew so the students can work the field at school during the upcoming shemitah year? We have non-Jewish teachers at our school.

Answer

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevy Amichay

Heter mechirah was originally established for the sake of settling the Land of Israel. Torah leaders of the generation understood that if no agricultural activities are performed during the shemitah year, the agricultural enterprise in the Land of Israel would collapse during the years to come. For this reason, they were willing to permit heter mechirah in extreme circumstances. Today, too, heter mechirah is employed for the benefit of farmers and consumers—since if this leniency was not used, the entire market would be flooded by vegetables that are prohibited to eat (sefichin), and thus the entire kashrut system in Israel would collapse.

One of the major problems with heter mechirah is that it involves major deception. Rabbi A.Y. Kook zt"l wrote that the issue of deception is difficult for people to handle. See also the words of Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l, who engaged in public education on the issue of the deception used in heter mechirah. Since today shemitah is derabanan, employing deception is permissible in extenuating circumstances (as brought down in the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch).

However, at schools it does not seem that there is a reason to use leniencies meant for extenuating circumstances or various forms of deception. On the contrary, teens prefer avoiding deception and following the letter of the law. For this reason, it seems that it is not appropriate to permit the sale of the school grounds. Instead, it is best to teach these teens how to raise crops in keeping with halachah, including building hothouses with detached platforms for vegetables and flowers. Trees can be treated during Shemitah according to a halachic guide. If we do our best to increase the observance of shemitah according to halachah, these teens will learn to observe shemitah in the best possible way, without employing deceptions—rather according to the letter of the law. In my opinion, this approach will contribute much more to the teens, who are by nature honest, who will learn to properly observe the laws of shemitah.