Questions on heter mechirah
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It is known that the haredim prefer and buy only yivul nochri, while our rabbis say that we should prefer heter mechirah to yivul nochri, and that it is problematic to buy yivul nochri today.
I have several questions on this issue:
- Why is the dispute ideological—that we say one thing and the haredim the opposite? Why aren't there haredim who believe that heter mechirah is better, or Zionist rabbis who maintain that yivul nochri is better than heter mechirah?
- If it is a sin to eat yivul nochri, why do the "stringent" haredim eat it, if they are known for being so meticulous with mitzvah observance?
- What are the forbidden aspects of eating yivul nochri?
- What is better: heter mechirah or otzar ha'aretz; I saw that Rabbi Ben Meir wrote that heter mechirah is better?
There were many haredi rabbis in favor of heter mechirah, such as Rabbi Pesach Frank and the Yaskil Avdi, ztz"l. There were many and I can’t list all of them in a brief email. Initially most of the Old Yishuv rabbis were with Rabbi Kook, who permitted heter mechirah. However, over time when each side wanted to clarify its positions and define themselves in terms of how they differ from one another, the issue of shemitah was raised as one of the main differences between religious Zionists and the haredim (including military service, view on the government, etc.). Today the issue has been largely politicized, and politics is certainly not my field.
2. There is no halachic prohibition to eat yivul nochri produce, per se. However, in buying produce grown by non-Jews (living here temporarily) there is the issue of supporting them and the prohibition of lo techonam. The severity of lo techonam involved in yivul nochri is more severe than the issue of lo techonam involved in heter mechirah. In the first case, the government allocates to non-Jews land and water for shemitah, and after shemitah this land and water does not necessarily return to the State of Israel. Similarly, since we offer them a livelihood here in Israel, they stay and do not leave. If we do not employ them, they could lose their source of their livelihood and they might even leave our Holy Land.
3. Otzar beit din is the best possibility, since it strengthens Jewish farmers who fully observe shemitah. Despite the fact Rabbi Kook ztz"l, Rabbi Charlop ztz"l, and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz"l halachically supported heter mechirah, they themselves did not consume such produce. There is a difference between halachically supporting something and using it yourself. Halachically speaking, heter mechirah certainly should be supported. If someone wants to be extra stringent, that is wonderful—as long as they do not look down at others and disparage those who do eat heter mechirah.
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook also wrote in one of his letters that it is more mehudar to buy produce that is not heter mechirah, as long as one does not scorn those who do.
I recently attended a shi'ur delivered by a respected rabbi who lives in our community. From what I understood, the reliance on heter mechirah for vegetables is only bedi'avad. This is a Sephardi rabbi who follows the rulings of Rabbi Ovadia Yossef and Rabbi Ben Zion, and who does not look for stringencies. But these were his words.
He explained that this is because of the sefichin prohibition since the fields sold through heter mechirah are considered shamur vane'evad, guarded and worked. I wanted to know if this is really the case, and that I understood correctly that the vegetables are prohibited due to the sefichin prohibition and shamur vane'evad. Given the above, would the fruit also be permitted only bedi'avad (if already purchased, for example) since shamur vane'evad for fruit is also permitted only bedi'avad? If so, how does heter mechirah help anything?
Rabbi Ovadia Yossef explicitly permits heter mechirah in his many books and lectures. While he says that those who are able should buy mehudar produce, he permits it. He states clearly in his lectures that heter mechirah vegetables are not considered sefichin (I heard that people asked his wife, Rebbetzin Margalit, and she said her husband ate heter mechirah in his house—Moshe Bloom). Furthermore, the prohibitions of shamur vane'evad apply only Jewishly-owned land. For land owned by non-Jews, the issue of shamur vane'evad is irrelevant since the non-Jew may guard his own field. Even if a Jew was the guard, this does not turn the vegetables into sefichin, but perhaps there would be an issue of forbidden work performed by Jews. The issue is discussed at length in Yalkut Yosef and Minchat Aharon, and Rabbi Ovadia Yossef is not concerned about sefichin for heter mechirah produce. Albeit, Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul has a very different halachic approach, but those who follow the rulings of Rabbi Ovadia Yossef can follow his guidelines without worrying about opposing opinions.