MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) is furious at Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Pinchasi, Head of the kashrut system in Mevaseret Zion outside Jerusalem, for allegedly claiming that Gafni sold the Knesset grounds to MK Ahmad Tibi “to save the Jewish gardeners,” Behadrei Haredim reported Monday (גפני זעם על הרב שטען כי מכר קרקעות לח”כ טיבי ומאיים לתבוע).
Pinchasi made his remark during a Torah class on Shmita laws, and cited a gardener working for the Knesset who allegedly told him “By me, work is as usual, they sold the land of the Knesset to Ahmad Tibi.”
It should be noted that what upset MK Gafni so much was not the fact that the head of the kashrut system alleged that he sold parts of Eretz Israel to an anti-Zionist Arab MK like Tibi—he probably couldn’t care less about that part, being a staunch anti-Zionist himself. What upset him so much was the insinuation that he, Gafni, carried out a Heter Mekhira (sale permit) deal for the shmita year, when most of Israel’s leading rabbis, and certainly Gafni’s rabbis, are strongly opposed to the Heter Mekhira as a legal device.
MK Gafni sent a letter to Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, complaining about a story that has been spreading as if he had sold the Knesset grounds to MK Tibi, which, “as you know, never happened.”
“I demand an investigation of the publication of this fake news and intend to sue the publisher for libel,” Gafni wrote.
The Heter Mekhira indicates the sale of land in Eretz Israel to a non-Jew, the purpose of which being to permit agricultural work during the year of the shmita when the land must stand fallow. In the opinion of those who support the permit, it is permissible to carry out in the fields that were sold to non-Jews work that’s forbidden by the Rabbis during shmita, and it even allows non-Jews to carry out work that’s forbidden by the Torah.
Some supporters of the permit believe that Jews are also allowed to perform work that’s forbidden by the Torah, such as plowing and sowing because legally it’s not their land. Those same scholars believe that the fruits which were grown in the fields sold to the non-Jew do not have the sanctity of the seventh year (the shmita), and therefore they can be sold in the market and even exported outside the Land of Israel.
The origin of the Heter Mekhira is in a responsa from the sages of Tsfat some 500 years ago. Until the establishment of the Jewish state, the sale of land for the duration of the shmita was carried out privately by the farmers. Nowadays, the permit is carried out in a centralized manner by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
Most Ashkenazi Haredi rabbis are completely opposed to the Heter Mekhira. The National-Religious and Sephardic Rabbis, for the most part, accept the permit but believe that other solutions should be preferred as much as possible, such as having the farmers lease their land to the Rabbinical Court for the duration of the Shmita, following which the court hires them as its employees to work the land.