When the Chazon Ish and Rabbi Kook Agreed

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Fallow Shemittah Land

Holy and Secular – The trip was not short. Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Karlitz, better known as the Chazon Ish, was not used to traveling out of the city. It was even rare for him to travel to Jerusalem, the holy city and the site of the Temple. But he refused to give up on this trip. “I must go in order to help the farmers,” he said.

When the Chazon Ish came to Moshav Yad Binyamin (which was then called Nativa), the rabbi went to the fields to check them. Only vegetables that sprouted before Rosh Hashanah could be eaten during the year of Shemitta. The Chazon Ish took the trouble to check the fields by himself. That is how important it was for him to help the farmers observe the mitzva of Shemitta and to still continue an honorable existence.

When the Chazon Ish reached the field, he was very upset. He could not see any sprouts coming up. He searched but in vain – not a single sprout could be seen. The farmers were very frightened. “What will happen with the produce? Have all our vegetables been lost?” But the Chazon Ish did not give up. He continued searching, and in the end he found signs of germination. So he was able to announce happily, “The produce of the field may be eaten!”

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Today there is a sharp dispute with respect to Shemitta between those who want to accept the “heter mechira” and those who oppose it. There was also a serious dispute a hundred years ago between Rabbi A.Y. Kook, who supported the heter mechira, and the Chazon Ish, who opposed it. We are certainly not worthy of entering into the dispute between these two giants of the Torah. But we must be careful to correctly represent the approach of the greatest rabbi who opposed the heter mechira, the Chazon Ish.

My friend and neighbor (in real life and also in this bulletin) Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon summarized many laws of Shemitta in his soon-to-be-published book “Halacha from the Source – the Laws of Sheviit” – and, surprisingly, in many cases Rabbi Kook was more stringent than the Chazon Ish. The Chazon Ish developed the practice of the Otzar Beit Din. He was also very lenient with respect to vegetables which had started growing in the sixth year. The Chazon Ish also supported the development of agricultural systems based on hydroponics, among other ideas.

Rabbi Rimon correctly claims that the Chazon Ish recognized that the halacha has a strong responsibility towards the farmers. Since he blocked the possibility of depending on the heter mechira for them, he tried very hard to find other alternatives. He did not leave the farmers to their fate. He traveled to the farms and toured the settlements in order to help them. The Chazon Ish used the full powers of his lenient rulings in order to help the farmers survive financially.

Rabbi Meir Schwartz, the pioneer of hydroponics, says, “I remember that the main reason that the Chazon Ish wanted to develop this process was so that we would not have to depend on Arabs for a supply of vegetables, but that we would remain independent.” The Chazon Ish made sure to fulfill the phrase, “I am with him in his distress” [Tehillim 91:15].

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The Chazon Ish and Rabbi Kook argued strongly about Shemitta, but they were both very interested in helping the Jewish farmers. And they were very far away from the busy-bodies who are in contact with some figures within the Chief Rabbinate today. The Chazon Ish literally traveled around in order to support the farmers. Did the people of the Chief Rabbinate expend one-tenth of the efforts that he did before they decided to oppose the heter mechira?

The Chazon Ish explained his lenient ruling with respect to changes in the seed cycle by writing, “This is so that the land will not lie fallow, and the Arabs will not take it over” [Sheviit 22:2]. Before deciding to cancel the concept of the heter mechira, it is vital to make sure that this does not block the entire effort of Jewish agriculture. One who wants to follow the path of the Chazon Ish with respect to the heter mechira must also follow his path in the way he looked out for our brethren, the farmers.

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat BeShabbato please write to dan@zomet.org.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.