Shabbat Parashat Bereshit | 5768
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Shemittah - Part IV - Rav Yisraeli’s Contribution to the Modern
Practice of Shemittah - Courtesy of R. Yisrael Sharir
[We now complete our revisited look at some laws and philosophy of shemittah with a short history of Rav Yisraeli’s involvement in the development of the modern practices in this regard.]
Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli z.t.l. was appointed rabbi of Kfar Haro’eh (a religious agricultural moshav, named after Rav Kook) during the shemittah year 5698 (1938). Although the basic laws of shemittah were known, many practical details needed to be elucidated and applied.
Rav Yisraeli’s initial experience made him aware that much preparation was needed for the upcoming shemittahs. To prepare for 5705 (1945), which fell in the difficult time of World War II, he founded, along with three colleagues, the Rabbinical Shemittah Committee. Their “Proposal for Practical Rulings for Agricultural Arrangements,” which dealt with ideas which took the war situation into account, was accepted by the Chief Rabbinate and was publicized in its name.
To broaden people’s knowledge of the halachot of agriculture, Rav Yisraeli established, in 5706, the Machon Halacha Berura L’Hityashvut Chakla’it (The Institute of Clear Halacha for the Agricultural Settlements), located at Kfar Haro’eh. The Institute was attended by religious farmers from the kibbutzim and moshavim of Hapoel Hamizrachi. In addition to the study of the halachot of Land-linked mitzvot and Shabbat, Rav Yisraeli invited lecturers on agronomy, which he himself studied from scientific works in Russian. The Institute closed after a year because of lack of funds, but Rav Yisraeli took upon himself to visit the various Hapoel Hamizrachi settlements, where he lectured and answered questions. The research he did during this period laid the foundation for his first sefer, “Eretz Hemdah - a Halachic Elucidation and a Guide to Agricultural Life.”
Leading up to the shemittah year 5712, Rav Yisraeli’s activities were more formalized, as he served as chairman of the Halacha Committee of the Chever Rabbanei Hapoel Hamizrachi. He organized rabbinical conferences to study and clarify pressing issues, in consultations with farmers and agronomists. The Committee also held seminars for the public and prepared guidelines for shemittah observance, which the Chief Rabbinate of Israel accepted and distributed.
By shemittah year 5719, Rav Yisraeli was a member of the Mo’etzet Harrabanut Haroshit (Chief Rabbinate Council), where he served as founding chairman of the Department of Land-Linked Laws. In addition to halachic and educational endeavors, the department succeeded in pressuring many non-religious settlements and government and national organizations to take part in the heter mechira and fulfill the other guidelines. Even after joining the Rabbinical Supreme Court, he remained involved in the department and served several times as its head.
Forty years after the short-lived operation of the Institute in Kfar Haro’eh, the next generation of devotees of the Torah of Eretz Yisrael opened Machon Hatorah V’ha’aretz (The Institute of the Torah and the Land) in Gush Katif. Rav Yisraeli served them as a teacher and a mentor and amended and approved the rulings that they prepared for the Chief Rabbinate.
Rav Yisraeli was unique in our generation in his tireless efforts over six decades, turning the halachot of the Land from the concern of a few to a subject to be studied and applied in a modern agricultural society. He was unique in incorporating the highest levels of scholarship, study of the practical possibilities of hands-on observance, and the energy to bring the fruits of the study to a broad segment of Israeli society.
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