Religion Magazine

Proposed Law: Shmitta Fund

By Gldmeier @gldmeier
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel was pushign a law proposal that was being called "The Shmitta Law".
the Shmitta Law would have created a governmental fund that would pay out stipends during the shmitta year to farmers who observe shmitta and don't work their fields. The idea would have the farmers paying into the fund during the six years of working, and collecting from the fund in the 7th year, seemingly with additional money from the government.
the law was expected to encourage more farmers to observe the rules of shmitta, as they would now have somewhat of a guaranteed income during the shmitta year.
The proposal has been shelved, after Rav Chaim Kanievsky directed the Degel Hatorah representatives to oppose it.
Why would he oppose such a law that seems to strengthen the level of shmitta observance?
It turns out there are a number of reasons for his opposition to the law:
1. chadash assur min hatorah. anything new is forbidden.
2. there is nobody appointed to make sure that the farmer adheres to all the rules and requirements of shmitta.
3. Every shmitta year has many new farmers joining the program to observe shmitta, many of them being convinced to do so at the last minute - right before the shmitta year begins. These farmers would have a problem for not having deposited money into the fund over the previous 6 years, so the program is not really helpful in encouraging new farmers to join.
4. farmers don't have stable parnassa. one month they can earn a very high income, while the next month they can take serious losses and have to live off savings. We cannot demand they put away money every month for shmitta when they have unstable parnassa.
5. from a spiritual perspective, as soon as it is the government responsible for managing the farmers fund, we cannot know what criteria the government will choose to set into place at any given time. For example, a farmer that stops working in one field but has other fields in which he continues to work on shmitta - would he be included? what about farmers who use hetter mechira? what about Arab farmers who decide to take the year off?
6. what rabbinic group will be responsible for oversight and determining if a farmer is shmitta observant or not? If the Rabbanut is responsible, the criteria they set might be in opposition to the criteria important to the Haredi rabbonim
source: Behadrei and Behadrei
while most of these issues look like issues that could be worked out by setting the rules in advance, it does look it will be an unwieldy situation. Something like this should probably be managed privately, with each organization that sets up such funds setting its own criteria by which it wants to operate.
One interesting observation I would make is that according to Rav Kanievsky's opposition, observing shmitta via hetter mechira is not "better than nothing". Meaning, I might say that it is a shame farmer x is not observing shmitta in its entirety, but at least he is doing hetter mechira and not violating shmitta - even if it is not the best way, at least it is something. According to Rav Kanievsky's opposition, that is not the case - he does not consider it better than nothing.
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