Yet this year Mr Amar, himself a kippa-wearing religious Jew, faces the loss of 40 per cent of his business – worth some £1m – because for all his painstaking efforts his produce is not regarded as kosher enough to satisfy the hardest-line sectors of Israel's burgeoning ultra-Orthodox market. For the Jewish year which started at Rosh Hashana last week is the shmita, the biblical seventh year in which farmers are required in strict religious law not to work their land.It is totally fascinating how this law is circumvented:
Many of his wholesale plants are mounted on trays 120cm (4ft) above the ground and so far from growing in the earth of Israel are bedded in artificial compounds imported from the US and Finland as Biolan and Verniculite to ensure that when vegetables start to sprout, no one can say they were grown on Israeli land.This is totally amazing (and I think very cool!). But he wisely took some more precaution:
Unfortunately for farmers, there is another ruling now that local chief Rabbis of individual cities can ignore the certificates and issue their own rulings. The case is now being decided in Israeli courts.
More importantly, Mr Amar thought he had acted in accordance with the letter of religious law, by arranging – through the Chief Rabbinate of Israel – for the nominal "sale" of his land for the year for something like 50p an acre to an Arab, i.e., a non-Jew, and employing 200 non-Jews (Thai and Bedouin Arabs) to work it to ensure there is no Jewish hand in the growing and picking. This may sound like literal-minded sophistry. But in fact it has a long and honourable tradition behind it – so much so that Mr Amar, like most Israeli farmers, has his own certificate to prove it from the Chief Rabbinate itself.This confirms unambiguously that "the lands of Moshe Amar from Sharsheret were sold to a goy [gentile] from the day of Rosh Hashana. Because of that the products the above person grows will be without fears of breaking the shmita." And that certificate is in line with a policy adopted by the Jewish religious authorities here since well before the foundation of the state of Israel.
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