Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Israeli Supreme Court Overturns Rabbinate

As ADDeRabbi said: This is huge.
The court ruled that that it was illegal for the Chief Rabbinate to allow Yechiel Ya'acobovitz, Chief Rabbi of Herzliya, to deny kosher certificates to restaurants, hotels and other food-serving venues that sell vegetables that were grown in Jewish-owned soil inside the borders of the Land of Israel during the shmita year. Instead, Ya'acobovitz, a haredi rabbi who adopted a stringent interpretation of Jewish laws governing shmita, must either provide kosher certificates himself or allow more lenient rabbis to do so.
There are other important details in the article, so please read that as well.

This has incredibly far-reaching consequences, from a secular court determining an issue that is wholly that of the religious courts, to chumrot [good or bad] being forced upon people or not, to how policy is made... this is going to be messy and crazy.

Arguments can be made for mistakes on all parties here. Heter mechira was and is done for purposes that are both noble and important. Whether some of those reasons are less applicable now is a question worthy of debate (are squatters truly going to get away with taking land today?), but to try and force it on people seems both unwise and unfair. Clearly, many rabbonim have felt and do feel that this heter is valid, so why should those who hold by it be punished?

Forget heter mechira for a moment, and apply this mode of thinking to any subject. Should a Rabbinical Council of any sort be permitted to force chumrot on the rest of the public? It's hard to disagree with the Court's reasoning on this:
But the High Court rejected the chief rabbinate's policy of encouraging more stringent kosher supervision methods arguing that it was an unjustified infringement on non-haredi individuals' rights.
Of course, the Rabbinate could have avoided this whole issue by not using such methods to carry out their wishes. Understandably, they wished that people would not rely on a heter that many do not think is valid, and were, according to the article, simply trying to encourage people not to rely on the heter. [Which is also an interesting debate.] However, they likely should have just forced an addition to the kashrus certificate noting that they're relying on heter mechira, which would allow consumers to decide whether they wished to rely on the heter or not, rather than forcing it on the store owners.

On the other hand, it seems strange for the Court to be wading into an area where they seemingly should not be. Having the secular court intervene in a religious matter does not seem like a good precedent for the future. In this case, the reach is limited to stating that charedim cannot force an overreaching charedi viewpoint on the rest of the community. But what does this allow? Can someone who is not religious complain that their own individual rights are violated by some religious standards?

This is terrible precedent... and in this case, it is the charedim who have brought it upon us, not the secular. The secular Court simply took advantage of a huge blunder by the charedi community.

Again, this is huge... and not good.