Israel in a Pickle Over Cucumbers
Jan. 18, 2001
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Rabbis, politicians, and shoppers are in pickle over cucumbers.
In a tale of substandard produce and biblical boundaries, controversy raged Thursday over whether the vegetables in a Jerusalem supermarket chain were indeed kosher.
At issue is interpretation of the biblical injunction of Shmitta that calls for Jewish farmers to let their fields lie fallow once every seven years. Israel's chief rabbinate allows farmers to work the land uninterrupted as long as they symbolically sell the land every seventh year to non-Jews.
This is a Shmitta year and the century-old arrangement to circumvent the Jewish law is in force now all over the country _ except in Jerusalem, where the local rabbinate is controlled by an ultra-Orthodox party, Agudat Yisrael.
Agudat Yisrael abides by the ruling that observant Jews may eat only vegetables bought outside of the Holy Land, such as produce grown by Palestinians farmers in the Gaza Strip.
But the Gaza vegetables are low quality and cost twice as much as the Israeli produce because of the inflated mark-up levied by the wholesaler, appointed by the local Jerusalem rabbinate, who has a monopoly of the supply to the city, said Yitzhak Kalay, director of Co-op Jerusalem, the biggest local supermarket chain.
The cooperative was losing a lot of money, so it went back to the local produce, as did smaller retailers in the city, he said
Legislator Shaul Yahalom threatened to ask the Supreme Court to force the chief rabbinate to enforce that vegetables sold in Jerusalem only come from outside the Holy Land.
Secular lawmaker Tommy Lapid asked Israelis to ``fight ultra-Orthodox tyranny'' by boycotting the produce with the kosher certificate of the ultra-Orthodox.