10 February 2008

First Bananas, Now It's Potatoes

It's a 'shmita' miracle!
Feb 7, 2008 21:34 Updated Feb 8, 2008 12:34

In what some potato farmers in the Negev are taking as a sign from God, the recent frost that ravaged produce across the nation selectively passed over some crops - as if guided, they say, by a divine hand.
Potatoes planted in the Negev before the beginning of the shmita (sabbatical) year, in accordance with the biblical prohibition against plowing, sowing and many other field chores, were spared the damages caused by sharp drops in temperature last week.

In contrast, potatoes that were planted during the shmita year - which began at nightfall on September 13, the first day of the Jewish year of 5768 - were decimated.

Farmers who planted during the shmita year relied on a contested halachic leniency called "heter mechira," or "permitted sale," under which Jewish-owned land is temporarily sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the shmita year. This "sale" abrogates the holiness of the land and exempts farmers from adhering to the laws proscribing field work.

Yechi Rab, a religious potato grower who was evacuated from Atzmona in the Gaza Strip as part of the Disengagement Plan, was one of those farmers hit by the frost.

"I'd say about 20 percent of our crop was destroyed by the frost. That's about 12,000 tons of potatoes," said Rab, who belongs to a collective of farmers, all from Atzmona, who were relocated in the Negev. "Farmers who planted before the shmita year did not sustain any damage."