||A volume on the halakhot [Jewish laws] concerning Shemittah [the sabbatical year] with particular reference to the Heter Mekhira – a legal strategy to sell the land of Israel for a specified period of time. The book was published with the help of Mosad HaRav Kook, and contains the approbation of R. Tzvi Pesach Frank at the very beginning of the book and letters from R. Yehuda Leibush Landa of Sadigora and from R. Yisrael Eisenstein at the end.
According to the Bible, during the Sabbatical Year (seventh year) all land had to be fallow and debts were to be remitted. The Talmud explains that the precept of the Sabbatical Year includes three positive commandments and six prohibitions. The three positive commands are that in "the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie fallow" (Ex. 23:11); "the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land" (Lev. 25:4); and "At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release; every creditor shall release that which he hath lent unto his neighbor" (Deut. 15:1–2). The six negative precepts are: " Thou shalt neither sow thy field  nor prune thy vineyard.  That which groweth of itself of thy harvest thou shalt not reap,  and the grapes of thy undressed vine thou shalt not gather" (Lev. 25:4–5).  "He shall not exact it [the loan] of his neighbor" (Deut. 15:2).  "Beware that there be not a base thought in thy heart, saying: 'The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand'; and thine eye be evil against thy needy brother, and thou give him nought" (Deut. 15:9).
The laws of the sabbatical remittance of debts are applicable both in Erez Israel and in the Diaspora. However, the obligation to let the land lie fallow is limited to the boundaries of Erez Israel in accordance with the verse that these laws begin only "When ye come into the land which I give you" (Lev. 25:2). Whether the sabbatical laws are still biblically relevant after the destruction of the First Temple, when the Jubilee Year is no longer operative, is disputed in the Talmud. According to R. Judah it is only observed today because of rabbinic enactment to "perpetuate the memory of the Sabbatical Year." However, the rabbis held the operation of the Sabbatical Year nowadays still to be biblical (MK 2b; Git. 36a–b). Later commentaries and codes remained divided on this issue; Maimonides seemingly ruled in accordance with the viewpoint of R. Judah (Maim. Yad, Shemittah 9:2, 3 and Kesef Mishneh ad loc.; cf. Kesef Mishneh to Shemittah 4:29).
Produce which grows of itself during the Sabbatical Year is considered holy and its usage is restricted. It is forbidden to harvest this growth solely for commercial purposes (Shev. 7:3) or to remove it from Erez Israel (Shev. 6:5). It may only be eaten or utilized in its usual fashion so that items such as wine and vinegar may only be used for nourishment and not for anointing purposes (Shev. 8:2). The sabbatical produce may only be eaten as long as similar produce is still available in the field for the consumption of animals (Shev. 9:4). Once such produce has been consumed, all remaining sabbatical products of the same species must also be destroyed (Shev. 9:8).
Following the destruction of the Temple (70 C.E.), the observance of the sabbatical prohibitions imposed ever increasing economic hardships upon the agrarian society of ancient Israel. It became a constant source of challenge to the religious tenacity of the farmers. The rabbis constantly exhorted the masses to continue to observe properly the sabbatical restrictions, declaring that exile (Shab. 33a), poverty (Suk. 40b), and pestilence (Avot 5:9) result from the transgression of these laws. Immediately following the destruction, most of the land was left in Jewish hands and the Sabbatical Year was observed. Permissible organized distribution of sabbatical produce was arranged by the rabbis in order to ease the burden of the farmers although there was some opposition to this procedure (Shev. 4:2; and see S. Safrai in bibl., 312–18). However, after the unsuccessful Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 C.E.), the Roman government abrogated its previous tax exemption (Safrai, 320f.). Many Jews now compromised their observances due to the new economic pressures engendered by the demand for taxes during this year (Mekh., Shabbata 1). Some gathered sabbatical crops in order to pay these taxes while others even traded in the produce (Sanh. 3:3, 26a). An entire city was described in which all the residents transgressed the sabbatical laws (Tosef., Dem. 3:17). An instance was even recorded where a proselyte retorted to the reproaches of a native Jew by exclaiming, "I will merit divine reward since I have not eaten the fruits of the Sabbatical Year like you" (Bek. 30a; Git. 54a). Nevertheless, even during this period, there were individuals who resolutely observed the sabbatical restrictions. R. Eleazar b. Zadok remarked about such a person, "I have never seen a man walking in the paths of righteousness as this man" (Suk. 44b).
As a consequence of the hardships now encountered in sabbatical observances, the rabbis relaxed many of the prohibitions. Their actions were probably also prompted by the viewpoint of R. Judah that the institution of the Sabbatical Year was only rabbinic during the Second Temple period when the Jubilee was not operative because the land was not fully occupied by Israel (Git.36a–b; Rashi and Tos. ad loc.; S. J. Zevin, in bibl., 105–12). Areas such as Ashkelon (Tosef., Oho. 18:4), Beth-Shean, Caesarea, Bet Guvrin, and Kefar Zemah (TJ, Dem. 2:1, 22c) were exempted from the restrictions of the Sabbatical Year. R. Judah ha-Nasi also permitted the buying of vegetables immediately after the close of the Sabbatical Year (Shev. 6:4) and the importing of produce from the Diaspora during the Sabbatical Year (TJ, Shev. 6:4, 37a; 7:2, 37b), both transactions which were previously forbidden. Many Jews still transgressed the sabbatical prohibitions which remained in force since they knew that their institution was only rabbinic (TJ, Dem. 2:1, 22d).
For centuries, shemittah remained a theoretical problem, discussed solely by Talmudic scholars. However, with the settlement of Erez Israel, it became a practical problem for the settlers. Before the shemittah of 1889, the leading rabbis of the generation debated whether it was permissible to enact a formal sale of all the Jewish-owned fields and vineyards to non-Jews in order to permit the working of the land during the Sabbatical Year. R. Isaac Elhanan Spektor of Kovno issued the following statement permitting this transaction:
I was asked several months ago to express my opinion concerning Jewish colonists, who live on the produce of the fields and vineyards of our Holy Land, as the shemittah year is approaching in 1889. If we do not find a hetter it is possible that the land will become desolate and the colonies will turn into wasteland, God forbid. Hundreds of souls will be affected by it. Although I am very much preoccupied and very weak, yet I find it necessary to deal with this important problem; and permit the work in the fields, by selling them to the Muslims for a period of two years only. After that period, the vineyard and the fields go back to the owners; and the sale must be to Muslims only and may take place during the coming summer. I prepared, with the help of God, a special brochure dealing with this subject, but in practice I never came out with a hetter because I did not want to be the only one in this new matter, as is always my practice in such things.
But now that I received a letter informing me that my good friends, the rabbis: R. Israel Joshua of Kutna, R. Samuel Mohilewer of Bialystok, and R. Samuel Zanwil of Warsaw gave due consideration to this problem and came out with a hetter, and wait for my approval, I am greatly pleased to find that I am not alone in this great issue. My opinion is, therefore, to follow my above mentioned suggestion [sell the land to non-Jews]. Furthermore, the work in the fields and vineyards is to be done by non-Jews, but in the case of poor people who cannot afford to engage non-Jewish labor, let them consult the aforementioned honored rabbis; and may the Lord grant us the privilege to come joyously to our land, and observe the mitzvah of shemittah as it was originally ordained for us and in accordance with all its rules and regulations.
It must be explicitly stated that this hetter is only for the year 5649 (1889) but not for future shemittot. Then further meditation will be necessary, and a new hetter will he required; and may the Lord help His people so that they should not need any hetter and should observe shemittah in accordance with the Law as I have fully explained it, in the special brochure, with the help of G-d (E. Shimoff, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor (1959), 134f.).
R. Spektor's lenient decision was opposed by the Ashkenazi kehillah of Jerusalem and its rabbis, R. Moses Joshua Judah Leib Diskin and R. Samuel Salant. Many of the colonists originally refrained from work during the Sabbatical Year in accordance with the stringent ruling. However, with the continued growth of the new settlements, many more farmers abided by the lenient decision during the next shemittah of 1896.
Before the Sabbatical Year of 1910, the controversy regarding the sale of the land to Muslims revived. R. Abraham Isaac Kook, then the chief rabbi of Jaffa, was the leading proponent of the sale, while R. Jacob David Willowsky of Safed opposed it. During the ensuing shemittah years, the chief rabbinate of Erez Israel continued to abide by the lenient ruling, although there was always opposition to its decisions. Most prominent among the opponents has been R. Abraham Isaiah Karelitz of Bene-Berak.