Menachem's Writings

On Holy Fruit and Vegetables

I buy my fruit and veggies from a Moroccan Israeli called David Cohen. There are more David Cohens per capita in Israel than there are John Smiths in England or Australia. One year in our phonebook we had four advertisers from Efrat, each named David Cohen. We had a greengrocer [fruiterer in American . . . and why not vegetabler?], a mohel (ritual circumciser), a tour guide and a gas fitter. As they each took a quarter page ad, I put them all on the same page -- I thought that was cute . . . I never found out if they also did, but they did renew their commercials the following year.

David doesn't have such a great business -- he and his father sit around learning or saying Psalms for most of the day -- but I really like the guy, and along with oranges and tomatoes, I always get a dvar Torah, a commentary on the weekly Torah portion, David's own take, often delving a bit into the Kabbalah which and his father also like to say.

And I must tell him one as well, one he hasn't heard before, so I usually arrive to buy my apples and yams following intellectual preparation.

But every seven years, David has a boom year -- and we are now in the seventh year! This is because every seven years is the Sabbatical Year, and David is the only store in the area that doesn't sell produce grown on Jewish owned land sold for the year to a non-Jew (read Arab) or grown by non-Jews (again read Arabs). The produce he merchandises is grown in Israel proper under certain allowable conditions, is produce from the sixth year (not too much of that this late into the year) or grown in areas of Israel where the Shmitta does not apply. This non application is results from the fact that these areas were not settled by the Jews returning to Israel from the expulsion to Babylon. This expulsion followed the destruction of the First Temple (probably in the year 586 B.C.E.), the returnees coming to build the Second Temple in Yerushalayim and rebuild the country after its military defeat. The main area that produces "OK" vegetables is the southern Arava, which is in southern part of the country, and is hot and largely desert. But this desert is blooming. And also part of the Golan Heights.

I have to ask David the origin of each item so I know how to treat it. Some of the things are labelled but not all. I asked about the potatoes. This is one vegetable that has come from different sources over the course of the year. In response to his reply, "Arava", I said, "Thank Gd for the Arava!"

Today the only other customer in the shop is a lady, whom I have not previously met, who, judging by her attire, iss not from Efrat, but from one of the haredi, so called ultra orthodox, towns or villages in the area. They don't usually buy in Efrat, because we are not very "holy" here, but this year they have little choice because of David's fruit and vegetables are the only non-Arab ones in the area.

I find this easy labelling of people very unfortunate. George Bernard Shaw could recognize one's origin, to the street, by an accent -- over here it is your apparel that marks you, including your headgear (both men and women). Also it is often predictable what someone will say in a given situation. There are lots of clichés, dictated from above (small 'a'), though supposedly the leaders do get it from Above. But this bird was in a class on her own.

She had to comment on my comment, "and the Golan?" I assumed she meant that because not all of the Golan was settled by the Babylon returnees, it was like the Arava, considered outside of Israel re the shmita. But on my questioning, she meant that our settlement of the Golan was inappropriate because most of it is outside the Land given to us by God. I told her that in the time of King David, Israel ruled over lands all the way to the Euphrates, including much of Syria. The rabbis criticized the King for not extending Jewish settlement to areas outside the valid borders of Israel, but rather because he had not conquered all of the area west of the Jordan first, before moving north-east. She didn't have a clue what I was talking about, but wouldn't let up on the Golan never being part of the Promised Land and thus, modern day Israel as well.

She said that everything is in the hands of God, and he rules the world, and my opinions don't matter too much -- always a good line of attack. "Do you know what is the first verse of the Torah? -- 'God created the heavens and the earth' -- to show you that he can do what he wants with it. And He is going to show us his hand when He wants too.

Well that's cool. But if man really has no control, only thinks he does, why did God let 6,000,000 Jews die recently. "Did you know", she told me, "that three-quarters of the Jews in Europe before the war were not religious -- they were secular?" Well I really don't know the statistics (and I am certain she doesn't) but "is this a reason to kill all those religious Jews too?" She protested, "it was the not the religious Jews that were killed!" Yeah, tell my righteous grandmother, mother of ten, who was gassed in Auschwitz holding hands with her 5 year old daughter and 5 year old granddaughter, wearing her sheitel!

She carries on a bit further down this road and switches to current politics. She doesn't like Olmert, but Livni is great. Why, because heard that once Livni dropped everything she was doing to help out someone or something -- I didn't catch onto the details. When I put these politicians in the same boat, she added, "Oh, but don't think I'm going to vote for her!" It's OK -- the thought didn't even enter my head.

To cap it off, she says, "And did you know that the first Temple was destroyed because the Jews at that time didn't keep the shmita?" Well, yes lady, it is well known that the length of the Babylonian exile was exactly the number of sabbatical years that the Children of Israel ignored, and a mishnah in Avot says that exile is a punishment for not keeping the shmitta.

But what we are doing today is a bit of a joke, and I'm not sure that we couldn't be doing better. It is a move in the right direction. I told her that if she was so keen on keeping the seventh year "holy", really holy, she better stop David weighing the grapes he was packing up for her -- and the nectarines and peaches too. "Do you know that you can't carry out any commercial practices with shmita produce, and if you pay him for the exact weight of fruit, that is what you are doing? Do you know that nobody in our generation holds shmita today is from the Torah, it is at most a rabbinic injunction, and maybe just 'good practice'?" I think she thought we would be both get struck down immediately, so she said she wished to terminate the discussion. Just as well, I think there was smoke coming out of my ears.

When David came down later to deliver my order he said, "That women really upset you -- she really got your goat. I answered, "that's for sure".

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