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Religious Zionist leaders may circumvent Israel’s Chief Rabbinate over shmitta observance.

The rabbis threatened to issue their own kashrut certificates if the Chief Rabbinate does not uphold the status quo on shmitta.

Shmitta laws come into effect in this new Jewish year, meaning that Jewish-owned farmland in Israel must lay fallow.

In past shmitta periods, which fall every seven years, the Chief Rabbinate allowed a loophole whereby farms could be “sold” symbolically to gentiles, making their produce kosher. But this year, municipal Israeli rabbis received a tacit nod from Jerusalem to overturn the status quo, and several threatened to yank the kashrut certificate of local grocers unless they imported fruits and vegetables from abroad.

The move drew an outcry from Tzohar, a coalition of Modern Orthodox rabbis who work for coexistence with secular Israelis. Tzohar announced Tuesday that its rabbis would be prepared to issue alternative kashrut certificates to grocers who stick with Israeli produce during the shmitta year.

Israeli commentators described Tzohar’s initiative as possibly an unprecedented challenge to the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, which generally enjoys cross-Orthodox backing. Tzohar called on the Chief Rabbinate to avert a schism by re-endorsing the status quo. The Chief Rabbinate had no immediate response.

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