couponing in the holy land

Frugal food shopping for the Anglo Israeli

Archive for the month “September, 2014”

Shmita: Heter Mechira

Heter mechira is one of the most controversial aspects of shmita.  I will try to present all sides of the issue so each of you can form your own opinion.


In the 1500s there was a debate between Rabbi Yosef Caro and Rabbi Moses ben Joseph di Trani (ha Mabit) as to whether agricultural products grown in Israel by non-Jews were subject to shmita observance.  Rabbi Yosef Caro permitted Jews to eat this produce while ha Mabit did not.  This issue was of great importance in that day because there was no Jewish agriculture- the Jews were reliant on Arab produce for their subsistence.

Moving ahead to the late 1800s, where the Jewish settlers of the first aliyah movement were producing wine and citrus fruits.  The settlements had previously been under threat of collapsing and were saved by Baron de Rothschild.  The year 1889 was a shmita year and the settlers were genuinely afraid that they would not survive.  They petitioned the Rabbanut at that time to issue a heter- permit- to allow them to work the land but were refused.  They then took their campaign worldwide stating that it was a case of pikuach nefesh- saving a life- to which all law is to be put aside.  Three rabbis in Eastern Europe- Samuel Mohilever of Bialiystok, IJ Trunk of Kutno, and Z. Klepfish of Warsaw agreed to a heter which permitted the land to be sold to Arabs for two years on the condition that work would be carried out in specific ways.  Firstly, if affordable, non-Jewish labour should be used.  If the settler was to poor, he/she could work on the land under the supervision of the Rabbanut which would permitted only work that was forbidden under rabbinical law.  They also required the approval of the Gaon of Kovno, Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spector, who agreed.  Despite that, there was great controversy amongst prominent rabbis who felt that the Jewish community was not in such dire straits at that time.  There were also rabbis who felt that observing shmita was a Torah law and not a Rabbinic law and therefore it is impossible to allow legal loopholes.

In 1895 a new version of the heter mechira was presented.  It applied only to fruit trees and not the land, which allowed the settlers to still sell their fruit.  This did not apply to other agricultural products.  It also did not allow performing work on the trees unless it was to save the life of the tree, which is permitted anyway.  The Arabs were supposed to cut down the trees, but if they didn’t the contract would be void and the ownership would return to the Jews.  This heter was also applied in 1902.

In 1910 Rav AI Kook renewed the general heter mechira, albeit reluctantly.  In a letter to the Ridbaz, Rabbi Kook wrote:

“I have said before that the halachic validity of the heter mechira cannot be doubted. Nevertheless this fact does not absolve us from our duty to seek out all opportunities the Almighty affords us and which enable our brethren who have settled in the Holy Land to observe shmita fully without having to resort to the heter mechira and any part of the Holy Land be it ever so small, where Jewish settlers keep the mitzvah of shmita in its entirety- כהלכתה- should be a cause of jubilation for us as if we had discovered the greatest treasure.  But far be it from us to level accusations against those Jewish settlers who make use of the heter mechira.  Although this heter is not an ideal thing- משנת חסידים- and our hearts ache because of the deplorable plight of the Jewish settlers in our Holy Land who are forced to take recourse to such legal devices which temporarily suspend the holy and beloved mitzvah of the Sabbath of the Land, nevertheless what has been done out of dire necessity is ‘perfect Torah’- תורה שלמה.  And it behooves the great Sages of Israel to comfort those of our brethren who, with broken hearts, find themselves constrained to make use of such legal devices, so that they should not appear as law-breakers, God forbid, in their own eyes.  To enlarge the Jewish settlement in the Holy Land is a religious duty that devolves upon all Jewish generations and the strengthening of the Yishuv brings nearer our final redemption when we can fulfill the law of shmita in its entirety.”

The Ridbaz disagreed with Rav Kook and claimed that eating shmita produce as a result of forbidden activities was akin to eating pork.  Divine redemption, he said, will only come if we are observing shmita and not looking for excuses not to observe.  Rav Kook felt quite strongly that if people saw farmers struggling to survive, it would prevent people from wanting to move to Israel; one of the most important concerns of his time.

In 1935, the Chazon Ish published a review of all of the previous discussions regarding shmita and came to the conclusion that there is no halachic basis for the heter mechira.

Modern Israel

The Chief Rabbinate continues to renew the heter mechira each shmita year.  There are fundamental differences between the heter mechira of colonial Israel and the modern state of Israel.  In previous times, each farm performed a heter individually.  In modern times, the Rabbinate performs a mass sale to one Arab, which leaves doubt as to whether the intention is for it to be a real sale.   In addition, we would be hard-pressed to say that observing shmita would cause physical ruin to the Jewish State.  Finally, in comparison to the religious Jews of colonial times who petitioned for a heter mechira because they were afraid for their lives, the great majority of farmers in Israel are not Sabbath observant.  What is the most acceptable method to deal with non-religious farmers? One cannot neither force them to observe shmita nor forbid their produce from entering the market.  Therefore using the heter mechira is considered the best alternative.

The most difficult issue with the heter mechira is the visceral reaction most people have to the State of Israel selling its land to an Arab.  So many people have died to preserve the State of Israel that it seems criminal to sell it.  In addition, the heter is only valid if the sale is intentional and not symbolic, which makes matters even worse.

There are people who believe in the validity of the heter mechira based on the opinion of Rav Kook.  The Kibbutz HaDati movement is the largest movement that supports the heter mechira in this time.  Another group of people who use the heter mechira are farmers who live in areas that are in doubt as to whether they are within the borders of Israel- the south and the Beit Shean area for example.  They use it as a safeguard in cause the doubt is incorrect.

Charedi farmers do not hold by the heter mechira and observe shmita by leaving their land fallow and hefker (ownerless).    They receive subsidies from the Ministry of Agriculture during shmita to prevent them from falling into dire financial straits.

Source: Shemittah and Yobel by Dayan Dr. I. Grunfeld.


Same chips, different hashgacha and therefore different sources of potatoes.


No more procrastination!

Today is Friday.  Rosh Hashana is Wednesday night.  Are you ready?  If not, use this list to help you get organized for the new year.


If you have school-aged children, know that there are only three days of school next week- Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.   Right now- make sure you have three sets of school outfits washed and ready, three sets of meals for school, and three water bottles if you can. (We fill the bottle about 1/4 – 1/3 full with water and put it in the freezer.  In the morning we add cold water and the water stays cold all day.)  Make sure they don’t need to bring anything special to school for the holiday- if so, put it on the calendar and get it now.  Now hopefully you can “forget” about school for now.


Do you have any last-minute haircut appointments, doctor appointments etc. to schedule?  Be efficient- call  at night and leave a message or book on the internet.  I was surprised to call a hair salon and discover that they have a full messaging service at 11:00 at night!


Get your last minute gardening/pruning/fertilizing done this week.  If you signed up for Otzar HaAretz, you should get your card by Sunday.  If not, call them at 073-2206323.  For more information, read my previous post.  Try and get as much produce as you can now before the prices go up after the first of Tishrei.

Rosh Hashana

First things first- make a list of what still needs to be done.  Break it down into the following categories:

  1. Guests– if you have, confirm if they have allergies.   Get the guest rooms and bathrooms ready.  What time are they coming?  Do you have to pick them up?  If so, from where?  If you are a guest, find out what you can bring/make/do to help your host.  If you really want to make your hostess happy, offer to bring some already-seeded rimon 🙂
  2. Going away?– if you are, make sure your neighbor has your key in case of emergency, timers are set, pet/plant sitters arranged.
  3. Laundry– make sure your tablecloths, towels, linens and holiday clothes are washed.   If you have a European machine, you know how how long it takes so plan your time accordingly.
  4. Table– do you have enough tables and chairs?  if not, arrange to borrow from a gamach or a friend now.  Do you have enough tablecloths, silverware, plates, serving dishes, napkins, bowls and cups?  If not, figure out how many disposable items you will need to purchase and get it soon. We found very nice biodegradable plasticware that looks just like the Solo brand and wasn’t too expensive.  Don’t forget candles, matches and long-lasting candles.
  5. Food– Make an inventory of your freezer and start planning meals if you haven’t already.  We all need to purchase fruits and vegetables this week- don’t forget apples, rimon, dates and a new fruit.  Most stores are open Saturday night and have extended hours this week to get your last minute shopping done.  If you use fresh chicken, don’t forget that because the Muslim and Jewish holidays collide this year, there won’t be fresh chicken being produced from Sunday-Monday until after the holidays.  Pack your freezer now!  You might be tempted to shop for groceries online, but just remember that you are one of thousands so expect many items to be out of stock.  You don’t want your order to come Tuesday night missing half the items and you have to run out Wednesday morning for them.
  6. Clothing–  do you have enough for a three day holiday?  I know my son already outgrew the last set of clothing we bought him and we have so far been unsuccessful in dragging him in to purchase another -gasp- three outfits.
  7. Kids– make a list of everything they can do and have them do it.  If it makes your life easier, bribe them.  We have offered 10 agorot- 1 shekel per chore (depending on their ages; can be done multiple times) or three levels of rewards- ice cream, pizza, movie depending on how many they do and whether they work together or not.   I will post some recipes/activities to keep them busy Wednesday while you finish your last minute chores.
  8. Beit knesset– if you go, do you have your seat/membership paid for?  If you can, find out where your seat is beforehand so it will be easier to find it during services.  Do you have enough machzorim?  Do you know where they are?  If you are not going, do you know who can blow the shofar for you?   If your beit knesset has a tzedaka campaign during the holidays (selling honors or having someone come in from another agency), budget now what you are willing/able to spend.   Discuss it with your husband/wife so there are no surprises.

That’s it for now-don’t forget to take breaks and eat healthy!

Which battery gives you the best bang for your buck?

One of the items on my to-bring-back list is batteries.  No matter what brand I pick, the batteries I buy in Israel seem to last about 35 seconds.  The rechargeable batteries have an even shorter lifespan.  The problem is, batteries are so heavy that it is very difficult to bring them back.  So I was thrilled to read this article in Yisrael HaYom which explains WHY the Israeli batteries don’t last- it is because many of them are zinc-carbon batteries, also known as “heavy duty” batteries which don’t last nearly as long as alkaline batteries.  They are cheap, though, and unfortunately Israelis (and new olim) are attracted to the price.  Therefore, aliyah tip #8- make sure you buy alkaline batteries (if you buy disposable).  Alkaline batteries last approximately 4-5 times as long as zinc-carbon batteries.  There is another type of battery you might find on the shelves- lithium-ion batteries, which last 5 times longer than alkaline batteries, but also cost much more.

What about rechargeable batteries?  They should last for approximately 300 charges, but most of them don’t get used that much because they get lost, or the charger gets lost, or people lose patience waiting for them to recharge.  Many people see the high price up front and balk.  If rechargeable batteries are actually used for 300 charges, they are cheaper than alkaline batteries.

What makes one battery different than another?  Panasonic, for example, has a special standard that doesn’t allow the battery to leak so that increases their price.  Each manufacturer can pack a battery differently and that affects how long they last.

Tips for longer battery life:

  1. Don’t keep batteries in the freezer.  Despite popular knowledge, this does not increase battery life but actually decreases it.  You can keep them in a refrigerator drawer but make sure to keep them in a plastic bag so they don’t leak and rust in the refrigerator.
  2. Give the batteries time to rest.  If you don’t plan on using the batteries until the end of their life, let them rest for 24 hours and it will lengthen their life.
  3. Take out the batteries.  If you leave batteries in a piece of equipment without using it, the batteries will start to leak and irreparably damage the equipment.

Finally, the results.  This first chart shows the battery life of different brands.

Are you surprised?  As I am sure you know, it is not only how long it lasts but how much it costs.  This next chart compares battery life to price and comes up with an “hours per shekel” rate.

I must say I was quite surprised by the results- were you?  The lesson learned today is don’t be afraid of the generic Super-pharm brand Life batteries.

Source: Yisrael HaYom

How much does it cost to be vegan in Israel?

Today is Meatless Monday, promoted around the world and in Israel by the Environmental Protection Ministry (Haganat Hasviva) as a way to be healthier and put less of a strain on the environment.  But how does being vegan affect your budget?  Coming from chul, we remember produce as being relatively expensive and kosher meat as being even more expensive, while non-kosher meat was very cheap.  You might remember Aliyah tip #6- eat more meat, its cheaper! about changing your attitude when in Israel- that cheese and processed foods are much more expensive than meat.  The prices of eggs and milk are regulated in Israel, so our main protein sources are relatively affordable.

What happens when one becomes vegan?  The prices of alternative protein sources such as nuts are approximately 75-100 shekels/kg, soy milk is 10 shekels/kg and soy flakes are 37-40 shekels/kg- much more expensive than chicken, eggs, or milk.  Regarding other products,  Yisrael HaYom compared prices of other essentials with their vegan alternatives and found some surprising results:

Before we get too excited, I have to say that the article online left out several products that were cheaper than their meat alternatives: salami- 37% cheaper, ground beef- 40-66% cheaper, and goulash- 49% cheaper.  There are also several more vegan products that are more expensive than their alternatives.  In addition, these prices were taken from the Shufersal Sheli on 17 Brazil Street in Tel Aviv- not a store or a neighborhood known for reasonable prices.

Of course, time is money as well.  There are relatively few vegan processed products on the market which necessitates cooking from scratch for every meal, which takes up an extremely large amount of time.  It also takes time to go from shop to shop finding vegan products which tend to be more esoteric.

Another point brought up is that vegans frequently have to use dietary supplements to replenish essential nutrients such as iron, vitamin B and calcium, which are very expensive as well.  I am not sure this is an appropriate argument- if a vegan diet is properly balanced they shouldn’t be deficient in those nutrients.

So while I appreciate the argument by Haganat Hasviva that we should reduce our damage to the environment, that alone will not convince me to become vegan based on the price differences I see here.  Of course, most people become vegan because they feel that we do not have the right to kill animals for food, so the price issue may be irrelevant.  If you are thinking of moving to Israel or are a new oleh, be aware when budgeting for groceries that you may have significantly higher expenses than the average person.

Source: Yisrael HaYom.  All food prices taken from the mySupermarket web site.

A new Osher Ad opening tomorrow, 15 Sept 2014 in Talpiot

I just received a tip from a reader that a new Osher Ad is opening tomorrow, 15 September 2014 in Kanyon Hadar in Talpiot, Jerusalem.  I didn’t know where the new store is opening because this is the ad on Osher Ad’s Facebook page:

Osher Ad is opening in what was formerly Mega Bul and is close to Rami Levy and Shufersal Deal.  Osher Ad has a strong following without advertising or even a web page, known for their good prices and their Costco products.  Here is a list of their branches, phone numbers, and hours:

I recommend that everyone go and check it out- they are bound to have some amazing deals.  Let us know if Costco products can be found there as well!

Sources: Michael Rose and Globes

Seven shekels per litre of gas at Ten on Mondays!

Tomorrow, get to your closest Ten gas station and fill up on gas for only 7 shekels per litre! (In Eilat it is 5.99 shekels per litre)  If you miss it this week, you can try again the next two Mondays, 22 Sept and 29 Sept.  To find the gas station closest to you, click here.

New Toys R Us coupons- expire 17 Sept 2014

Click on the picture to enlarge and print.

Rami Levy wins again!

Two surveys just came out showcasing Rami Levy.  Channel 10 went searching throughout the country for the cheapest supermarket for your holiday purchases.  They found the Rami Levy store in Nesher to have the best prices.  Israelis, however, weren’t convinced; see for yourself here.

In addition, Yediot Achronot published the results of their customer survey which concluded that Rami Levy was “the national supermarket chain chosen to be the least expensive and have the best customer service.”

Not only that but Rami Levy is putting on a show for chayalim on 18 September 2014 with all of the most popular singers for only 19.90 shekels per ticket- food and drink included!

Kosher turkey bacon has come to Israel!

Turkey bacon, the healthy alternative to pork bacon in chul, has arrived in Israel and is now kosher!  It has no artificial colors, no trans fat, no MSG and is gluten free.   Fry it for a few minutes and it is ready to eat.  You can find Of Tov turkey bacon in Shufersal and Mega (currently out of stock) supermarkets.  For a 5 shekel coupon, go to Of Tov’s Facebook page.  The current price is 13.80 shekels according to My Supermarket.

How the other half lives: The Wolfowitz Family

Yael (30) and Mor (29) Wolfowitz have three children: Ariel (9), Netanel (8) and Yasmine (5).

They live in a 4 room (3BR) garden apartment in Yishuv Avnei Hefeitz in the Shomron for which they have a mortgage.

Yael is a secretary for the rehabilitation work center “Chimes Israel” in Kfar Saba.  Mor is a networks manager for Machon Mor as well as studying for a bachelor’s degree in information security in Michlelet Or Yehuda.  Their car is a company car.

Hobbies and chugim: Netanel takes a drums chug, Ariel is in an art chug and Mor loves to fish.

Vacations: “After three years where we didn’t go on a vacation due to financial reasons, last July we went away for four days to the family hotel Nova Like in Eilat.  Every year we also go on a vacation on Sukkot.”

Budget: Yael: “I am on the internet obsessively and check my bank account all the time.  We had a fall, but when that happened we returned to Paamonim, got myself together and returned to proper financial management.  It isn’t simple, especially in the months of July and August.  In the past we were dependent on our parents but now we are completely independent.  Because of Paamonim I am more careful and on my own I began to volunteer to help others better manage their home finances.  Today I am a different person and that makes me much happier.  When I get into a disaster I know how to get out of it, and that is the best present that I received.”

Monthly expenses:

Apartment: 2093 shekels

Electricity and water: 520 shekels

Communication and television: 350 shekels

School and chugim: 2050 shekels

Car and gas: 220 shekels

Insurance: 400 shekels

Kupot Cholim: 230 shekels

Food and household expenses: 2800 shekels

Culture and leisure time: 200 shekels

Vacations: 300 shekels

Miscellaneous expenses ( pets, haircuts, fines, clothing, shoes, present, etc.): 845 shekels

Loans: 1500 shekels

Savings: 1000 shekels


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