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The National Religious Party yesterday declared war against the chief rabbinate's policy on the shmita (sabbatical) year. This is a stunning turnabout for a party that has hitherto been the rabbinate's staunchest supporter.

In a meeting with Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger, NRP Knesset members threatened to sponsor legislation that would end the rabbinate's monopoly on kashrut certification if it does not reverse its policy of allowing local rabbis to ban the heter mekhira ("sale permit") in their jurisdictions.

Under Jewish law, Jewish-owned land in Israel is supposed to lie fallow during shmita. However, the heter mekhira allows Jewish farmers to keep working their land by "selling" it to a non-Jew for the year.

Until now, the rabbinate always has backed the heter. Under its new policy of letting individual rabbis decide for themselves, however, 12 municipal rabbis have thus far vowed to deny kashrut certification to businesses that sell or use heter produce.

The High Court of Justice will hear petitions against this policy tomorrow.