||For centuries, shemittah remained a theoretical problem, discussed solely by talmudic scholars. However, with the dawn of 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 a statement permitting the transaction.
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. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, then the chief rabbi of Jaffa, was the leading proponent of the sale, while Rabbi 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 Rabbi Abraham Isaiah Karelitz of Bene-Berak. In Kibbutz Hafez Hayyim attempts to grow vegetables in water (hydroponics) have met with some success as a method of observing the restrictions of the Sabbatical Year. Various Israel institutes devoted to studying agriculture in light of halakhah also experiment with methods suitable to growing fruits and vegetables during Sabbatical years.