Daily Israel Report

New Olive Press Seeks Revival of "Jewish Labor" in Israel

A new olive press in the hills of Samaria seeks to revive Jewish labor (Avoda Ivrit) and agriculture while producing some of Israel’s finest olive oil.
First Publish: 5/31/2005, 2:16 PM / Last Update: 5/30/2005, 8:06 PM

The biblical term for an olive press is a Beit Bad. Yigal Naveh of Meshek Achiya (Achiya Farm) spoke with Israel National Radio's Eli Stutz & Yishai Fleisher about the origins of the term, as well as how he and his friends seek to return to the Biblical roots of Israelite olive pressing - and make a living in the process.

You can listen to the interview on Israel National Radio.

“In ancient days," Naveh said, "a large piece of wood, called a bad, was used to press down on baskets filled with olives to produce oil." Meshek Achiya’s oil press, however, is a modern facility, built in the community of Achiya, between Eli and Shilo, north of Jerusalem. “It was built by Ronit and Yossi Shuker,” Naveh recalled, with a tinge of sadness. “Almost five years ago, Yossi was injured in the Beit Bad he built and has been in a coma since then. He fell into one of the machines and was seriously injured.”

About a year ago, young people from the neighboring town of Eli decided to continue Yossi’s dream, picking up where he left off. They started a company, creating a partnership with investors from Israel and the United States. They called the company Eretz Zeit Shemen, a reference to Deuteronomy 8:8-9 (“A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; A land where you shall eat bread without scarcity, you shall not lack anything in it…”).

“We started to rebuild the whole place, which had fallen into disrepair,” Naveh said. “It is now the only Jewish olive press in Judea and Samaria.”

Aside from being the only olive press in Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza), Meshek Achiya is one of only 20 Jewish-owned presses out of the 100 across Israel.

“We also grow 300 dunams (75 acres) of olive groves,” Naveh said, “and have managed to produce five times as much olive oil each year as adjacent Arab-owned trees, due to our supplying the trees with water and compost.”

Another standard which Meshek Achiya upholds is that of “cold pressing” the olives. “Cold press is the issue in olive oil,” he said. “When you take vegetables and make them into a soup, you kill most of the vitamins. So even though I can raise the temperature on the olives and get more and more oil, we are committed to not doing that.” Naveh said that almost all other olive presses use various methods to raise the temperature above the acceptable 35 degrees Centigrade, but “we truly don’t.”

Meshek Achiya also adheres to the various aspects of Jewish law that govern agriculture performed by Jews in the Land of Israel. This includes letting the land lay unworked every seventh year, called shemittah.

But the greatest aspect of the endeavor, in the eyes of Naveh and his partners, is the return to Jewish agriculture in the Biblical heartland. “The best part of it is giving young Jewish people work within Judea and Samaria,” he said. “Most people have to drive to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and our aim is to create agriculture here in Yesha. The settlement of the land is only the beginning. We were able to build houses, but now we must create jobs here. Going back to working the land is a much higher level of settling the land than merely living here.”

Naveh invited the public to visit the olive press during olive season, “between the holidays of Sukkot and Chanukah." The number for the visitors' center, as well as for home-delivered orders (within Israel), is 1-800-242-999.