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What Is an Otzar Beis Din?

veggies in binWhat do the words “Otzar Beis Din” mean? And, as an old friend of mine would ask, “Is an Otzar Beis Din good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?”

Literally, the words mean “a storehouse operated by Beis Din.” Why would Beis Din operate a warehouse? Is this some type of gmach or warehouse for impounded goods? Or a place where Beis Din stores people who are recalcitrant to follow its rulings? Although these might be good ideas, they have nothing to do with an Otzar Beis Din, which is a halachically approved method of distributing shmittah produce.

Before explaining what is an Otzar Beis Din, we must first review briefly the halachos of shmittah. These rules fall under two general categories:

(1) Laws of the Land

(2) Laws of the Fruit.

LAWS OF THE LAND

The Torah (VaYikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shmittah, and we are prohibited from working the land of Eretz Yisroel. One may not plow, plant, prune, or harvest one’s grapevines or perform most other agricultural work. Furthermore, one may not allow one’s land to be worked during shmittah, even by a gentile (Gemara Avodah Zarah 15b). Since we follow the opinion that shmittah today is only miderabbanan, we have one leniency — one may perform activities whose purpose is to prevent loss (see Gemara Moed Katan 3b). For example, one may water plants and trees so that they do not die (Gemara Moed Katan 3b; Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 1:10; cf. Chazon Ish, Shvi’is 16:4, 21:14, who is more lenient).

The landowner may not treat what grows during shmittah as his own; rather he must allow others to enter his field or orchard and help themselves. If his field is fenced, the owner must leave the gate unlocked and should remove any impediments that discourage people from helping themselves to the produce (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 4:24). They may take only as much as their family will eat, and the landowner himself may also take this amount (see Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 4:1). According to many poskim, the owner has a special mitzvah to declare that his produce is hefker, ownerless (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yorah Deah 3:90 s.v. vihataam).

One must not pick shmittah produce the way one usually would, but with a shinuy, some variation from the usual (Sifra). One may not sell shmittah produce in a business manner (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 6:1).

LAWS OF THE FRUIT

Shmittah produce is imbued with special sanctity, called kedushas shvi’is. The Torah provides specific rules that govern how one treats shmittah produce. These laws fall under the following categories:

THE WAY IT IS EATEN

The Torah teaches that shmittah produce may be eaten, but it may not be ruined. What types of “ruining” did the Torah prohibit? Foods that are usually only eaten cooked should not be eaten raw, and those that are not cooked should not be cooked. For example, one may not eat shmittah potatoes raw, nor cook shmittah cucumbers or oranges, even as part of a recipe. Similarly, one may not squeeze a fruit into juice, since this is considered “ruining” the fruit, although one may squeeze grapes, olives or lemons that have kedushas shvi’is since in these cases the fruit is not ruined, but improved, when squeezed. However, one may not squeeze apples or carrots, even if one usually does so, since one is ruining the fruit in the process of extracting its juice. Similarly, one may not add slices of shmittah orange to a recipe for a roast since the orange is ruined in the process even though the roast is improved (Shu’t Mishpat Kohen, #85).

If someone errantly squeezed a shmittah fruit, or cooked produce that should have been eaten raw, the finished product is permitted. It goes without saying that one must be careful not to actively destroy shmittah produce.

If one uses a shmittah product as an ingredient, one must treat everything that absorbs the taste of the shmittah product with the laws of kedushas shvi’is. Therefore, if someone used shmittah potatoes in a cholent, or shmittah onions or bay leaves in a soup, one must treat the entire cholent or soup with the laws of kedushas shvi’is.

One may not feed animals shmittah produce that is usually eaten by people. However, one may feed animals shmittah product that is typically used as feed, such as peels and seeds that people do not consume, or if they are no longer considered fit for human consumption.

COMMERCE WITH SHMITTAH PRODUCE

One must be careful not to sell shmittah produce in a way that implies that one is its true owner. For this reason, shmittah produce may not be sold by weight or measure (Mishnah Shvi’is 8:3), nor sold in a regular store (Yerushalmi Shvi’is 7:1). Instead, it should be distributed in a way that implies that this is a division of produce rather than a sale.

One may not export shmittah produce to chutz la’aretz (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5). There is a halachic controversy whether one may ship esrogim to chutz la’aretz for people to fulfill the mitzvah (Beis Ridbaz 5:18; Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186).

SANCTIFIES ITS EXCHANGE

Shmittah produce has an unusual halacha in that it is tofes damav, transfers its special laws onto the money or other item that is exchanged for it (Sukkah 40b). For this reason, if one sells or trades shmittah produce, the money or other item received in exchange also has kedushas shmittah and must be treated with all the laws mentioned above. Even so, the original produce maintains its kedushas shvi’is.

TERUMOS AND MAASROS

An interesting leniency applies to shmittah produce. Since it is halachically ownerless, there is no requirement to separate terumos and maasros from shmittah produce. The poskim dispute whether one must separate terumos and maasros from produce taken from the field of an owner who did not observe shmittah and did not allow people to help themselves (Shu’t Avkas Rocheil #24; Shu’t Mabit #11).

SEFICHIM

The Torah permits eating produce that grew by itself without working the field during shmittah. However, Chazal felt it necessary to prohibit grains and most vegetables that happened to grow on their own during shmittah year or were planted in violation of the laws of shmittah. The reason for this was that, even in the days of Chazal, it was unfortunately common to find Jews who deceitfully ignored shmittah laws. One practice of enterprising, unscrupulous farmers was to plant grain or vegetables and market them as produce that grew on its own! To discourage this illegal business, Chazal forbade even grains and vegetables that did grow on their own, a prohibition called sefichim, literally, “plants that sprouted.” Several exceptions were made, including that the produce of a non-Jew’s field is not prohibited as sefichim. Since a gentile is not obligated to observe shmittah, Chazal saw no reason to ban produce grown during shmittah in his field (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 4:29).

OWNERLESS

Since all shmittah produce is halachically ownerless, every consumer has the halachic right to “help himself” to whatever his family might eat. (The poskim dispute whether one has the right to do this if the owner refuses entry. Even if it may be permitted, I do not recommend helping yourself to shmittah produce if the owner is not observing the laws of shmittah.) If my neighbor owns fruit trees, I have the right to enter his field and help myself. Similarly, if he has a vineyard, I may enter his vineyard and take as many grapes as my family can eat as table grapes or drink as wine. The field and tree are not ownerless, but the produce is.

WHAT IS AN OTZAR BEIS DIN?

With this introduction, we can now discuss what an Otzar Beis Din is. The owner of a vineyard is not required to produce wine for me, to allow me to harvest the grapes only for myself. If I do not have the equipment or expertise to press and process grapes into wine or olives into oil, I will be unable to utilize my rights to these fruits. Similarly, although I have a right to travel from Yerushalayim to pick citrus, mangos and bananas grown along the coast or in the northern part of the country, it is not that convenient for me to do so. How then can I possibly utilize the benefit of shmittah?

Enter the Otzar Beis Din to help out! Beis Din represents the consumer and hires people to gather the fruit, crush the grapes and olives into juice and oil, ferment the juice into wine, package the product, and then distribute it to the consumer. The Otzar Beis Din acts as the consumer’s agent and hires pickers, truckers, and other laborers; rents wine production equipment; purchases the bottles; produces shmittah fruits, wines and oils; and delivers them to a convenient distribution center near my house.

 

Obviously, the Otzar Beis Din cannot expect the pickers, truckers, and other laborers to work as unpaid volunteers, nor can they use the production equipment without paying rent. Similarly, the managers who coordinate this project are also entitled to a wage for their efforts. The Otzar Beis Din divides these costs among the consumers. However, no charge is made whatsoever for the fruit, since it is hefker, only for the labor and other costs involved. Thus, Otzar Beis Din products should cost less than regular retail prices for the same items.

 

Similarly, the farmer is required to allow anyone to enter his field and help himself to his crops. However, since it is inconvenient for a resident of Yerushalayim to travel to an orchard in the northern part of Israel or along its coast to pick oranges and bananas, the Otzar Beis Din picks and transports them to the consumer. All the other halachos of shmittah apply to this produce.

A “MODERN” OTZAR BEIS DIN

The Rabbonim and Beis Din of Yerushalayim organized the first modern Otzar Beis Din in 5670 (1910). Rav Tzvi Hirsch Cohen, a talmid chacham from Rechovot who owned vineyards and orchards, came to the Rabbonim of Yerushalayim requesting that they function as his Beis Din to distribute the wine and fruit from his orchards for the coming shmittah. The written contract, extant to this day, was signed by Rav Chayim Berlin, Rav of Yerushalayim at the time; Rav Yosef Chayim Zonnenfeld and Rav Pesach Frank, both of whom were later rabbonim of the city of Yerushalayim; and by two other prominent dayanim, Rav Yisroel Yaakov Yaavetz and Rav Moshe Nachum Wallenstein. To enable Yerushalayim residents to receive wine and fruit from Rav Cohen’s orchards, someone had to arrange to harvest the fruit, process the grapes into wine, and transport the products to Yerushalayim. Since Rav Cohen was the most qualified person to take care of these arrangements, the Beis Din appointed him to be their representative on behalf of the general public to harvest and process the produce and transport it to Yerushalayim. As an agent he was entitled to a wage for his work, as were the other employees who harvested, crushed, packaged, and transported the crop, but no one was entitled to any profits on the produce.

The Beis Din established several rules to maintain that the laws of shmittah were scrupulously kept in this arrangement, and to guarantee that Rav Cohen was paid as a manager and not as an owner of the product. For one thing, they predetermined the price that the consumer would pay for the wine, guaranteeing that it be significantly lower than its usual market price (Sefer Minchas Yerushalayim pg. 161).

Because of the laws governing the harvest and use of shmittah products, the Beis Din also insisted on the following rules:

1) The wine and fruits could be distributed only to people who would observe the shmittah sanctity of the products (see Tosefta Shvi’is 6:11).

2) The vineyards and orchards had to be available for any shmittah observant person to enter and harvest for his own needs (Sefer Minchas Yerushalayim pg. 181).

3) The products were not distributed through stores, but were divided as a communal division of bulk product. The products were not weighed or measured. Each individual who participated in dividing the shmittah produce paid Rav Cohen as Beis Din’s agent, for which the consumer was entitled to “shares” of wine and produce that were delivered in bulk containers without an exact weight.

4) The actual harvest of the product was performed by gentiles and in an atypical way (Katif Shvi’is pg. 125).

In his analysis of the procedure of an Otzar Beis Din, the Chazon Ish (Shvi’is 11:7 s.v. bemashekasavti) follows a more lenient approach than that of the Beis Din of Yerushalayim. He ruled that representatives of an Otzar Beis Din may harvest in the normal way and use Jewish labor. Thus the Otzar Beis Din of a modern farm following the Chazon Ish’s ruling allows Jewish staff to use combines to harvest and process the shmittah produce (Sefer HaShmittah pg. 21).

In addition, the Chazon Ish permitted weighing and measuring produce sold through Otzar Beis Din. In his opinion, the prohibition against weighing and measuring shmittah produce is only because this indicates that I am the owner of the produce. However, weighing and measuring Otzar Beis Din produce is to determine a fair division of costs involved in supplying the produce, and not to demonstrate ownership.

The 1910 Otzar Beis Din of Yerushalayim was stricter than this approach and did not allow any weighing or measuring of produce. Each participating household received “units” of wine and/or fruit which were deliberately approximate and not measured or weighed.

In a modern Otzar Beis Din, the grower plants everything before shmittah and is given extremely detailed instructions regarding what he may and may not do during shmittah (Katif Shvi’is pg. 126). The grower must allow any shmittah observant person to enter the field or orchard and help himself to the produce (Mishpetei Aretz pg. 103).

Usually, the grower has agreed in advance to a price for his produce which he will receive regardless of the quality of the produce. The grower must understand that this price is not a purchase of the produce, but compensation for his out-of-pocket expenses, including compensation for his own time.

“HETER OTZAR BEIS DIN”

Now is the time to approach our second question: “Is an Otzar Beis Din good or bad for the Jews?” The modern term “heter Otzar Beis Din” is used pejoratively. The purpose of an Otzar Beis Din is to service the consumer, not the producer, as I explained above. Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals sometimes manipulate the rubric of Otzar Beis Din to allow a “business as usual” attitude and violate both the spirit and the halacha of shmittah. If the farmer is operating with a true Otzar Beis Din, he will allow a shmittah observant person to enter his field and help himself to the produce. (If he is concerned that the individual may damage the field or the trees, then he can make other arrangements.) However, if the field owner treats the produce as completely his own and charges accordingly, this contradicts the meaning of Otzar Beis Din. Cases like these are called heter Otzar Beis Din; meaning a permissibility based on an abuse of the concept of Otzar Beis Din. Because of these concerns, some hechsherim discourage the use of Otzar Beis Din. (See extensive discussion of this question in Minchas Yerushalayim Chapter 9.)

Thus in answer to our question whether Otzar Beis Din is good for the Jews or bad for the Jews, the answer is that although it is good for the Jews in theory, in practice Otzar Beis Din becomes bad for the Jews when it degenerates into a heter Otzar Beis Din. I certainly encourage use of a properly run Otzar Beis Din, which also includes that the produce must be treated with all the rules of kedushas shevi’is.

For the modern farmer, observing shmittah is true mesiras nefesh, since among many other concerns he also risks losing customers who have been purchasing his products for years. Of course, since a Jew realizes that Hashem provides parnasah and that observing a mitzvah will never hurt anyone, a sincerely observant farmer obeys the Torah dictates knowing that Hashem attends to all his needs. Indeed, all recent shmittos have had numerous miracles rewarding observant farmers in this world for their halachic diligence. Who can possibly imagine what reward awaits them in Olam Haba!

 

The Heter Mechirah Controversy

carotsThe Heter Mechirah Controversy

Several shmittah cycles ago I was working as a mashgiach for a properly-run American hechsher. One factory that I supervised used to manufacture breading and muffin mixes. This company was extremely careful about checking its incoming ingredients: George, the receiving clerk who also managed the warehouse, kept a careful list of what products he was to allow into the plant and what kosher symbols were acceptable.

On one visit to the plant I noticed a problem due to no fault of the company. For years, the company had been purchasing Israeli-produced, freeze-dried carrots with a reliable hechsher. The carrots always arrived in bulk boxes with the Israeli hechsher prominently stamped in Hebrew and the word KOSHER prominently displayed in English. George, who always supervised incoming raw materials, proudly showed me through “his warehouse” and noted how he carefully marked the arrival date of each new shipment. I saw crates of the newest shipment of Israeli carrots, from the same manufacturer, and the same prominently displayed English word KOSHER on the box. However, the Hebrew stamp on the box was from a different supervisory agency, one without the same sterling reputation. The reason for the sudden change in supervisory agency was rather obvious when I noted that the Hebrew label stated very clearly “Heter Mechirah.”

Let me explain the halachic issues that this product entails.

The Torah (Vayikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shmittah and prohibits working the land of Eretz Yisroel. During that year, one may not plough, plant, or work the field in any way. Furthermore, the farmer must treat whatever grows on his land as ownerless, allowing others to pick and keep his fruit. They may only take as much as their family will be eating, and the farmer also may take this amount. Many other laws apply to the produce that grows during shmittah, including, for example, that one may not sell the produce in a business manner nor may one export it outside Eretz Yisroel.

For the modern farmer, observing shmittah is indeed true mesiras nefesh, since among the many other concerns that he has, he also risks losing customers who have been purchasing his products for years. For example, a farmer may be selling his citrus or avocado crop to a distributor in Europe who sells his produce throughout the European Community. If he informs his customer that he cannot export his product during shmittah year, he risks losing the customer in the future.

Of course, a Jew realizes that Hashem provides parnasah and that observing a mitzvah will never hurt anyone. Therefore, a sincerely observant farmer obeys the Torah dictates knowing that Hashem attends to all his needs. Indeed, recent shmittos have each had numerous miracles rewarding observant farmers in this world for their halachic diligence. Who can possibly imagine what reward awaits them in Olam Haba!

Unfortunately, the carrot farmer here was not committed to this level of bitachon and instead explored other options, deciding to rely on heter mechirah. He soon discovered that his regular, top-of-the line hechsher would not allow this, so he found an alternative hechsher that allowed him to be lenient, albeit by clearly forewarning customers who may consider this product non-kosher. Although he realized that sales would suffer without his regular hechsher, he figured that selling some product is better than selling none.

WHAT IS HETER MECHIRAH?

The basic concept of heter mechirah is that the farmer sells his land to a gentile, who is not required to observe shmittah. Since a gentile now owns the land, the gentile may farm the land, sell its produce, and make a profit. The poskim dispute whether a Jew may work land owned by a gentile during shmittah (Tosafos, Gittin 62a s.v. ayn odrin, prohibits; whereas Rashi, Sanhedrin 26a s.v. agiston, permits).

IS THIS ANY DIFFERENT FROM SELLING ONE’S CHOMETZ FOR PESACH?

Although some poskim make this comparison (Shu’t Yeshuos Malko, Yoreh Deah #53), many point out differences between selling chometz to a gentile and selling him land in Eretz Yisroel. Indeed although the Mishnah (Pesachim 21a) and other early halachic sources (Tosefta, Pesachim 2:6) mention selling chometz to a non-Jew before Pesach, no early source mentions selling land of Eretz Yisroel to avoid shmittah (Sefer Hashmittah pg. 71). The earliest source I found discussing this possibility was an eighteenth century responsum penned by Rav Mordechai Rubyou, the Rosh Yeshivah in Hebron at the time, who discusses the tribulations of a Jew owning a vineyard in Eretz Yisroel in that era (Shu’t Shemen Hamor, Yoreh Deah #4. This sefer was published posthumously in 1793.)

HISTORY OF MODERN HETER MECHIRAH

Before explaining the halachic background to the heter mechirah question, I think it is important to understand the historical context of the shaylah.

Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinski, one of the great twentieth century poskim of Eretz Yisroel, describes the history and development of the use of heter mechirah. (My source for most of the forthcoming historical material is his work, Sefer Hashmittah.)

The first modern shmittah was in the year 5642 (1882), although at that time there were a mere handful of Jewish farmers in Israel, located in Petach Tikvah, Motza, and Mikveh Yisroel. The highly observant farmers in these communities were uncompromising in their commitment to observe shmittah in full halachic detail. Apparently, at the same time there were some Sefardic farmers in Israel whose rabbonim did allow them to sell their fields to a gentile for the duration of shmittah (see Shu’t Yeshuos Malko, Yoreh Deah #53; Shu’t Yabia Omer 3:Yoreh Deah #19:7).

By the next shmittah of 5649 (1889), there was already a much larger Jewish agricultural presence in Eretz Yisroel. Prior to that shmittah year, representatives of the developing Israeli agricultural communities approached several prominent Eastern European gedolim,laiming that the new yishuv could not survive financially if shmittah were to be observed fully and that mass starvation would result. Could they sell their land to a gentile for the duration of shmittah and then plant the land and sell its produce?

THE BEGINNINGS OF A CONTROVERSY

Rav Naftali Hertz, the Rav of Yaffo, who also served as the Rav of most of the agricultural communities involved, directed the shaylah to the gedolei haposkim of the time, both in Israel and in Europe. The rabbonim in Europe were divided, with many prominent poskim, including Rav Yehoshua Kutno, Rav Yosef Engel and Rav Shmuel Mahliver, approving the sale of the land to non-Jews as a horaas shaah, a ruling necessitated by the emergency circumstances prevailing, but not necessarily permitted in the future. They permitted the heter mechirah, but only with many provisos, including that only non-Jews perform most agricultural work. On the other hand, many great European poskim prohibited this heter mechirah, including such luminaries as the Netziv (Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, the Rosh Yeshivah of the preeminent yeshiva of the era in Volozhin, Lithuania), the Beis HaLevi (3:1) (Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveichek), the Aruch HaShulchan (Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein), and Rav Dovid Karliner.

Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, the Rav of Kovno, Lithuania, who many viewed as the posek hador, ruled that Rav Hertz could perform the sale and instructed him to have the great poskim of Yerushalayim actuate the sale.

This complicated matters, since the Ashkenazi Rabbonei Yerushalayim universally opposed the heter mechirah and published a letter decrying it stridently. This letter, signed by the two rabbonim of Yerushalayim, Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin and Rav Shmuel Salant, and over twenty other gedolim and talmidei chachamim, implored the farmers in the new yishuv to keep shmittah steadfast and expounded on the divine blessings guaranteed them for observing shmittah. The letter also noted that Klal Yisroel was punished severely in  earlier times for abrogating shmittah (see Avos Chapter 5). As Rashi (Vayikra 26:35) points out, the seventy years of Jewish exile between the two batei hamikdash correspond to the exact number of shmittos that were not observed from when the Jews entered Eretz Yisroel until the exile. The great leaders of Yerushalayim hoped that if Klal Yisroel observed shmittah correctly, this would constitute a collective teshuvah for the sins of Klal Yisroel and would usher in the geulah.

Rav Hertz, who had originally asked the shaylah, was torn as to what to do. Although he had received letters from some of the greatest poskim of Europe permitting the mechirah, the poskei Yerushalayim were adamant in their opposition. He decided not to sell the land himself, but arranged mechirah for those who wanted it through the Sefardic rabbonim in Yerushalayim, who had apparently performed this mechirah in previous years.

What happened? Did the Jewish farmers observe the shmittah as cajoled by the Rabbonei Yerushalayim, or did they rely on heter mechirah? Although the very committed farmers observed shmittah according to the dictates of the Gedolei Yerushalayim, many of the more marginally observant farmers succumbed to the pressure and relied on heter mechirah. Apparently, many farmers were subjected to considerable financial and social pressure not to observe shmittah.

Prior to shmittah year 5656 (1896), Rav Hertz again considered what to do in the coming shmittah, and approached the Rabbonei Yerushalayim. This time, both Rav Shmuel Salant and Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin approved the mechirah and even suggested to Rav Hertz how to arrange this mechirah in a halachically approved fashion.

WHAT CHANGED?

Why were the very same rabbonim who vehemently opposed the mechirah seven years earlier not opposed this time? Initially these rabbonim felt that since we had now merited returning to Eretz Yisroel, we should make sure to observe all the mitzvos of Eretz Yisroel without compromise, and evading shmittah with heter mechirah runs totally counter to this spirit. However, upon realizing that few farmers had observed the previous shmittah properly, the feeling of these great gedolim was that without the option of heter mechirah, most farmers would simply conduct business as usual and ignore shmittah completely. Therefore, it was better to permit heter mechirah while at the same time encourage farmers not to rely upon it.

Prior to the next shmittah in 5663 (1903) Rav Hertz re-asked his shaylah from the rabbonim of Yerushalayim, Rav Shmuel Salant, and the Aderes, Rav Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz Teumim (Rav Diskin had passed on in the meantime), since the original approval stipulated only the 1896 shmittah year. These rabbonim felt that the circumstances had not changed and that there was still a need for heter mechirah. Rav Hertz himself passed away before the heter mechirah was finalized, and his son-in-law, Rav Yosef HaLevi, apparently a talmid chacham of note, finalized the mechirah in his stead, following the instructions of the rabbonei Yerushalayim.

Seven years later (5670/1910), Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook was the Rav of Yaffo and continued the practice of the mechirah, while at the same time encouraging those who would observe shmittah correctly to do so. As Rav he continued this practice of performing the heter mechirah for the several subsequent shmittos of his life.

In addition, Rav Kook instituted a new aspect to heter mechirah. Prior to his time, the heter mechirah involved appointing an agent to sell the land for the years of shmittah. Rav Kook improvised a facet of the mechira enabling even a farmer who did not avail himself of the mechirah to be included since it would be in his best interest to have some heter when he works his field rather than totally desecrating the Holy Land in the holy year.

Although there is merit in protecting the farmer from his sin, a practical question now results that affects a consumer purchasing this farmer’s produce. If the farmer did not authorize the sale, does the produce indeed not have the sanctity of shmittah produce? For this latter reason, many individuals who might otherwise accept heter mechirah produce do not.

By the way, although the original heter mechirah specified that gentiles must perform all plowing, planting and harvesting, this provision is no longer observed by most farmers who rely on heter mechirah. Many farmers who rely on heter mechirah follow a “business as usual” attitude once they have dutifully signed the paperwork authorizing the sale. Indeed, who keeps the profits from the shmittah produce, the Jew or the non-Jew to whom he sold his land? One can ask — is this considered a sale?

Another point raised is that although Chazal also contended with much laxity in observing the laws of shmittah, they did not mention selling the land to evade the mitzvah. This is underscored by the fact that there are indeed precedents where Chazal mention ways to avoid observing mitzvos. For example, the Gemara mentions methods whereby one could avoid separating maaser for those who want to evade this mitzvah, although Chazal did not approve of doing so. Furthermore, when Hillel realized that people were violating the halachos of shmittas kesafim, he instituted the pruzbul. Yet no hint of avoiding shmittah by selling land to a gentile is ever mentioned, thus implying that there is halachic or hashkafic difficulty with this approach (Sefer Hashmittah pg. 82).

SELLING ERETZ YISROEL

In addition to the question of whether one should evade performing a mitzvah of the Torah, the issue of heter mechirah involves another tremendous halachic difficulty. How can one sell any land of Eretz Yisroel when the Torah prohibits selling it to a non-Jew (Avodah Zarah 20a), and Chazal prohibit even renting the land (Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 20b)?

Different poskim have suggested various approaches to avoid this prohibition. Some contend that selling land temporarily with an expressed condition that it returns to the owner preempts the violation (Shu’t Shemen Hamor, Yoreh Deah #4), while others permit this since the sale is to assist the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisroel (Shu’t Yeshuos Malko, Yoreh Deah #55; Yalkut Yosef pg. 666, quoting Rav Reuven Katz, the late rav of Petach Tikvah). Others contend that the prohibition extends only to selling land to an idol-worshipper but not a gentile who does not worship idols (Sefer Hashmittah pg. 74; Yalkut Yosef pg. 665, quoting Mizbayach Adamah), whereas still others maintain that one may sell land to a gentile who already owns land in Israel (Shabbas Ha’aretz, Mavo 12). The original contracts approved by the rabbonei Yerushalayim incorporate some other aspects of the way the sale transpires to avoid this problem (Sefer Hashemittah pg. 75). Each of these approaches is halachically controversial. In fact, the problem of selling the land to a gentile is so controversial that many poskim consider such a sale invalid because of the principle ein shaliach lidvar aveirah, that transacting property through agency in a halachically unacceptable manner is invalid (Chazon Ish, Shvi’is 24:4).

Among contemporary poskim there is wide disagreement whether one may eat produce manufactured through heter mechirah; some contending that one may, others ruling that both the produce and the pots are non-kosher, whereas others accept that the pots should not be considered non-kosher although one should carefully avoid eating heter mechirah produce. Because of the halachic controversies involved, none of the major hechsherim in North America approve heter mechirah produce. Someone visiting Eretz Yisroel during shmittah who wants to maintain this standard should clarify in advance what he intends to do.

FRUITS VERSUS VEGETABLES

Some rabbonim ruled that the fruits produced under heter mechirah may be treated as kosher, but not the vegetables. The reason for this distinction follows:

SEFICHIM

The Torah permitted the use of any produce that grew on its own without working the field during shmittah. Unfortunately though, even in the days of Chazal, it was common to find Jews who deceitfully ignored shmittah laws. One practice of enterprising, unscrupulous farmers was to plant grain or vegetables and market them as produce that grew on its own. To make certain that these farmers did not benefit from their misdeeds, Chazal forbade all grains and vegetables, even those that grew on their own, a prohibition called sefichim, or plants that sprouted.

Several exceptions were made, including that produce of a non-Jew’s field is not prohibited as sefichim. Thus, if the heter mechirah is considered a charade and not a valid sale, the grain and vegetables growing in a heter mechirah field are prohibited as sefichim.

WHY NOT FRUIT?

Chazal did not extend the prohibition of sefichim to fruit because there was less incentive for a cheating farmer. Although trees definitely thrive when pruned and attended to, they will produce even if left unattended for a year. Thus, the farmer has less incentive to tend his trees.

“GUARDED PRODUCE”

I mentioned above that a farmer must allow others to help themselves to the produce that grows on his trees and fields during shmittah. What is the halacha if a farmer refused to allow others access to his produce during shmittah?

The rishonim dispute whether this fruit is forbidden. Some contemporary poskim prohibit the use of heter mechirah fruit on the basis that since heter mechirah is invalid, this fruit is now considered “guarded,” and therefore forbidden. Other poskim permit the fruit because they rule that working an orchard or treating it as private property does not prohibit its fruit.

What about our carrot muffins? If we remember our original story, the company had unwittingly purchased heter mechirah carrots. The hechsher required the company to return all unopened boxes of carrots to the supplier and to find an alternative source. However, by the time I discovered the problem, muffin mix using these carrots had been produced bearing the hechsher’s kashrus symbol and were already distributed. The hechsher referred the shaylah to its posek, asking whether they were required to recall the product from the stores as non-kosher, or whether it was sufficient to advertise that an error had occurred and allow the customer to ask his individual rav for halachic guidance.

What would you advise?

 

Rav Yehudah Hachassid and His Shidduchin II

quill and paperIn a previous article, we discussed the writings of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who prohibited or advised against many potential marriages that are otherwise perfectly acceptable according to halachah. But first some background on the chassidei Ashkenaz.

Who was Rav Shmuel Hachassid?

Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s father, known as Rav Shmuel Hachassid, was a very righteous individual who was a great mekubal, one of the baalei Tosafos, and a highly-respected leader of twelfth century Ashkenazic Jewry. Because of his great levels of righteousness, Rav Shmuel Hachassid was also sometimes called Rav Shmuel Hakadosh or Rav Shmuel Hanavi.

Rav Shmuel Hachassid was born in Speyer, one of the bastions of Torah that then existed on the banks of the Rhine River. (People whose family name is Shapiro and its various pronunciations and spellings are probably descended from someone who lived in Speyer; you might be progeny of either Rav Shmuel or Rav Yehudah Hachassid.) Rav Shmuel was the rabbinic leader of the community in Speyer and the head of a yeshivah. He was also the repository of much kabbalistic knowledge, both oral and written, that had been handed down from the generations of great Ashkenazic leaders before him, including many great baalei kabbalah. He became the recognized leader of a scholarly movement whose members were called the Chassidei Ashkenaz, individuals who lived their lives in an other-worldly existence, devoted exclusively to Torah and growth in yiras shamayim. The lengthy Shir Hayichud, recited in many congregations in its entirety after davening on Kol Nidrei evening, is attributed to Rav Shmuel Hachassid.

One of Rav Shmuel’s sons was Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who was born in approximately 4910 (1150). Rav Yehudah Hachassid is also one of the baalei Tosafos, and is quoted several times in the Tosafos printed in the margins of our Gemara (for example, Tosafos, Bava Metzia 5b, s.v. Dechashid; Kesuvos 18b, s.v. Uvekulei). Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s students included a number of famous rishonim who are themselves baalei Tosafos, such as Rav Yitzchok Or Zarua, Rav Elazar ben Rav Yehudah (the Rokeach), Rav Moshe of Coucy (the Semag), and Rav Baruch ben Rav Yitzchok (the Sefer Haterumah).

Rav Yehudah Hachassid also continued his father’s role as the head of the Chassidei Ashkenaz. He followed what we would consider an ascetic relationship to this world. For example, he fasted all day the entire week, eating only in the evenings. His disciple, the Or Zarua, records that Rav Yehudah Hachassid, fasted two days Yom Kippur (Hilchos Yom Kippur, end of #281).

Rav Yehudah Hachassid also authored works on kabbalah and is commonly attributed as the author of the poem Anim Zemiros, sung in many shullen at the end of Shabbos davening. He was also the source of works that can be easily read by the layman, two of which, the Sefer Chassidim and the Tzavaas [the ethical will of] Rav Yehudah Hachassid, are the subjects of today’s article. The Sefer Chassidim includes halacha, minhag, mussar, and commentary on tefillah. This work is mentioned numerous times by the later halachic authorities, as are many of the instructions in his tzavaah. As we will soon discuss, there is some question as to whether he actually wrote the tzavaah or whether he transmitted its content orally and it was recorded by his children or disciples. Rav Yehudah Hachassid graduated to olam haba on Taanis Esther, 4977 (1217), in Regensburg, Germany.

The tzavaah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid

In his ethical will, Rav Yehudah Hachassid prohibits and/or advises against a vast array of practices for which he is the earliest, and sometimes the only, halachic source. Why did Rav Yehudah Hachassid prohibit these actions? Although we are not certain, because he offered no explanation, many later authorities assume that, in most instances, these were practices that Rav Yehudah Hachassid realized are dangerous because of kabbalistic reasons. Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, author of Shulchan Aruch Harav and Tanya) is quoted as having said that to understand one of Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s statements in his tzava’ah would require a work the size of the Shelah, a classic of halachah, kabbalah and musar that is hundreds of pages long.

Reasons for the injunctions

Although the considerations behind Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s rulings have been lost to us, several Acharonim proposed various reasons for one of his rulings, that a chosson and his father-in-law or a kallah and her mother-in-law should not share the same given name:

1) Some Acharonim maintain that the prohibitions are in order to avoid ayin hara. Due to the novelty, people would be more apt to talk about such a shidduch and cause an ayin hara (Chida, Peirush Lesefer Chassidim #477; Heishiv Moshe #19; Pri Hasadeh, vol. I, #69).

2) Others contend that if the kallah has the same name as the chosson’s mother, the chosson will be unable to fulfill the mitzvah of kibbud eim when his mother dies, since he will not be able to name a child after her (Maharil #17).

3) Another explanation is that it will cause a lack of respect towards the parents. If the chosson’s name is the same as the kallah’s father, she will inevitably use her husband’s name in her father’s presence (Even Haroshah #31).

The responsum of the Noda Biyehudah

In my earlier article, I mentioned the responsum of the Noda Biyehudah (Shu’t Even Ha’ezer II #79), who explains that the shidduchin that Rav Yehudah Hachassid discouraged are concerns only for his descendants. The Noda Biyehudah also holds that Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s concerns apply only to birth names or names given to sons at their bris, but do not apply to any name changes that take place afterwards. And most importantly, the Noda Biyehudah feels that it is more important to marry off one’s daughter to a talmid chacham than to be concerned about names.

Double whammy

The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Even Ha’ezer, end of #116) was asked by Rav Shmuel, the av beis din of Balkan, concerning a highly scholarly and qualified bachur whose first name was the same as the father of the girl that was suggested, and whose mother carried the same name as the girl. The Chasam Sofer permitted this shidduch, providing two reasons not cited by the Noda Biyehudah:

The Gemara (Pesachim 110b) explains that sheidim, evil spirits, are concerned only about people who are afraid of them, but that someone not troubled by them will suffer no harm. The Chasam Sofer reasons that the prohibitions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid apply only to people who are concerned about them.

Other authorities accept this conclusion of the Chasam Sofer. For example, after providing an extensive discussion on all the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, the Sdei Chemed (Volume 7, page 20) notes that when he assumed his position as the rav of the Crimea, he discovered that the local populace did not observe any of the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid. The Sdei Chemed, who himself was concerned about all of these rules, writes that he thought about mentioning these matters to his community. He subsequently decided against it, reasoning that no harm will come to someone who is not apprehensive.

Following this same approach, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that such a shidduch should be prevented only if the couple getting married is concerned that one of them shares a name with his or her future parent-in-law. However, if the marrying couple is not disturbed about violating the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, one may proceed with the marriage, even if the parents are — the concern of a parent will not bring harm upon the couple (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 1:4). Similarly, I found a different authority who rules that when the couple makes the shidduch themselves, there is no concern for the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid (Sdei Chemed Volume 7, page 21, quoting Heishiv Moshe).

It is reported that someone asked the Chazon Ish regarding a shidduch where the prospective kallah had the same name as the mother of the suggested young man. The Chazon Ish asked the prospective chosson whether he was apprehensive about this. When he responded that he was not at all concerned, the Chazon Ish told him that he could proceed (Pe’er Hador, vol. IV, pg. 90).

It is interesting to note that in another instance, someone asked the Chazon Ish about a situation where the prospective chosson had the same name as the prospective kallah’s father. The Chazon Ish ruled that as long as they do not live in the same city, they could go through with the shidduch. He explained that the whole reason beyond these rulings of Rav Yehuda Hachassid is ayin hara – people should not say “Here are the two Yankels.” However, if they live in different cities, people will not talk about them (Ma’aseh Ish pg. 215).

Others, however, view Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s prohibition differently. For example, some question whether a man whose mother is deceased may marry a woman who has the same name as his late mother. It would seem that, according to most of the reasons mentioned above, one may proceed with this shidduch. Nevertheless, some authorities are opposed, which indicates that they do not accept the reasons cited above (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:127).

Two versions

Returning to the responsum of the Chasam Sofer, he mentions another reason to be lenient, which requires some explanation. Regarding the concern that a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, or a son-in-law and father-in-law not share the same name, we find that the two sources attributed to Rav Yehudah Hachassid, the Sefer Chassidim and the tzava’ah, quote different versions of the prohibition. Whereas the tzava’ah states that a man should not marry a woman whose father shares his name, and a woman should not marry a man whose mother shares her given name, the text in the Sefer Chassidim (Chapter 477) states that if a man married a woman named Rivkah whose son also married a woman named Rivkah, then the grandson (the son’s son) should not marry a girl named Rivkah. The version quoted in Sefer Chassidim seems unconcerned about a man marrying a woman who shares his mother’s name or about a woman marrying a man with her father’s name. The Chasam Sofer concludes that the tzava’ah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid should also be understood this way.

Similar to the comment of the Chasam Sofer, the Chachmas Odom (123:13) notes that Rav Yehudah Hachassid clearly meant the same in both places, and that the Sefer Chassidim is written more accurately. Therefore, these two great authorities rule that even Rav Yehudah Hachassid was never concerned about a woman marrying someone whose mother shares her name, or a man marrying a woman whose father shares his.

Other lenient reasons

Although these three authorities, the Noda Biyehudah, the Chasam Sofer and the Chachmas Odom, are basically not concerned with the commonly understood application of Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s tzava’ah, other authorities are concerned, but provide additional reasons and applications when the concerns of Rav Yehudah Hachassid do not apply. Some mention that one need not be concerned where the two parties spell their names differently, even when they pronounce the name the same way (quoted in Sdei Chemed, Volume 7, page 17). However, the Sdei Chemed (Volume 7, page 20) concludes that the spelling should make no difference: either way, one should be concerned.

Variances of the name

The Kaf Hachayim (Yoreh Deah 116:12) mentions a dispute whether there is a concern when the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law have somewhat different names. For example, may a woman named Rivkah Rachel marry a man whose mother’s name is Rachel, since their names are not identical? Some feel that this is relevant when the woman now being considered for the shidduch is called Rivkah, but does not provide any basis for lenience if, indeed, she uses Rachel regularly as part of her name. According to this opinion, if she chooses to add another name to avoid the concern of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, she should be called only by the new name (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:126).

Similarly, some rule that if the son-in-law is known by two different names, some people calling him by one name and others by a different name, there is no concern if the potential father-in-law has one of these names (see Sdei Chemed Volume 7, pages 17).

On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules there is concern only if the full given names of both the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (or the father-in-law and son-in-law) are identical. Prevalent practice follows this approach. An example is that my rosh yeshivah Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, was not concerned that his daughter marry Rav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, notwithstanding that both father-in-law and son-in-law used the named Yaakov alone as their primary name.

Different English names

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that if the father-in-law and son-in-law (or mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) have different English names, there is no concern, even if they share identical Hebrew names.

Changing the name

Some earlier authorities suggest that the chosson or the kallah change their name or add to it. For example, when someone asked the Chasam Sofer about having his daughter marry someone who shares his name, he advised them to have the chosson change his name (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 2:7, in the name of the Kerem Shlomo).

Rav Moshe Feinstein accepted this approach of the Chasam Sofer in theory. However, in a responsum on the topic, he wrote not to rely on changing the name since, at the time and place that he wrote his teshuvah, people would continue to use the original name. A name change means that the person is now called by the new name.

Stricter approaches

There are, however, other authorities who are more concerned about violating the instructions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid and challenge or ignore the above heterim (quoted in Sdei Chemed Volume 7, pages 17 ff. ; Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:125).

In conclusion

I leave it to the individual to discuss with his or her posek whether or not to pursue a particular shidduch because of an identical name or a different concern raised by Rav Yehudah Hachassid. Of course, we all realize that the most important factor is davening, asking Hashem to provide the appropriate shidduch quickly.

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Leilui Nishmas
Devorah bas Yaakov ע”ה
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