Post-Shmittah Awareness for the Eretz Yisroel and Chutz La’Aretz Consumer

If you are in Eretz Yisroel, you should be receiving this article on Parshas Behar. If you are in chutz la’aretz, you are receiving it the same week, but a parshah earlier.

 

How can we pass Parshas Behar immediately following a shmittah year without discussing the laws of shmittah? Yet many chutz la’aretz residents see no need to learn these laws, assuming that locally available produce is never affected.

Well — guess again. Although, according to the halacha, one may not export shmittah produce outside Israel (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5), much produce finds its way there. And, even in chutz la’aretz, we must treat fruit of Eretz Yisroel with kedushas shvi’is, according to all of the laws we will now discuss.

Situation #1: WHAT A ROAST!!

Traditional English Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding and summer vegetables macro close up isolated on white

When I was a rav in America, a knowledgeable housewife cooked a delectable roast, using wine whose label indicated that it had kedushas shvi’is. Although she had no idea what this term meant, her son pointed out that they needed to ask a shaylah what to do with the roast. To make a long story short, the entire roast had to be treated with kedushas shvi’is; I will soon explain what this means.

Situation #2: WHAT ARE SEFICHIN?

“I noticed a sign in shul that the fruits and vegetables in the local supermarket are from Israel and must be treated appropriately. Someone told me that the vegetables are prohibited because they are sefichin. What does that mean?”

Situation #3: WHAT WOULD YOU RULE?

Several shmittah cycles ago, I was working as a mashgiach for a properly-run American hechsher. One factory that I supervised manufactured 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.”

First, let us discuss the basics:

LAWS OF THE LAND

In this week’s parsha, the Torah (VaYikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shmittah; we are prohibited from working the land of Eretz Yisroel and must leave our land fallow (Avodah Zarah 15b). Just as observing the seventh day, Shabbos, demonstrates our belief in the Creator, so too, observing every seventh year as shmittah demonstrates this faith. The landowner must treat whatever grows as ownerless, allowing others to enter his field or orchard to pick and take its produce. The picker may take as much as his family will eat, and the landowner himself also may take this amount (see Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 4:1).

LAWS OF THE FRUIT

Although shmittah observance today is mandated only miderabbanan (see Moed Katan 2b; Chazon Ish, Shvi’is 3:8), nevertheless, most of its laws are the same as they will be when observing shmittah will again become a mitzvah min hatorah. The Torah imbues shmittah produce with special sanctity, called kedushas shvi’is, declaring vihaysa shabbas ha’aretz lochem le’ochlah, “the produce of the shmittah should be used only for food” (VaYikra 25:6). According to accepted opinion, one is not obligated to eat shmittah food – rather, the Torah grants us permission to eat it, and we must treat it accordingly (Chazon Ish, Hil. Shvi’is 14:10). There is much halachic detail involved in correct use of shmittah produce. For example:

  1. One may not sell shmittah produce in a business manner (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 6:1). Although one may pick shmittah produce for one’s personal consumption, one may not harvest it to sell commercially (Tosefta, Shvi’is 5:7).
  2. One may not export shmittah produce outside Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5). There are opinions that allow exporting shmittah wine and esrogim; however, the rationales permitting this are beyond the scope of this article (Beis Ridbaz 5:18; Tzitz HaKodesh, Volume 1 #15:4).

III. Shmittah produce is intended for Jewish consumption; you may not give or sell kedushas shvi’is produce to a gentile, although you may allow him to join you for your meal (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 5:13 and Mahari Korkos ad loc.).

  1. If one trades or sells the shmittah produce, the food or money received in exchange also has kedushas shvi’is (Sukkah 40b). (Because of space constraints, I will leave details of these halachos for another time.)
  2. One may not ruin shmittah produce (Gemara Pesachim 52b).

What types of “ruining” did the Torah prohibit? One may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat raw produce that is usually cooked (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 8:2; Rambam, Hil. Shvi’is 5:3). Therefore, one may not eat raw shmittah potatoes, nor may one cook shmittah cucumbers or oranges. Contemporary authorities dispute whether one may add shmittah orange or apricot to a recipe for roast or cake. Even though the roast or cake is delicious because of the added fruit, many poskim prohibit this cooking or baking, since these fruit are usually eaten raw (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85). Others permit this, if it is a usual way of eating these fruits (Mishpetei Aretz page 172, footnote 10).

One may feed shmittah produce to animals only if it is not considered fit for human consumption. This includes varieties grown for fodder, as well as peels and seeds that people do not usually eat (Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 5:5). A neighbor of mine, whose finicky pet turtle prefers to eat lettuce, had a problem what to feed it. Before shmittah he was trying to get it to eat grass, but the turtle preferred lettuce. Oi, is shver tzu zein a turtle!

Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is considered “ruining” the shmittah produce and prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice and oil of these fruits are considered improvements. Many contemporary authorities permit pressing oranges and grapefruits, provided one treats the remaining pulp with kedushas shvi’is. Even these authorities prohibit juicing most other fruit, such as apples and pears (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is pg. 185).

RUINING VERSUS EATING

How do we determine whether processing a food “ruins” it or not? Many poskim contend that if the processing changes the food’s preferred bracha, one may not perform such processing on shvi’is produce (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85, based on Gemara Brachos 38a and Rambam, Hilchos Shvi’is 5:3). Since turning apples to juice reduces their bracha from ha’eitz to shehakol, this would be considered “ruining” the apples. Similarly, the fact that one recites the bracha of shehakol prior to eating a raw potato or cooked cucumbers or oranges demonstrates that treating them this way ruins the produce. According to this approach, one may not press oranges or grapefruits either, since one recites shehakol and not ha’eitz on the juice (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85).

Those who permit squeezing oranges and grapefruits apply a different criterion, contending that since this is the most common use of these fruit, it is permitted (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is pg. 185).

One must certainly be careful not to actively destroy shmittah produce. Therefore, one who has excess shvi’is produce may not trash it in the usual way. Similarly, peels that are commonly eaten, such as cucumber or apple, still have shmittah kedusha and may not simply be discarded. Instead, contemporary practice is to place these peels in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called a pach shvi’is, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of the shmittah produce in the regular garbage.

When eating shmittah food, one need not be concerned about the remaining bits stuck to a pot or an adult’s plate that one usually just washes off; one may wash these pots and plates without concern that one is destroying shmittah produce. However, the larger amounts left behind by children, or leftovers that people might save should not be disposed in the garbage, but should be scraped into the shmittah bin.

WHY DECOMPOSE?

This leads us to a question: If indeed one may not throw shmittah produce in the garbage because it has sanctity, why may one do so after the produce decomposes? Does decomposition remove kedusha?

Indeed it does. Kedushas shvi’is means that as long as the food is still edible, one may not make it inedible or use it atypically. This is because shmittah food is meant to be eaten, even though there is no requirement to do so. However, once the shmittah food is inedible, it loses its special status, and may be disposed of as trash.

SANCTITY UNTIL SPOILAGE

This sounds very strange. Where do we find that something holy loses its special status when it becomes inedible?

Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with the mitzvos where this principle applies. Other mitzvos where this concept exists are terumah, challah, bikkurim, revai’i and maaser sheini, all cases where, in today’s world, we, unfortunately, cannot consume the produce because we are tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11). Of these types of produce that are holy, but meant to be eaten, only shvi’is may be eaten by someone tamei. Even though someone tamei may not consume tahor terumah, challah, or maaser sheini, in these cases, as well, one may not dispose of or burn them. Instead, one must place them in a secure place until they decay and only then dispose of them (Tur, Yoreh Deah 331). (We burn the special challah portion after separating it only because it has become tamei. If it did not become tamei, we could not destroy the challah portion, but we would place it somewhere until it decays on its own, just as we do with unused shvi’is produce.)

A SHMITTAH ROAST IN AMERICA

We can now explore the first question I mentioned:

1a: May one use shmittah wine to season a roast?

Although one improves the roast by adding the wine, the wine itself is ruined. Thus, some poskim prohibit using the wine in this way, whereas others permit it, since this is a normal use for wine (see commentaries to Yerushalmi, Terumos 11:1).

1b: What does our American housewife do with her shmittah wine-flavored roast?

If one uses shmittah food as an ingredient, one must treat everything that absorbs its taste according to the laws of kedushas shvi’is (see Mishnah Shvi’is 7:7). Therefore, one who used shmittah potatoes in cholent or shmittah onions or bay leaves in soup must treat the entire cholent or soup according to shvi’is rules. One may not actively waste this food, nor may one feed any of it to animals, until the food is spoiled to the point that people would not eat it.

Therefore, our housewife who added shmittah wine to her roast must now consider the entire roast, even the gravy and vegetables cooked with it, to have kedushas shvi’is. One serves the roast in the regular way. As mentioned above, the small scrapings left on an adult’s plate may be washed off; but the larger amounts left behind by children should not be disposed of in the garbage, nor should the leftovers in the pot or on the platter.

Although one may not dispose of the leftover kedushas shvi’is roast in the garbage, it is unclear whether one may remove these leftovers from the refrigerator in order to hasten their decay, even to place them in a shmittah bin (see Chazon Ish, Shvi’is 14:10). However, if one removed leftover roast to serve, one is not required to return the leftovers to the refrigerator. Instead, one may simply place the leftovers somewhere until they have spoiled. To avoid the malodor that this may cause, one may place them in a plastic bag until they decay and then dispose of them.

SEFICHIN

At this point, we should address the second question I mentioned:

“I noticed a sign in shul that the some fruits and vegetables in the local supermarket are from Israel and must be treated appropriately. Someone told me that the vegetables are prohibited, because they are sefichin. What does that mean?”

The Torah permits the use of any produce that grew during shmittah by itself, without anyone working the field. However, an unfortunate fact is that, even in the days of Chazal, one could find Jews who deceitfully ignored shmittah laws. One practice of unscrupulous farmers was to plant grain or vegetables, and then 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 by themselves, a prohibition called sefichin, or plants that sprouted. Sefichin are treated as non-kosher food and forbidden to eat, even requiring one to kasher the equipment if they were cooked!

Chazal made several exceptions to this rule, including that produce of a non-Jew’s field is not prohibited as sefichin.

Since Shmittah fruits and vegetables may be sold only to someone who will properly observe the laws, and, also, there is a prohibition of shipping this produce outside Eretz Yisroel, the growers of the Shmittah produce being sold in an American grocery presumably ignored the prohibition of Shmittah. There is also the possibility that they relied on heter mechirah, a topic that I dealt with extensively in a different article.

As a practical matter, few contemporary chareidi poskim permit heter mechirah, and, even among non-chareidi authorities, support for its use is waning. 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 sefichin.

WHY NOT FRUIT?

Chazal included in the prohibition of sefichin only crops that could be planted and yield a harvest in one year. They did not extend the prohibition of sefichin to tree fruits and other perennial crops, such as bananas and strawberries, because there was less incentive for a cheating farmer. Although trees definitely thrive when pruned and cared for, 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 free access to help themselves to any produce that grows on his trees and fields during shmittah. What is the halacha if a farmer treats this produce as his own and refuses access to it during shmittah?

The Rishonim dispute whether this will make the fruit forbidden. Some late poskim permit the fruit, because they rule that the forbidden working of an orchard or treating it as private property does not prohibit its fruit (see Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186). Others rule that one should prohibit “guarded 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 the problem was discovered, muffin mix using these carrots had already been produced and distributed, bearing the hechsher’s kashrus symbol. 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, advising the customer to ask his individual rav for halachic guidance. The posek asked permitted them to follow the latter procedure.

For someone living in Eretz Yisroel, observing shmittah properly involves assuming much halachic responsibility, education and often great commitment, since shmittah-permitted produce is often many times more expensive than its alternative. Those living in chutz la’aretz should be aware of the halachos of shvi’is and identify with this demonstration that the Ribbono Shel Olam created the world in seven days, and that the seventh year is holy.

 

How Will I Buy My Esrog This Year?

esrogimAs the shmittah year comes to a close, and the laws prohibiting agricultural work phase out, several halachos will still apply to the special produce that grew during shmittah. One issue that affects people living in chutz la’aretz is the status of the esrogim arriving for Sukkos. Before delving into some of the controversial issues involved, let us first discuss the basics:

The Torah imbues shmittah produce with a special sanctity called kedushas shvi’is. As a result produce that grew during shmittah:

  1. IS OWNERLESS — HEFKER

The owner of a field or orchard must treat whatever grows on his land as ownerless, allowing others to pick, without charge, as much as their families can use. Furthermore, one may not harvest the produce in order to sell it commercially (Tosefta, Shvi’is 5:7).

  1. CANNOT BE SOLD COMMERCIALLY

One may not sell shmittah produce in a business manner (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 6:1). For example, 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).

  1. SANCTIFIES ITS EXCHANGE – TOFESES DAMAV

If one trades or sells shmittah produce, whatever one receives in exchange becomes imbued with kedushas shvi’is and must be treated with all the laws mentioned above. Even so, the original produce always maintains its kedushas shvi’is (Sukkah 40b).

  1. MAY BE PROHIBITED IF THE HALACHOS ARE VIOLATED –– SHAMUR VENEEVAD

According to many (and perhaps most) Rishonim, if a farmer did not allow people to pick from his fields, the shmittah produce that grew there becomes prohibited (see, for example, Raavad and Baal HaMaor to Sukkah 39a). Similarly, many authorities prohibit consuming produce that was tended in a way that violated the agricultural laws of shmittah (Ramban, Yevamos 122a).

  1. MUST EVENTUALLY BE “ELIMINATED” — BIUR

One has the right to consume shmittah produce as long as it is still available in the field. Once no more produce remains in the field, special laws called biur shvi’is apply, which I will explain later.

  1. MAY NOT BE EXPORTED

One may not export shmittah produce outside Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5). I will discuss shortly this issue’s impact on the export of shmittah esrogim.

  1. ARE ONLY FOR JEWISH CONSUMPTION

Shmittah produce is meant for Jewish consumption; one may not give or sell kedushas shvi’is produce to a gentile, although one may have the gentile join one’s meal (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 5:13 as explained by Mahari Korkos).

  1. ARE FOR FOOD AND NOT FOR WASTE

One may not ruin shmittah produce (Gemara Pesachim 52b). What types of “ruining” did the Torah prohibit? One may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, such as cucumbers or oranges, nor may one eat raw any produce that is usually cooked, such as potatoes (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 8:2; Rambam, Hil. Shvi’is 5:3). Similarly, one may feed shmittah produce to animals only if it is unfit for human consumption.

The prohibition is only to actively ruin shmittah produce; one is not required to prevent it from spoiling. For example, when one finishes using a shmittah esrog on Hoshanah Rabbah, one may not chop up the esrog so that it will rot faster, but one is not required to wrap it up so that it does not dry out. Once shmittah produce has become useless, there is no mitzvah to treat it in any special way, and it may be thrown away.

According to accepted opinion, there is no obligation to eat shmittah food – rather, the Torah permits eating it, if the rules are followed (Chazon Ish, Hil. Shvi’is 14:10).

BUYING A SHMITTAH ESROG

Since shmittah esrogim must be treated as ownerless, the grower may not harvest them for commercial sale or market them in the usual fashion. Furthermore, if someone sells the esrog, he must treat the money received in exchange with all the laws of shmittah sanctity. To remove this sanctity, he must use this money to purchase food that he will now eat according to the laws of shmittah food. When he does this, the kedusha on the money transfers onto the food.

This leads us to an interesting question. If no one may profit from the sale of a shmittah esrog, why are tens of thousands of esrogim being sold? Are people violating shmittah when they sell these esrogim?

WELCOME TO OTZAR BEIS DIN!

The answer is that when using an otzar beis din in the correct way, the esrogim are distributed and not sold. What is an otzar beis din?

In an article published here towards the beginning of shmittah year, I detailed the halachic and historical background of the otzar beis din. Allow me to briefly review the concept and then explain how this permits the distribution of esrogim.

WHAT IS AN OTZAR BEIS DIN?

Literally, otzar beis din means “a storehouse operated by beis din.”

As mentioned above, the owner of an orchard may not harvest his produce for sale, and he must allow individuals to help themselves to what their family may use. But, what about people who live far from the orchard and find it difficult to pick fruit for themselves? How will most people ever utilize their right to pick shmittah fruit?

Enter the otzar beis din to help out! Beis din, representing the public, hires people who know how to carefully pick and clean the esrogim, evaluate their kashrus, purchase the wrapping materials and boxes, and pack and ship the esrogim to the consumer. The beis din represents the public interest, supervises the hiring of necessary labor, the rental of equipment, and the delivery of the esrogim to a convenient distribution center near the consumer.

Obviously, no one expects the pickers, sorters, truckers, and other laborers to work as unpaid volunteers; they, also, are entitled to earn a living. Similarly, the managers who coordinate this project are also entitled to an appropriate wage for their efforts. Furthermore, there is no reason why beis din cannot hire the owner of the orchard to supervise this massive project, paying him a wage appropriate to his significant skills in knowing how to manage this operation.

WHO PAYS FOR OTZAR BEIS DIN SERVICES?

The otzar beis din divides these costs among the consumers. The charges to the esrog user should reflect the actual expenses incurred in bringing the esrogim to their consumers, and may not include any charge or profit for the finished product (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is 9:8 pg. 250). Thus, otzar beis din products should cost less than regular retail prices for the same items. (See Yerushalmi 8:3 that shvi’is produce should be less expensive than regular produce.)

All the halachos of shmittah apply to otzar beis din produce, which therefore may not be sold for profit. Acquiring from an otzar beis din is not really “purchasing,” since you are not buying the fruit from anyone, but are receiving a distribution – your payment is exclusively for necessary operating costs. For this reason, if the otzar beis din is run correctly, the money paid for its products does not acquire kedushas shvi’is, because it is paid not in exchange for the shmittah fruit, but as compensation for expenses (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is 9:8 pg. 250).

Although many otzarei batei din allow sellers to grade esrogim according to quality, a particularly beautiful esrog cannot command a price any higher than any other esrog in its general category, and the price of the entire category must reflect only the actual costs incurred. Selling an esrog at a higher price than this violates the rules of the otzar beis din and the laws of shmittah. In addition, the money received would be in exchange for a purchase and consequently have kedushas shvi’is that requires appropriate care. As a result, negotiating a particularly high price for a specifically beautiful esrog is certainly forbidden.

BIUR – ELIMINATION

At this point in our discussion, we need to explain the concept of biur shvi’is. One requirement of shmittah produce is that when it is no longer available in the field, it becomes subject to biur. The word biur literally means elimination, as in biur chometz, which refers to the destruction of chometz performed each year before Pesach. Biur shvi’is means that one removes shmittah produce from one’s possession when the biur date for this species arrives.

Although the Rishonim dispute exactly what biur shvi’is entails, we rule that it means declaring ownerless (hefker) any shmittah produce in one’s possession (Ramban, Vayikra 25:7; cf. Rashi, Pesachim 52b s.v. mishum and Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 7:3 for alternative approaches.) For example, let us say that I picked shmittah apricots and canned them as jam. When no more apricots are available in the field, I must take the remaining jam and declare it hefker in the presence of three people (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 9:5). I may do this in front of three close friends who will probably not take the jam after my declaration; it is sufficient that they have the right to take possession. If someone fails to perform biur, the shmittah produce becomes prohibited for consumption.

Produce still in the possession of an otzar beis din at the time of biur is exempt from being declared hefker. The reason is that this product is still without an owner – the otzar beis din is a distribution center, not an owner. However, produce originally distributed through an otzar beis din and now in private possession must be declared hefker. We will discuss shortly how this impacts on our esrogim.

HAVLA’AH

At this point, we must discuss a very misunderstood concept called havla’ah, which means that one includes the price of one item with another. The Gemara (Sukkah 39a) describes using havla’ah to “purchase” an esrog that has shmittah sanctity without the money received becoming sanctified with kedushas shvi’is. For example, Reuven wants to buy an esrog from Shimon; however, Shimon does not want the money he receives to have kedushas shvi’is. Can he avoid this?

Yes, through a strategy Chazal called havla’ah, in which Shimon simultaneously sells a different item to Reuven that has no kedushas shvi’is, such as a lulav. The lulav is sold at a high price, and the esrog accompanies it as a gift. Although everyone realizes that this is a ruse to avoid imbuing the sales money with kedushas shvi’is, the ruse works and the money does not have kedushas shvi’is.

HAVLA’AH PROBLEMS UNIQUE TO OTZAR BEIS DIN

However, it is inconsistent to purchase an esrog with havla’ah and acquire it through otzar beis din at the same time. Otzar beis din means that I am not purchasing the esrog, but receiving it from those who picked it for me. I am paying, not for the fruit, which is rightfully mine, but for the expenses, just as I compensate a friend who ran an errand on my behalf. Since the money is for expenses and not for the fruit, how can the otzar beis din agent charge extra for the esrog by saying he is selling an expensive lulav? The moment I pay an unwarranted sum for the esrog, I have nullified his role as agent, and instead, he is engaging in commercial trade in violation of shmittah. Thus, most instances of havla’ah cannot be utilized when someone is selling shmittah produce through an otzar beis din (Maadanei Aretz 7:2; note to Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is 9:8 pg. 251; see also Sfas Emes to Sukkah 39a).

Although I am aware of esrogim dealers who sell expensive otzar beis din esrogim through havla’ah, I know of no halachically acceptable method to do this. Hopefully, some authority holds that one may use otzar beis din in this way. However, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, z”tl, and Rav Elyashiv, z”tl, both prohibited this practice.

EXPORT

Having explained many of the issues of shmittah esrogim, we are still left with one major subject to discuss. At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that the Mishnah prohibits exporting shmittah produce to chutz la’aretz (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5). If that is true, how are so many thousands of Israeli-grown esrogim arriving in chutz la’aretz? Are the shippers all violating shmittah?

This question has been the subject of much halachic debate within the last century. I am aware of several innovative approaches to permit the export.

A very prominent Eretz Yisroel talmid chacham, Rav Yehoshua Tzvi Michal Shapiro, passed away in the early twentieth century leaving behind extensive notes and correspondence on a wide range of halachic areas. These materials were edited and published in 5680 (1920) by the renowned gadol, Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap, under the title Tzitz HaKodesh. In his responsum addressing the export of esrogim to chutz la’aretz, Rav Shapiro suggests three creative heterim to permit exporting esrogim to chutz la’aretz. The first approach assumes that Chazal prohibited exporting shmittah produce out of concern that the fruit would be eaten in chutz la’aretz, since shmittah produce may be eaten only in Eretz Yisroel. Indeed, there are early authorities, most notably the Raavad, who rule that shmittah produce may be eaten only in Eretz Yisroel, even though this position is by no means universally accepted. (Raavad commentary to Sifra, Behar 1:9; responsum of Rav Avraham Eizen published in Beis HaRidbaz 5:18; cf. Ridbaz, ad locum, who contends that this approach is not accepted halacha.)

Assuming that Chazal prohibited exporting shmittah produce to chutz la’aretz out of concern that it might be eaten there, the Tzitz HaKodesh reasons that it is permitted to export esrogim, since they are not usually eaten (Tzitz HaKodesh Volume 1 #15:4).

The Tzitz HaKodesh suggests two other ingenious methods whereby one could legitimately export esrogim, including a suggestion that a gentile ship them. The other option contends that one may ship shmittah produce to chutz la’aretz to fulfill the mitzvah, if one stipulates that they are returned to Eretz Yisroel afterwards. (By the way, several shmittos ago, the esrog I purchased contained such instructions inside the box, obviously based on this psak.)

Another authority suggests a different rationale to permit exporting shmittah esrogim. He cites sources that the prohibition to export shmittah produce is because the biur of all shmittah produce must be in Eretz Yisroel, and Chazal were concerned that the fruit may remain in chutz la’aretz until the time for biur arrives. He then contends that the law of biur does not apply to esrogim, since some esrogim always remain on the tree. Since esrogim are always available in the field, the law of biur does not apply to esrogim, and the prohibition to export is similarly inapplicable (Beis Ridbaz 5:18; however, cf. Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is 6:5).

IMPORTING ESROGIM FROM ERETZ YISROEL

Rav Moshe Feinstein accepted none of these rationales to permit export of shmittah esrogim. Nevertheless, he ruled that the importer does not violate halacha by ordering shmittah esrogim from Israel, since the exporter is acting on the basis of a lenient psak (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186).

WHAT DO I DO WITH MY ESROG?

For the most part, those living in North America are concerned less about whether they may import esrogim from Eretz Yisroel, and more about what to do with such an esrog after Sukkos. The esrog keeps its kedushas shvi’is until it becomes inedible, and one may not actively facilitate its decay process nor ruin it in any way.

According to one approach suggested by the Tzitz HaKodesh, one may be required to ship the esrog back to Eretz Yisroel after Sukkos. However, most authorities do not require this.

Assuming that return shipping is not required, one still may not destroy the esrog after Sukkos, but one is not required to preserve it. Therefore, the simplest solution is to remember not to wrap up the esrog on Hoshanah Rabbah. Without wrapping or refrigeration, the esrog will soon dry out and become inedible. At that point, one may dispose of it.

When we look around the shul on Sukkos and see everyone holding his own set of arba’ah minim, we should sing praises to Hashem for helping us fulfill these mitzvos so easily in comparison to earlier times, when it was common for an entire community to share one set. At the same time, we should remember the modern farmer in Israel who observed shmittah with true mesiras nefesh, thereby attesting to the message of shmittah — that the Ribbono Shel Olam created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

 

Semicha and Sanhedrin Controversies of the 16th to 21st Centuries, Part II

This is the continuation of the article I sent out last week. Although the news story for which this was written is no longer a hot topic, the halachic information is still germane and relates directly to Parshas Ki Seitzei.

In part I of this article, we explained that the Sanhedrin, which is also called the Beis Din Hagadol, is the final authority on all matters of halacha and that the interpretation by its 71 members of Torah shebe’al peh is both exclusive and authoritative. Any halachic issue that is questionable and disputed by a lower beis din is referred to the Beis Din Hagadol for a binding decision. We also noted that the Sanhedrin fulfills several vital political and administrative roles, including the appointment of the Jewish King and the judges who serve on the courts of the tribes (the shevatim) and the cities. Furthermore, many other halachos require the participation or agreement of the Sanhedrin, including a decision to wage war, or any attempt to expand the boundaries of the Beis HaMikdash or of the city of Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1). Thus, the Sanhedrin is not only the supreme authority in matters of halacha, but it is also, quite literally, the “power behind the throne,” “the power behind the courts,” – and, at the same time, the court of final appeal. It has the final say in all matters, both worldly and spiritual. The Sanhedrin is also in charge of supervising the Jewish calendar through the appointment of a specially-designated committee. (In the absence of a Sanhedrin or Beis Din Hagadol, Hillel Hanasi established a calendar over 1500 years ago, so that the calendar can continue to exist, even during the interim that there is no Sanhedrin.

We also noted that among the many technical requirements that all members of the Sanhedrin must meet, there is a basic one: they must all be superior talmidei chachamim and G-d fearing individuals. In addition, all members of the Sanhedrin and, indeed, of all the lower courts must also receive the special semicha that Moshe bestowed upon Yehoshua, authorizing him to rule on all areas of Jewish law. We noted that there are several levels of semicha, and that all members of the Sanhedrin are required to have the highest level of semicha –one that authorizes its recipient to rule on capital and corporal cases (chayavei misas beis din and malkus) and to judge kenasos, penalties that the Torah invoked. This semicha can only be given to someone who is an expert in all areas of halacha.

We also studied the question as to whether the semicha can be reintroduced by us, and the controversy that developed in the 16th century about this matter. We noted that the conclusion was that the attempt to reintroduce the semicha then was not accepted on halachic grounds, for several different reasons. One of those reasons  was that the person receiving semicha must be a talmid chacham with the scholarship to rule on any subject in Torah.

How, then, will the Sanhedrin be reestablished?

The Radbaz, gadol hador of that generation, concluded either that Eliyahu HaNavi will issue semicha to others, as the harbinger of Moshiach’s arrival; or, that descendents of shevet Reuven may reappear who have semicha. A third option he suggests is that Moshiach, himself, will grant semicha and thus create a Beis Din Hagadol.

At this point, we continue our discussion:

SEARCHING FOR SEMICHA IN THE 1830’S

In the 1830’s, a leading disciple of the Vilna Gaon who had settled in Yerushalayim, Rav Yisroel of Shklov, made another attempt to restart semicha. Rav Yisroel was interested in organizing a Sanhedrin, but he accepted the ruling of the Maharalbach and the Radbaz that we cannot create semicha by ourselves. Instead, he decided to utilize the suggestion of the Radbaz of receiving semicha from the tribes of Reuven. Rav Yisroel charted out where he thought the Bnei Reuven were probably located, and sent a certain Rav Baruch, as his emissary, to find them (see Sefer Halikutim, in the “Shabsei Frankel” edition of Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11). Unfortunately, Rav Baruch did not succeed in locating the shevet of Reuven, and the plan came to naught.

It should be noted that Rav Yisroel raised the following question: How could the Bnei Reuven have kept the semicha alive, considering the fact that they were outside Eretz Yisroel and the semicha can be granted only in Eretz Yisroel? He answered that since the Bnei Reuven had been distant from the rest of Klal Yisroel before the decision that semicha can be only in Eretz Yisroel had been accepted, there is no reason to assume that they accepted this ruling, and they were probably still issuing semicha!! It is odd that Rav Yisroel assumed that although we paskin that semicha can be given and received only in Eretz Yisroel, he still held that a semicha granted outside Eretz Yisroel is, nonetheless, valid.

Rav Yisroel’s vain search to locate a musmach was an attempt to reintroduce the Sanhedrin, a far more ambitious plan than the Mahari Beirav had considered. Apparently, Rav Yisroel understood from the Gemara (Eruvin 43b) that the Sanhedrin must exist before Eliyahu can appear, a position that almost all poskim reject, as we pointed out above.

NAPOLEON’S SANHEDRIN

In 5567 (1807), Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, decreed the opening of what he called “The Sanhedrin,” consisting of 71 Jewish leaders, mostly Rabbonim, but including many communal leaders, many not religious.

This group had nothing to do with being a Sanhedrin other than that Napoleon had given them this name. Napoleon presented this group with a list of 12 inquiries to answer, all of which questioned whether the Jews were loyal to the French Empire and its laws, and about the interactions between Jews and non-Jewish Frenchmen. Of course, the “Sanhedrin” had to be very careful how they answered Napoleon’s questions to make sure that they were not guilty of treason. This Sanhedrin met many times in the course of about a year and then disbanded. It was never called into session again.

THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Those who call their modern organization the “Sanhedrin” base themselves on the Mahari Beirav’s opinion that we can recreate semicha today, based on the acceptance of most of the gedolei Yisroel. On this basis, they claim to have created semicha for one of the well-known poskim in Eretz Yisroel, who subsequently ordained a few others, who have ordained yet others, until they now claim several hundred “musmachim.

I spoke to one of the “dayanim” of the “Sanhedrin” about the procedure used to appoint their musmachim. He told me that the organization mailed letters to every shul and settlement in Israel requesting appointment of a certain well-respected Rav as musmach. They then counted the votes of those who responded and approved of their appointment. Since most of those who responded approved of the appointment, they have ruled that this Rav is now a musmach whose semicha qualifies people to serve on the Sanhedrin! To quote this “dayan,” “those who chose not to respond do not count. We have a majority of those who responded!?!”

Obviously, this system carries absolutely no halachic validity according to any opinion.

When I spoke to the “dayan,” he asked me if I was interested in becoming one of their musmachim. He told me that he would send me the information necessary for an appointment with their committee that approves musmachim. Consequently, I received a letter inviting me to the next meeting of their “Sanhedrin,” and a note that they had asked one of their members about me and, upon that basis, they were preparing a semicha with which to present me at the next meeting of the “Sanhedrin”!! I noted above that the Radbaz ruled that the person receiving semicha must be a talmid chacham with the scholarship to rule on any subject in Torah. Since I do not qualify for semicha on that basis, I am curious what criteria they are applying to determine a minimum standard for semicha. Unfortunately, I think I know the answer.

The group behind this “Sanhedrin” often implies that several different gedolim are behind their activities. This is highly misleading, since these gedolim refuse to be identified with this group’s activities. Any Jewish organization built upon falsehood is doomed to failure, even if it is well intentioned, since the Torah is Toras Emes.

When I spoke to the “dayan,” I told him that I had some questions about the halachic basis for their procedures. He answered that they prefer to reply to questions in writing, and he requested that I send my letters via e-mail. He promised that they would answer all my inquiries quickly. In a subsequent conversation, he told me that he had received my initial inquiry. I sent him two respectful letters, one asking several halachic questions about their procedures, the second asking for verification that some of the gedolim they have quoted have, indeed, endorsed their position. Although I sent each of these requests to them twice, I never received any reply from them.

Moreover, there are some serious issues that this “Sanhedrin” is delegating to itself. If I might quote from a list of their activities:

“Among the many topics the Sanhedrin intends to address are the bridging of the divisions between various communities of Jewish exiles who have returned to Israel; the establishment of authentic techeilet, the biblical blue thread Jews are commanded to wear amongst the fringes attached to four-cornered garments; the definition of the measurement of the ‘amah’ (the biblical cubit); the determination of the exact point of human death, so as to deal with the Jewish ethics of euthanasia; and the issue of agunot — women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce.”

I would like to point out that all these issues have been or are being dealt with by Klal Yisroel’s gedolei haposkim. (In other articles, I explained why most gedolei haposkim rejected the suggested sources of the techeiles dye.)

Recently, the group has gotten involved in several really serious issues. Apparently, they are exploring the location of the mizbeiach, the possibility of offering korban Pesach, and of appointing a king from the descendants of Dovid Hamelech. One of their meetings was, apparently, conducted on the Har Habayis itself! (Please note that most poskim prohibit ascending the Har Habayis.) The discussion about bringing korbanos is a well-trodden halachic discourse and, here also, all gedolei poskim have ruled that we cannot offer korbanos now. (Again, I refer the reader to an article on this subject that is available on this site.)

Based on what I have seen about this “Sanhedrin,” I pose the following questions to the reader:

Are the members of this “Sanhedrin” qualified to make decisions that affect Klal Yisroel? Are they qualified to make any halachic decisions at all? Is this not an attempt at arrogating halachic decisions from the Gedolei Yisroel and the Gedolei Haposkim? Are these the people who should be determining Klal Yisroel’s agenda? Doesn’t this organization cheapen the kedusha that the word Sanhedrin implies? Isn’t this organization an insult to anyone with Torah sensitivities?

The Gedolei Yisroel could organize a Sanhedrin today, if they considered it halachically acceptable. Clearly, they are of the opinion that the halachic foundation for such a move does not exist or, alternatively, that Klal Yisroel will not benefit from its creation.

We should all daven with more kavanah when reciting the bracha Hoshiva shofeteinu kivarishonah, “Return our judges like the ones we had originally,” as a result of Teka bishofar gadol licheiruseinu, “Blow the Great Shofar that will free us.”

Semicha and Sanhedrin Controversies of the 16th to 21st Centuries, Part I

This article was written a number of years ago. Although the news story for which it was written is no longer a hot topic, the halachic background included is still very germane and relates directly to Parshas Shoftim.

The Anglo-Jewish press has been carrying occasional coverage of a group in Eretz Yisroel that calls itself “The Sanhedrin,” a group of 71 rabbis convened in Teverya claiming that they had the semicha necessary to create a Sanhedrin as specified by the Rambam. The group chose Teverya because the original Sanhedrin last met there. The “semicha” that they received was based on a semicha granted to one well-known talmid chacham who had received semicha from “many prominent rabbis.” In the opinion of those organizing this “Sanhedrin,” this talmid chacham is now considered to have received semicha as handed down from Moshe Rabbeinu, and, therefore, he is now qualified to give this level of semicha to the others. The goal of the group is to have a body of rabbis who convene and issue rulings on pressing issues relevant to Klal Yisroel. The issues that the group plans to discuss and rule upon are: how to unify Jewish practice across the spectrum, to determine and reestablish halachic techeiles, to define the measure of an amah, to find ways to deal with agunos, to determine precisely the point of human death, so as to deal with issues of euthanasia, and to find a way to offer the Korban Pesach once again.

This group’s claims have generated some serious halachic issues pertaining to what the poskim have written about how the semicha and the Sanhedrin will be reestablished.

This article will be devoted to an explanation of the various halachic underpinnings of the Sanhedrin, including:

What are the roles and responsibilities of the Sanhedrin?

What exactly is semicha, and why is it such a central factor in the creation of the Sanhedrin?

What attempts have been made throughout history to reconvene a Sanhedrin and reestablish semicha?

Does this new organization fulfill its title?

WHAT IS THE SANHEDRIN?

The Sanhedrin, also called the Beis Din Hagadol, is the final authority on all matters of halacha. Their interpretation of Torah shebe’al peh is authoritative.

Any halachic issue that is questionable and disputed by the lower batei din is referred to the Beis din Hagadol for a binding decision.

The Sanhedrin also fulfills several vital political and administrative roles. It appoints the Jewish King, as well as the judges who serve on the courts of the tribes (the shevatim) and the cities. Each shevet and each city was required to have a beis din of 23 that the Sanhedrin appoints. Thus, the Sanhedrin is not only the supreme halachic authority but it is also, quite literally, the “power behind the throne,” “the power behind the courts,” and, at the same time, the court of final appeal. It has the final say in all matters, both worldly and spiritual.

Many other halachos require the participation or agreement of the Sanhedrin, including a decision to wage war and expanding the boundaries of the Beis HaMikdash or of Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1). (We are permitted to eat many holy items, including certain korbanos and maaser sheini, only in halachic Yerushalayim, which has nothing to do with its current municipal boundaries. Expanding the city requires a special procedure that includes participation of the Sanhedrin.)

In addition, several types of adjudication require the participation of the Sanhedrin, including the laws of eglah arufah, and prosecuting a false prophet, a city that went astray (ir hanidachas), a sotah, and a zakein mamrei, an elder who ruled against the Torah shebe’al peh (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1).

The Sanhedrin is also in charge of supervising the Jewish calendar, through the appointment of a specially-designated committee. (In the absence of a Sanhedrin or Beis din Hagadol, Hillel Hanasi established a calendar over 1500 years ago, so that the calendar can continue to exist even during the interim that there is no Sanhedrin.)

WHERE AND WHEN DOES THE SANHEDRIN MEET?

The Sanhedrin was open daily in its main headquarters, called the lishkas hagazis, inside the Beis HaMikdash. When they are involved in litigation, the entire Sanhedrin is present. When not in session, there must still always be 23 members of the Sanhedrin in the lishkah.

WHO QUALIFIES TO BE IN THE SANHEDRIN?

There are many technical requirements that all members must meet, but as a basic requirement, they must all be superior talmidei chachamim and yirei shamayim (G-d fearing individuals). In addition, all members of the Sanhedrin, and indeed, of all the lower courts, must also receive the special semicha that Moshe bestowed upon Yehoshua, authorizing him to rule on all areas of Jewish law.

DOESN’T EVERY RABBI HAVE SEMICHA?

There are several levels of semicha. The most basic semicha, called yoreh yoreh, authorizes the recipient to rule on matters of kashrus and similar areas. A more advanced level of semicha, called yodin yodin, authorizes its recipient to rule as a dayan on financial matters. A higher level, no longer obtainable today, is called yatir bechoros and authorizes its recipient to rule on whether a first-born animal is blemished and no longer appropriate to offer as a korban (see Sanhedrin 5a).

There was also a qualitative different type of semicha that could be obtained from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until the time of the Gemara. This semicha authorized the recipient to rule on capital and corporal cases (chayavei misas beis din and malkus) and to judge kenasos, penalties that the Torah mandates. Only a beis din consisting exclusively of dayanim ordained with this semicha may judge whether a person receives lashes or the death penalty for his actions.

In earlier days, each city and shevet had its own beis din of 23 judges, all of whom were possessors of the highest level of semicha. In addition, all 71 members of the Sanhedrin must have this form of semicha.

HOW MANY DAYANIM GIVE OUT SEMICHA?

The highest level of semicha may be granted by a single judge who is, himself, a musmach of this level, although the grantor must be accompanied by two other people, who need not be musmachim themselves. He may grant semicha to as many qualified people as he chooses, The Gemara records that Dovid HaMelech (himself an expert judge and tremendous talmid chacham) once granted 30,000 semichos in one day!! However, semicha given by anyone is valid only when it is granted to someone who is an expert in all areas of halacha. Semicha given to a person who is not expert in all areas of halacha is not valid (Meiri, Sanhedrin 14a).

This highest level of semicha must be issued within Eretz Yisroel. Thus, even if a talmid chacham is highly qualified, he may not receive semicha unless the grantor of the semicha and the recipient are both in Eretz Yisroel (Sanhedrin 14a). For this reason, most of the Amora’im, the great talmidei chachamim of the times of the Gemara, never received this semicha, because they lived in Bavel and not in Eretz Yisroel.

THE STORY OF RAV YEHUDA BEN BAVA

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 13b) tells us the following fascinating story: The Roman Empire once decreed that issuing semicha was a serious crime, punishable by death for both the grantor and the recipient. Furthermore, they ruled that the town in which the semicha was issued would be destroyed, and the areas near it would be razed.

Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava realized that he was one of the last musmachim (recipients of this special semicha) alive after the execution of Rabbi Akiva, and that if he failed to grant semicha to some young scholars, the semicha would terminate. He therefore endangered himself and granted semicha to five surviving disciples of Rabbi Akiva: Rabbi Meir (the author of the original draft of the Mishnah), Rabbi Shimon (ben Yochai, author of the Zohar), Rabbi Yehudah (ben Ila’i), Rabbi Yosi (ben Chalafta) and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua – basically, to an entire generation of Torah leadership. In order not to endanger anyone else, Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava brought them to a place that was midway between two major cities and was between two mountains. Thus, for the Romans to fulfill their decree, they would need to level two mountains.

Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava succeeded in this mission, although he paid for it with his life. Because of his supreme sacrifice, the semicha continued among the Jewish people for several more generations.

With the increased persecution of the Jews by the Romans, the Jewish population of Eretz Yisroel decreased considerably, and with time, ordination through this semicha ended. Thus, no one received the semicha that qualifies someone to judge capital, corporal, or kenasos cases, and this aspect of halachic life came to an end.

CAN SEMICHA BE REINSTITUTED?

The Rambam writes: “It appears to me that if all the chachamim in Eretz Yisroel agree to appoint dayanim and grant them semicha, they have the law of musmachim and they can judge penalty cases and are authorized to grant semicha to others… If someone received semicha from someone who already has semicha, then he does not require authorization from all of them – he may judge penalty cases for everyone, since he received semicha from beis din. However, this matter requires a final decision” (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11).

Thus, the Rambam suggested a method whereby the semicha can be re-created. However, several issues need to be clarified before this project can be implemented:

  1. Did the Rambam rule this as a final decision or was it merely conjecture? What did he mean when he wrote in his closing words, “However, this matter requires a final decision”? Did he mean that he was uncertain about his suggestion, or was he referring to a different aspect of his comments?
  2. Assuming that the Rambam meant to rule definitely that semicha can be re-instituted, did he mean, literally, that this process requires all of the chachamim in Eretz Yisroel to agree, or does a majority suffice? Must the rabbonim involved all meet in one place, or is it sufficient if they are aware of the process and approve?
  3. Is the Rambam’s opinion on this subject universally held? And if not, do we rule like him?

THE 16th CENTURY CONTROVERSY- REINTRODUCING SEMICHA

After the Spanish expulsion, many Jews remained in Spain, practicing their Judaism in secret, while publicly appearing to be Christians. Thousands of these secret Jews eventually escaped to areas where they could return to the religion of their fathers, yet they were haunted by the sins that they had committed in their previous lives. Many were concerned that they would never escape the specter of their more serious aveiros, some of which carried the punishment of kareis. Although they had become true baalei tshuvah, they lived in fear of their ultimate day of judgment, when they would have to give a reckoning for their actions and face the serious consequences.

THE SOLUTION

The Mahari Beirav, Rav of Tzefas in the early sixteenth century, came up with an original solution to the problem. He proposed the creation of batei din that would carry out the punishment of malkos, lashes, which releases someone from the punishment of kareis (Mishnah Makos 23a).

There was one serious problem with this proposal. In order to create batei din that can exact these punishments, one must have dayanim who have received the special semicha that can be traced to Moshe Rabbeinu. Since this semicha had terminated over a thousand years before, the Mahari Beirav needed a different approach.

TZEFAS, 5298 (1538)

In 5298 (1538), based on the writings of the Rambam (Peirush Hamishnayos, Sanhedrin 1:3; Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11), 25 gedolim of Tzefas, at the time the largest Torah community in Eretz Yisroel, granted semicha to the Mahari Beirav. He then ordained four people with the new semicha, including Rav Yosef Karo, who had already written his monumental works Kesef Mishneh and Beis Yosef, and later authored the Shulchan Aruch, and Rav Moshe deTrani, the author of several major halachic works, including Beis Elokim, Kiryas Sefer, and Shu’t Mabit. Mahari Beirav also sent a semicha to the Rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Levi ibn Chaviv, known as the Maharalbach, who he assumed would be delighted to receive such a wonderful gift!

The Maharalbach was not happy with the gift and returned it. He took strong issue with their conferring semicha, for the following reasons:

  1. The Rambam’s closing words, “This matter requires a final decision,” show that he was not fully decided on this halacha, and therefore it cannot be relied upon.
  2. The Ramban (Sefer Hamitzvos, Aseh 153) disagrees with the Rambam, contending that semicha can not be reinstituted until Moshiach arrives. Thus, since the Rambam was uncertain about this halacha, and the Ramban was certain that there is no such thing, the halacha follows the Ramban.
  3. Even if we assume that the Rambam meant his ruling to be definitive, the Tzefas rabbonim had not fulfilled the procedure correctly, since all the gedolim of Eretz Yisroel must be together, in one synod. (This opinion is actually mentioned earlier by the Meiri, Sanhedrin 14a.)

Furthermore, Maharalbach is insistent that all the scholars must be involved in the active debate, and that all must agree. Furthermore, he argued that even if someone contends that a majority of gedolim is sufficient, the minority must be aware of the debate and participate in it. He further contended that creating such a synod now would not help either, since once the Tzefas rabbonim had ordained the Mahari Beirav, they now have a bias in their ruling (noge’ah bedin), which invalidates their opinion on the subject.

Maharalbach proved his opinion that the Rambam’s suggestion was not accepted as normative halacha from the fact that there had been numerous opportunities for gedolei Yisroel to create semicha , and yet, they refrained. Maharalbach concludes that semicha will not exist again until the arrival of Moshiach.

WHAT ABOUT THE CRYPTO-JEWS?

As for the baalei teshuvah that would be left without release from their kareis, the Maharalbach pointed out that if they performed sincere teshuvah, they would be forgiven for their sins, no matter how severe they were. Although it is possible that they may experience some suffering in this world for these aveiros despite their teshuvah, they would receive no punishment for their aveiros in the next world (Makos 13b).

On the other hand, the Maharalbach pointed out that he did not understand how semicha could accomplish what Mahari Beirav wanted, anyway, since beis din cannot punish someone for violating the Torah, unless several requirements are met, including:

The sinner must receive a warning immediately prior to his violating the commandment telling him that he is sinning, explaining to him that what he is planning to do is wrong, and what punishment he will receive if he sins. The sinner must acknowledge that he heard and understood the warning and then performed the sin anyway. Furthermore, beis din does not punish a sinner unless two adult male Jews witness the entire procedure and then testify in front of beis din. (Of course, consequently, this means that cases in which Beis Din punishes for violating a Torah mitzvah are quite rare.) Clearly, none of these crypto-Jews had received warning prior to performing the aveiros, and therefore they are not required to suffer malkus in beis din. Thus, how would these baalei teshuvah receive the malkus they desire, even if dayanim musmachim exist?

RESPONSE FROM TZEFAS

The Mahari Beirav responded to the Maharalbach’s arguments. As far as the punishment of malkus is concerned, the Mahari Beirav held that if someone voluntarily asks for malkus for his sin in the presence of an authorized beis din, the punishment is carried out, even though there were no warnings and no witnesses. Thus, the creation of a beis din of musmachim facilitates the atonement of these people.

As far as semicha is concerned, Mahari Beirav did not accept the Maharalbach’s criticism that his semicha program was invalid. Mahari Beirav explained that the Rambam’s ruling is definitive, not theoretical or suggestive, and he questions whether the Ramban disputes this opinion. Even if the Ramban does question it, the Mahari Beirav contends that the halacha follows the Rambam. Furthermore, the Mahari Beirav contends that a simple majority of gedolim living in Eretz Yisroel is sufficient to create semicha, since the halacha in all other cases of jurisprudence is that we follow the majority. Thus, since all the gedolim of Tzefas, who were a majority of the gedolim in Eretz Yisroel at the time, had appointed him as dayan, the semicha could be renewed on this basis. In addition, the Mahari Beirav contends that correspondence with the other gedolei Yisroel is a sufficient method to determine whether a majority favor renewing semicha, and that it is not necessary for all the gedolim to attend a meeting together for this purpose.

A lengthy correspondence ensued between the Maharalbach and the rabbonim of Tzefas, which is referred to as the Kuntros Hasemicha, and is appended to the end of the Shu’t Maharalbach.

Incidentally, the dispute between Maharalbach and Mahari Beirav as to whether the gedolim can reinstitute semicha dates back to the Rishonim. The Meiri (to Sanhedrin 14a) rules that semicha can be reintroduced by having all the gedolei Yisroel of Eretz Yisroel gather together and appoint someone to be a dayan. However, he rules that the gedolim must meet together in one group for this ruling, which precludes the Mahari Beirav’s method. The Rashba (Bava Kamma 36b) also cites Rambam’s opinion, although he rules the opposite, that renewal of semicha must await the arrival of Moshiach, following the opinion of the Ramban, as explained by Maharalbach. In addition, the Ritva and the Nemukei Yosef (both at end of Yevamos) state that semicha must await the arrival of the era of Moshiach.

Evidence to support the Mahari Beirav’s opinion, if not his method, can be drawn from the Gemara (Eruvin 43b), that states that Eliyahu will declare his arrival as the harbinger of Moshiach by coming to the Beis Din Hagadol. This Gemara implies that the Beis din Hagadol will precede the arrival of Eliyahu, and not the other way around (see Maharatz Chayes ad loc.). However, the Ritva and the Nemukei Yosef appear to hold that there will be no Sanhedrin until Moshiach comes.

THE RADBAZ GETS INVOLVED

Both sides appealed to the Radbaz, the acknowledged gadol hador, who lived in Egypt at the time, for a ruling. (The Radbaz later moved to Eretz Yisroel, but at the time of this dispute, he was outside of Eretz Yisroel and, therefore, had not been involved in the initial debate and discussion.)

The Radbaz ruled like the Maharalbach that the semicha was invalid, believing that the Rambam, himself, was not certain that semicha could be reinstituted by agreement of the Chachamim in Eretz Yisroel. Furthermore, universal acceptance of the semicha would be necessary, even according to Rambam’s approach. In addition, Radbaz felt that the person receiving semicha must be a talmid chacham with the scholarship to rule on any subject in Torah. He did not believe that his generation had any talmidei chachomim in this league.

HOW, THEN, WILL THE SANHEDRIN BE REESTABLISHED?

The Radbaz does discuss an issue: if we cannot create a new semicha, how, then, will we have a semicha in the future? As mentioned above, semicha is necessary to create a Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin is necessary to appoint the Jewish King and judges, and for many other community activities. Radbaz presents three methods whereby semicha can be re-established:

  1. Eliyahu HaNavi, who is a musmach (see Rambam, Introduction to Mishneh Torah), will issue semicha to others, when he arrives as the harbinger of Moshiach’s arrival. (Some poskim raise a question with this approach, pointing out that the Gemara [Eruvin 43b] reports that Eliyahu will announce to the Sanhedrin that his arrival is the harbinger of Moshiach. However, how could this happen if Eliyahu must first create the beis din? [Maharatz Chayes ad loc.] Many answers can be given to this question, but will have to be left for discussion another time.)
  2. Descendants of shevet Reuven who have semicha may reappear. Just because we are unaware of anyone with semicha, does not mean that members of other shevatim, who have been separated from us since before the time of the Churban, do not have semicha. (This approach creates a question. If semicha can only be given in Eretz Yisroel, how could members of these shevatim receive semicha, when we know that they were exiled from Eretz Yisroel? See below for an answer to this question.)
  3. Moshiach himself will grant semicha and thus create a Beis din Hagadol. Radbaz does not explain where Moshiach himself gets his authorization to grant semicha.

As noted above, Radbaz contends that no one in our generation qualifies in learning and yiras Shamayim to qualify. Specifically, he states that only someone who is qualified to paskin on any area of the Torah qualifies for this special semicha.

RESULTS OF THE TZEFAS SEMICHA

The Mahari Beirav passed away three years after the semicha project began. Although Rav Yosef Karo had received this semicha and actually ordained Rav Moshe Alshich (author of the Alshich commentary to Tanach), by all indications he never utilized the semicha in any other way. Nowhere does he refer to a renewal of semicha, and, furthermore, numerous places in Shulchan Aruch would be written differently, had its author assumed that a beis din of semuchim existed today. In all of these places, Rav Yosef Karo assumes that no beis din exists today that is authorized to rule on the laws of penalties and punishments. This is even more intriguing in light of the fact that, in his commentary Beis Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 295), he records as definitive halacha the Rambam’s opinion that semicha can be renewed.

Although Rav Moshe Alshich ordained Rav Chayim Vital (Birkei Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 1:7), who was renowned as the primary disciple of the Ari, z”l, the semicha trail appears to end at this point. There is no indication of anyone continuing the semicha project after this time. From all indications, we can assume that the psak of the Maharalbach and Radbaz, that we should not introduce semicha on our own, was accepted. Thus, the issue was left for the next two hundred years. We will continue our discussion on this topic in part II of this article.

The Mitzvah of Duchening (Birchas Kohanim)

In Parshas Naso, the Torah teaches about the beautiful mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim, wherein the kohanim are commanded to bless the people of Israel. This mitzvah is usually referred to by Ashkenazic Jews as “duchening” and by Sefardic Jews as Birchat Kohanim, or occasionally as Nesiyat Kapayim, which refers to the raising of hands that the kohanim do in order to recite the blessings.

Why Is This Mitzvah Called Duchening?

Duchen is the Aramaic word for the platform that is in front of the Aron Kodesh. The duchen exists to remind us of the ulam, the antechamber that stood in front of the Kodesh and the Kodshei HaKodoshim, the holy chambers in the Beis HaMikdash. The Kodshei HaKodoshim was entered on only one day of the year, on Yom Kippur, and then only by the Kohen Gadol. The Kodesh was entered a few times daily, but only to perform the mitzvos of the Menorah, the Golden Mizbayach (altar), and the Shulchan (the Holy Table that held the Lechem HaPanim). Before entering the Kodesh, one ascended into the Ulam as a sign of respect, so as not to enter the Kodesh immediately.

Similarly, in our shuls the Aron Kodesh represents the Kodesh, since we are permitted to open it and to remove the Sifrei Torah when we need to. But, before entering the Kodesh, one ascends the duchen, in this case, also, to show respect by approaching the Aron Kodesh after a preliminary stage.

The duchen also serves other functions, one of which is that the kohanim stand upon it when they recite the blessings of Birchas Kohanim. For this reason, this mitzvah is called duchening (duchenen in Yiddish). In the absence of a duchen, or if there are more kohanim in the shul than there is room on the duchen, the kohanimduchen” while standing on the floor in the front of the shul.

Basics of Duchening

There is a basic order to the duchening that occurs during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. When the chazan completes the brachah of modim and the congregation answers “amen” to his brocha, someone (either the chazan or a member of the congregation, depending on minhag) calls out “kohanim” to inform the kohanim that it is time for them to begin the brachah. After the kohanim recite the brachah on the mitzvah, the chazan then reads each word of the Birchas Kohanim that is recorded in the Torah (Bamidbar 6:24-26) for the kohanim to recite, and the kohanim respond. The congregation responds “amen” after each of the three brochos. After the last brachah of Birchas Kohanim is completed by the kohanim, the chazan returns to the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai by reciting the brachahsim shalom“.

The Gemara and poskim teach that at each of these stages, one must be careful not to recite one’s part before the previous step has been completed. Thus, the person who calls out “kohanim” must be careful not to do so before the congregation has finished answering “amen” to the chazan’s brachah; the kohanim should be careful not to recite the words of the brachah before the chazan has completed saying the word “kohanim”; the chazan may not call out “yevarechecha” before the congregation has completed saying “amen” to the brachah of the kohanim, etc. It is important to be mindful of these halachos and allow each stage to be completed before beginning the next. Unfortunately, even well-learned people are sometimes not sufficiently careful and patient to wait until it is time for their part to be recited.

Wearing Shoes During Duchening

A kohen may not duchen while wearing shoes. The Gemara teaches that this was one of the nine takkanos that were instituted by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai (Sotah 40a). Although there would seem to be an obvious association with the halacha that the kohanim were barefoot when they performed the service in the Beis HaMikdash, the actual reason for this takkanah is unrelated. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was concerned that a kohen’s shoelace would tear while he was on the way to the duchen and, while stopping to retie his shoelace, he would miss the duchening. However, people who saw that he missed the duchening would not realize what happened. They might start a rumor that he did not duchen because he is not a valid kohen! For this reason, Chazal instituted that every kohen simply removes his shoes before duchening.

What if the Chazan is a Kohen?

The mishnah states that when there is only one kohen in shul, and he is the chazan, then he may (and should) duchen (Berachos 34a). In this instance, the kohen will remove his shoes and wash his hands prior to beginning repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. There is a dispute among poskim whether a kohen may duchen when he is the chazan and there are other kohanim who will be duchening. The Shulchan Aruch rules that he should not duchen under these circumstances, because of a concern that he will become confused where he is up to in the davening and have difficulty resuming his role as chazan (Orach Chayim 128:20). Chazal instituted this prohibition even when we are certain that the chazan will not become confused, such as today, when he has a siddur in front of him (Mishnah Berurah 128:72).

However, the Pri Chodosh rules that he may duchen, and that the concern referred to by the Shulchan Aruch was only when the chazan might become confused (such as when he does not have a siddur to daven from). In most communities in Eretz Yisrael, the custom is to follow the Pri Chodosh’s ruling allowing a kohen who is the chazan to duchen. However, in chutz la’aretz the practice is to follow the Shulchan Aruch, and the chazan does not duchen (unless he is the only kohen).

In a situation where the chazan is the only kohen and there is a platform (the “duchen”) in front of the aron kodesh, there is a very interesting halacha that results. Since the duchening should take place on the platform, the kohen walks up to the duchen in the middle of his repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. After completing the duchening, he returns to his place as chazan and completes the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai.

The Minyan Disappeared

What do you do if you started davening with a minyan, but in the middle of davening, some men left, leaving you with less than a minyan? Can you still duchen?

If the minyan started the duchening with ten men or more, and then some men left in the middle of the duchening, they should complete the duchening (Biur Halachah 128:1 s.v. bipachus).

What Happens if a Kohen Does Not Want to Duchen?

A kohen who does not want to duchen should stand outside the shul from before the time that the word “kohanim” is called out, until the duchening is completed.

The Days that We Duchen

The prevalent custom among Sefardim and other Edot Hamizrach is to duchen every day. There are many Ashkenazic poskim who contend that Ashkenazim should also duchen every day. However, the standard practice in chutz la’aretz is that Ashkenazim duchen only on Yomim Tovim. In most of Eretz Yisroel, the prevalent practice is that Ashkenazim duchen every day. However, in Tzfas and much of the Galil, the custom is that the kohanim duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Why do Ashkenazim duchen in Eretz Yisrael every day, and in chutz la’aretz only on Yom Tov?

Several reasons are cited to explain this practice. Rama explains that a person can confer blessing only when he is fully happy. Unfortunately, except for the Yomim Tovim, the kohanim are distracted from true happiness by the difficulties involved in obtaining basic daily needs. However, on Yomim Tovim, the kohanim are in a mood of celebration. Thus, they forget their difficulties and can bless people with a complete heart (Rama 128:44; cf. Be’er Heiteiv ad loc.). Thus, only on Yom Tov do the kohanim duchen.

In Eretz Yisroel, the practice is to duchen daily, because the Ashkenazim there followed the ruling of the Vilna Gaon. He contended that Ashkenazim everywhere should duchen every day.

Why do the kohanim in Tzfas duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov?

The reason for this custom is unclear. I was once told in the name of Rav Kaplan, the Rav of Tzfas for many decades, that since Tzfas had many tzoros over the years, including many serious earthquakes and frequent attacks by bandits,  the people living there did not have true simcha. However, they were able to achieve enough simcha on Shabbos and Yom Tov to be able to duchen. This reason does not explain why the other communities in the Galil duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

It should be noted that the Sefardim in Tzfas duchen every day, not only on Shabbos.

Placement of Shoes

As I mentioned before, Chazal instituted that a kohen should remove his shoes before duchening. Unfortunately, some kohanim leave their shoes lying around in the front of the shul when they go up to duchen. This practice is incorrect. The kohanim are required to place their shoes under the benches or in some other inconspicuous place when they go up to duchen. It shows a lack of respect to leave the shoes lying about (Mishnah Berurah 128:15)

Washing Hands

Prior to duchening, there is a requirement that the kohanim wash their hands. In some shuls, the Kohanim wash their hands in the front of the shul before they go up to duchen. What is the reason for this practice?

This custom has a source in Rishonim and Poskim and should definitely be encouraged. Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. kol) rules that one should wash one’s hands relatively near the duchen, whereas washing further away and then walking to the duchen constitutes an interruption, a hefsek, similar to talking between washing netilas yadayim and making hamotzi  on eating bread. (His actual ruling is that one should wash one’s hands within twenty-two amos of the duchen, which is a distance of less than forty feet.) Thus, according to Tosafos, we are required to place a sink within that distance of the duchen where the kohanim stand to duchen. The Magen Avrohom rules according to this Tosafos and adds that since the kohanim wash their hands before Retzei, the chazan should recite the brachah of Retzei speedily. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohen washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos (128:9). Thus, Retzei must be recited in less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos. The Biur Halachah adds that the kohanim should not converse between the washing of their hands and the duchening, because this, also, constitutes a hefsek.

Duchening and Dreams

A person who had a dream that requires interpretation and does know whether the dream bodes well should recite a prayer at the time of the duchening (Berachos 55b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 130:1). It should be noted that the text of the prayer quoted by the Gemara is different from that quoted in the majority of siddurim. The Gemara cites the following text for this prayer:

“Master of the World, I am yours and my dreams are yours. I dreamed a dream that I do not understand its meaning — whether it is something I have dreamt about myself or it is something that my friends dreamt about me or whether it is something that I dreamt about them. If these dreams are indeed good, strengthen them like the dreams of Yosef. However, if the dreams need to be healed, heal them as Moshe healed the bitters waters of Marah, as Miriam was healed of her tzaraas, as Chizkiyahu was healed of his illness and as the waters of Yericho were healed by Elisha. Just as You changed the curse of Bilaam to a blessing, so, too, change all my dreams for the good.” According to the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, this prayer should be recited at the end of all three blessings, rather than reciting the “Yehi Ratzon” that is printed in most siddurim (Mishnah Berurah 130:5).

One should complete the prayer at the moment that the congregation answers Amen to the blessings of Birchas Kohanim. This prayer can be recited not only when one is uncertain of the interpretation of the dream, but even when one knows that the dream bodes evil (Mishnah Berurah 130:4).

Among Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz, where the practice is to duchen only on Yom Tov, the custom is to recite this prayer every time one hears the duchening, because there is a likelihood that since the last Yom Tov one had a dream that requires interpretation (Mishnah Berurah 130:1). This prayer is not recited on Shabbos, unless one had a bad dream that night (Mishnah Berurah 130:4). In Eretz Yisrael, where the custom is to duchen daily, the practice among Ashkenazim is to recite the prayer for dreams at the last of the three berachos of the duchening at musaf on Yom Tov, when it does not fall on a Shabbos. The custom is that the kohanim chant the last word of the brachah on these Yom Tov days to allow people sufficient time to recite this prayer.

In all places, the custom among Sefardim is not to recite the prayer unless the person had such a dream.

As a kohen, myself, I find duchening to be the most beautiful of mitzvos. We are, indeed, so fortunate to have a commandment to bless our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. The nusach of the brachah is also worth noting. “Levarach es amo Yisrael b’ahava” — to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohen must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

 

Desktop Gardening, Or Growing Vegetables in Thin Air

vegetable gardenWell, not quite thin air, because plants, like the rest of us, require nutrients and water to grow. Although the word “aeroponics” does not show up in either of the dictionaries I use for handy reference, and is totally ignored by my spellchecker, it is actually common enough that it should be appearing in any current dictionary of the English language. I admit that I had no idea what the word meant when Yehudah asked me the following shaylah:

“To overcome the many problems that may be involved in purchasing products during shemittah, we want to purchase a large aeroponics kit and grow our own vegetables. Will this present us with any halachic problems in terms of either the laws of shemittah, or the laws of kelayim?”

And so, I began my education about this subject. This is what I discovered:

Aeroponics is a method of growing vegetables or herbs without soil by spraying the plant roots with water and nutrients (as opposed to hydroponics where the roots are submerged in a nutrient solution). Although it can be done on a commercial scale, the company Yehudah contacted sells aeroponic kits for growing herbs and vegetables in the comfort of one’s home. Each kit includes the seeds and nutrients required for specific types of plants, a complete, self-contained, open-top growing tank that includes its own light fixtures and instructions on how to make it all work. Just add water and electricity to run the pump and lights.

The company advises growing lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, or strawberries each in its own tank, since they have quite different needs. Nevertheless, the first question we will discuss is whether this is a halachic requirement to do so because of the prohibition of kelayim.

WHAT IS KELAYIM?

It is important to clarify a common misconception. The prohibition of kelayim is not the creation of a new species; it is the appearance that one is mingling two species together. This is why hauling loads with two species of animal, grafting one tree species onto another, mixing wool and linen in a garment or planting grains in a vineyard are all Torah violations of kelayim, although none of these acts affect the genetic make-up of the species.

Yehudah’s question involves two halachic topics:

  1. Kelayim

Could someone gardening on his desktop possibly violate the mitzvah of kilei zera’im, which prohibits planting two species together or near one another? Violating this prohibition requires three basic conditions, all of which Yehudah met:

  1. The prohibition applies to herbaceous, as opposed to woody plants, meaning that it does not apply to trees and shrubs, but it does apply to vegetables and many herbs. Thus, one may plant seeds of different trees together, yet one is forbidden to plant a mix of vegetable seeds (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 1:6).
  2. The prohibition of kilei zera’im applies only to edible crops (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 1:4). Thus, one may plant seeds of different ornamental flowers and grasses within close proximity.
  3. It applies only in Eretz Yisroel (Kiddushin 39a), and is min hatorah according to most halachic authorities, even today (implied by Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 1:1). (However, note that in Rashi’s opinion [Shabbos 84b, s. v. ve’achas] the prohibition of kilei zera’im in Eretz Yisroel is only miderabbanan and Tosafos [Yevamos 81a, s.v. mai] contends that although kilei zera’im is essentially min hatorah, in our era it is only rabbinic because most of the Jewish people do not currently live in Eretz Yisroel.) Therefore, someone in Chutz La’Aretz may plant his backyard garden with a wide variety of herbs and vegetables, without any concern for how close they are, whereas in Eretz Yisroel, someone planting a garden patch must be very careful to keep the different species separate (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 1:3). I will discuss later how far apart one must plant different species to avoid violating this prohibition (see Chazon Ish, Hilchos Kelayim 6:1).
  4. Shemittah

One may not plant in Eretz Yisroel during shemittah. Does planting this indoor garden in Eretz Yisroel violate the laws of shemittah?

Yehuda’s question requires analyzing the following subjects:

Do these mitzvos apply when planting indoors?

Would they apply when planting outdoors in a pot or planter that is disconnected from the ground?

Do they apply when one is not planting in soil?

INDOORS

Two Talmudic passages discuss whether agricultural mitzvos apply indoors. In Eruvin (93a), the Gemara prohibits planting grain in a vineyard that is underneath a roof extending from a house. This passage implies that agricultural mitzvos apply within physical structures.

On the other hand, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Orlah 1:2) discusses whether three agricultural mitzvos, orlah (the prohibition to use fruit produced in the first three years of a tree’s life), maaser (tithing produce), and shemittah, apply to indoor plants. The Yerushalmi rules that whereas orlah applies, there is no requirement to separate maaser on produce grown indoors. The Yerushalmi questions whether shemittah applies to indoor produce, but does not conclude clearly whether it does or not.

WHY IS ORLAH DIFFERENT FROM MAASER?

The Yerushalmi notes that when the Torah instructs us to separate maaser, it states: You shall tithe all the produce of your planting, that which your field produces each year (Devarim 14:22). Since the Torah requires maaser only on produce of a field, there is no requirement to separate maaser from what grows indoors, since, by definition, a field is outdoors. Therefore, one need not separate maaser min hatorah when planting indoors, even if one is planting directly in the soil floor of the structure. (The Rishonim dispute whether there is a rabbinic requirement to separate terumos and maasros when planting in the ground within a building; see Rambam and Raavad, Hilchos Maasros 1:10.)

However, when the Torah describes the mitzvah of orlah, it introduces the subject by stating When you will enter the Land (Vayikra 19:23). A tree planted indoors is definitely in the Land of Israel, and thus is included within the parameters of this mitzvah, even if it is not in a field.

SHEMITTAH INDOORS

Do the laws of shemittah apply to produce grown indoors? Does shemittah apply only to a field, or to anything planted in the Land of Israel?

The Yerushalmi notes that when the Torah discusses the mitzvah of shemittah, it uses both terms, land (Vayikra 25:2) and field (Vayikra 25:4). It is unclear how the Yerushalmi concludes and the poskim dispute whether the mitzvah of shemittah applies indoors in Eretz Yisroel. Ridbaz (Hilchos Shevi’is, end of Chapter 1), Chazon Ish (Shevi’is 22), and Pnei Moshe all rule that it does; Pe’as Hashulchan (20:52) rules that it does not. Most later authorities conclude that one should not plant indoors during shemittah, at least not in the soil. I will discuss, shortly, whether one may plant during shemittah indoors hydroponically or in an indoor area where the dirt floor is covered.

INDOOR KELAYIM

May one plant different species next to one another indoors? Does the prohibition of kelayim apply to produce planted under a roof?

Based on the Talmud Yerushalmi we quoted above, we should be able to establish the following rule:

When the Torah commands that a specific mitzvah applies to the land, it is immaterial whether the planting is indoors or outdoors. However, when the Torah commands that a mitzvah applies to a field, it does not apply indoors. As noted above, an indoor area can never be called a field.

How does the Torah describe the mitzvah of kilei zera’im? The Torah states “you shall not plant kelayim in your field” (Vayikra 19:19), implying that the mitzvah does not apply indoors. Thus, we should conclude that there should be no prohibition min hatorah against planting herbs or vegetables proximately if they are indoors. (Nevertheless, both the Yeshuos Malko [Hilchos Kelayim 1:1] and the Chazon Ish rule that kilei zera’im does apply indoors and apparently disagree with the above analysis. I will take this into consideration later.) However, it is probably prohibited miderabbanan, according to the opinion that the Sages required tithing produce grown indoors.

BUT…

At this point, the discerning reader will note a seeming discrepancy with the passage from Eruvin 93a that I cited earlier. The Gemara rules that one may not plant grain in a roofed vineyard, implying that kelayim does apply indoors. This seemingly conflicts with my conclusion based on the Yerushalmi that one may plant different herbs or vegetables proximately indoors, without violating the prohibition of kelayim.

THE SOLUTION: GRAPES VERSUS VEGETABLES

The answer is that there is a major halachic difference between the two cases: Planting grain in a roofed vineyard violates kilei hakerem, planting other crops in a vineyard. Although both kilei hakerem and kilei zera’im are called kelayim, kilei hakerem is a separate mitzvah and is derived from a different pasuk than the one prohibiting kilei zera’im, planting herbaceous species together. The Torah commands us about kilei hakerem by stating: “You shall not plant your vineyard with kelayim (Devorim 22:9), using the word vineyard, not field. Whereas a field cannot be indoors, a vineyard could.

At this point, we have resolved the first of our questions asked above:

“Do these mitzvos apply when planting in a covered area?”

The answer is that planting kelayim species should seemingly not apply, although some prominent authorities disagree. Shemittah does apply, according to most poskim.

FLOWERPOTS

We now progress to our next question:

Do agricultural mitzvos apply to plants growing in Eretz Yisroel in closed pots and planters that are separated from the ground and yet exposed to the elements?

The Mishnah (Shabbos 95a) teaches that someone who plants in a flowerpot that has a hole in its bottom, called an atzitz nakuv, violates Shabbos as if he planted in the earth itself. However, planting in a flowerpot that is fully closed underneath, called an atzitz she’aino nakuv, is forbidden only because of rabbinic injunction and does not involve a Torah-prohibited violation of Shabbos. The same categories usually apply to agricultural mitzvos: plants in a pot with a hole in the bottom are equivalent to being in the ground itself; those whose bottom is completely sealed are included in agricultural mitzvos by rabbinic injunction.

Therefore, one must separate terumah and maaser from produce grown in pots or planters, whether or not the containers are completely closed underneath, and one would violate kelayim if one planted two species near one another in a flowerpot or other container.

There are some exceptions to this rule. In some instances, planting in a closed container is the same as planting in the ground. According to the Rambam [Hilchos Maaser Sheni 10:8] and the Shulchan Aruch [Yoreh Deah 294:26], orlah applies min hatorah to a tree planted in a closed flowerpot. The reason for this phenomenon is that a tree root will, with time, perforate the bottom of its pot, and therefore, it is already considered to have a hole and be part of the ground below.

SHEMITTAH IN A HOTHOUSE

On the other hand, there are also poskim who contend that shemittah does not apply at all, even miderabbanan, to items planted in a planter or flowerpot whose bottom is completely closed. What is the halacha if one plants in a covered area in a pot that is completely closed underneath? May one be lenient, since the pot is both indoors and is also an atzitz she’aino nakuv, which is not considered connected to the earth min hatorah? This question leads us directly to the following question that Israeli farmers asked, about sixty years ago: May one plant in a hothouse during shemittah, in a closed-bottom vessel? As I mentioned above, although some authorities permit planting in the soil indoors during shemittah, the consensus is to be more stringent. However, many poskim permit planting in pots in a hothouse, if its floor is covered with a thick material, such as heavy plastic or metal (see Chazon Ish, Shevi’is 26:4; Mishpatei Aretz pg. 239; however, cf. Shu’t Shevet HaLevi who prohibits this).

AEROPONICS AND SHEMITTAH

At this point, we can discuss our original question: Aeroponics, like a hothouse, means growing indoors, and is also similar to planting atop a floor that is covered with metal or heavy plastic. Based on the above discussion, we may conclude that most authorities would permit planting aeroponically during shemittah, provided that the bottoms of the tanks are metal or plastic.

WHAT ABOUT KIL’EI ZERAIM?

We still need to explore whether desktop planting violates the laws of kilei zera’im.

I concluded above that there is probably only a rabbinic prohibition of kilei zera’im on indoor planting, but that some prominent authorities prohibit it min hatorah. Can we offer a solution for Yehudah’s plans? To answer this we need to address another issue.

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, kelayim occurs when different species are mingled together. If there is enough distance between the plants, no mingling is transpiring.

How far apart must I plant herbs or vegetables to avoid violating kelayim? This is a complicated topic, and its answer is contingent on such factors as how and what one is planting. I will, however, go directly to the conclusion that affects our case.

Since the desktop garden involves only herbs and vegetables and only a single plant or a few plants of each species, the halacha requires only a relatively small distance between species. Min hatorah one is required to plant only one tefach apart; the additional space requirement is rabbinic (see Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 3:10). The poskim dispute how distant one is required to avoid a rabbinic prohibition. Some require that the plants are at least three tefachim apart [about ten inches] (Rashi, Shabbos 85a), whereas others determine that it is sufficient for the plants to be only 1½ tefachim apart [about five inches] (Rambam, Hil. Kelayim 4:9; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 297:5). In the case of the aeroponically-grown produce, since the tanks are completely closed underneath, they have, at worst, the halachic status of atzitz she’eino nakuv, a closed pot or planter, considered part of the ground only because of rabbinic injunction, but not min hatorah. We can, therefore, conclude that as long as the seeds are placed more than a tefach apart, we avoid any Torah prohibition. As far as the possible rabbinic prohibition if the plants are only a bit more than one tefach apart, we could additionally rely on the likelihood that kilei zera’im does not apply indoors in an eino nakuv planter.

Having completed the halachic research, we corresponded with the company that produces the desktop planting kits, asking them how far apart are the holes in which one “plants” the seeds, and how many different herbs and vegetables can be planted in a single tank.

The company replied that the kit usually has seven holes, each four inches apart from the other, center to center. When planting peppers and tomatoes, which grow larger than the greens or herbs, the company recommends plugging four of the holes and using only three, which are far enough apart to avoid any kelayim issue, according to our conclusion. However, when planting herbs and greens, the distance between the holes is just about the distance that might present a halachic problem. I therefore advised Yehudah to plant in alternative holes, even when planting herbs of different varieties.

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?

 

A Shemittah Glossary

Question #1: Shemittah or shevi’is?

“What is the difference between shemittah and shevi’is?”

Question #2: Sefichin

“What are sefichin?”

Question #3: Heter otzar beisdin

“I consider myself fairly well-educated, which may be a mistake. But I recently heard a term that I never heard before: heter otzar beis din. What does this term mean?”

Answer

Most chutz la’aretz residents are not that familiar with the laws of shemittah that will affect those who live in Eretz Yisroel every day this year. Actually, the laws can and do affect people living in chutz la’aretz, also. The main focus of this article will not be what to do, but will explain a basic glossary of shemittah-related terms.

Among the terms that we will learn are the following:

Kedushas shevi’is

Issur sechorah

Pach shevi’is

Tefisas damim

Havla’ah

Shamur

Ne’evad

Sefichin

Biur shevi’is

Heter mechirah

Otzar beis din

Heter otzar beis din

First, let us discuss the basics:

Basic laws of the land

In parshas Behar, the Torah (Vayikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shemittah. We are prohibited from plowing, planting or working the land of Eretz Yisroel in any way and must leave our land fallow. It is even prohibited to have a gentile work a Jew’s land (Avodah Zarah 15b), just as one may not hire a gentile to do work on Shabbos that a Jew may not do. The owner of a field or orchard must treat whatever grows on his land as ownerless, allowing others to enter his field or orchard to pick, without charge, as much as their families can use. The landowner, himself, also may pick as much as his family will eat (see Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 4:1).

The landowner should make sure that others know that they may help themselves to the produce. One may not sell the produce that does grow on its own in a business manner.

Kedushas shevi’is

The Torah declared vehoysa shabbas ha’aretz lochem le’ochlah, “the produce of the shemittah should be used only for food” (Vayikra 25:6), thereby imbuing the fruits and vegetables that grow in shemittah year with special sanctity, called kedushas shevi’is. There are many ramifications of this status. The produce that grows during shemittah year should be used only for consumption and eaten (or drunk) only in the usual way. For example, one may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat raw produce that is usually cooked (Yerushalmi, Shevi’is 8:2; Rambam, Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). One may not eat raw shemittah potatoes, nor may one cook shemittah cucumbers or oranges. It would certainly be prohibited to use shemittah corn for gasohol or any other form of biofuel.

Contemporary authorities dispute whether one may add shemittah orange or apricot to a recipe for roast or cake. Even though the fruit adds taste to the roast or cake, many poskim prohibit this cooking or baking, since these types of fruit are usually eaten raw (Shu’t Mishpat Cohen #85). Others permit this, if it is a usual way of eating these fruits (Mishpetei Aretz page 172, footnote 10).

Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is considered “ruining” the shemittah produce and prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice and oil of these fruits are considered superior to the fruit itself. Many contemporary authorities permit pressing oranges and grapefruits, provided one treats the remaining pulp with kedushas shevi’is. Even these authorities prohibit juicing most other fruit, such as apples and pears (Minchas Shelomoh, Shevi’is pg. 185).

Food and not feed

One may feed shemittah produce to animals only when it is not fit for human consumption, such as peels and seeds that people do not usually eat (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 5:5). Last shemittah, a neighbor of mine, or perhaps his turtle, had a problem: The turtle is fond of lettuce, and won’t eat grass. One may feed animals grass that grew during shemittah, but one may not feed it lettuce that grew in Israel during shemittah.

Jewish consumption

Shemittah produce is meant for Jewish consumption; one may not give or sell kedushas sheviis produce to a gentile, although one may invite a gentile to join you at a meal that includes shemittah food (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 5:13 as explained by Mahari Korkos).

Don’t destroy edibles

One may not actively destroy shemittah produce suitable for human consumption. Therefore, one who has excess shevi’is produce may not trash it in the usual way.

Although some authorities rule that there is a mitzvah to eat shemittah produce, most contend that there is no obligation to eat shemittah food – rather, the Torah permits us to eat it (Chazon Ish, Hilchos Shevi’is 14:10).

Peels that are commonly eaten, such as apple, still have kedushas shevi’is and may not simply be disposed of. Instead, we place these peels in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called a pach shevi’is, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of the shemittah produce in the regular garbage.

Why is this so?

Once the shemittah produce can no longer be eaten, it loses its kedushas shevi’is. Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with the many mitzvos to which this principle applies. There are several other mitzvos where, in theory, this rule applies – meaning that the items have kedushah that governs how they may be consumed, but once they are no longer edible, this kedushah disappears. Examples of this rule are terumah, challah, bikkurim, revai’i and maaser sheini. However, we cannot observe the halachos relevant to these mitzvos, since these items of kedushah cannot be consumed by someone who is tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11). This explains why most people are unfamiliar with the rules of kedushas shevi’is.

When eating shemittah food, one need not be concerned about the remaining bits stuck to a pot or an adult’s plate that one usually just washes off; one may wash these pots and plates without concern that one is destroying shemittah produce. However, the larger amounts left behind by children, or leftovers that people might save should not be disposed in the garbage, but should be scraped into the pach shevi’is.

Issur sechorah – commercial use

One may not harvest the produce of one’s field or tree in order to sell it in commercial quantities or in a business manner (Tosefta, Shevi’is 5:7; Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 6:1). For example, shemittah produce may not be sold by weight or measure (Mishnah, Sheviis 8:3), nor sold in a regular store (Yerushalmi, Sheviis 7:1).

Tefisas damim

If one trades or sells shemittah produce, the food or money received in exchange becomes imbued with kedushas shevi’is. This means that the money should be used only to purchase food that will itself now have the laws of shemittah produce, as we mentioned above. The original produce also maintains its kedushas sheviis (Sukkah 40b).

Havla’ah

At this point, we must discuss a very misunderstood concept called havlaah, which means that one includes the price of one item with another. The Gemara (Sukkah 39a) describes using havlaah to “purchase” an esrog that has shemittah sanctity, without the money received becoming sanctified with kedushas sheviis. For example, Reuven wants to buy an esrog from Shimon; however, Shimon does not want the money he receives to have kedushas sheviis. Can he avoid this occurring?

Yes, he can. If Shimon sells Reuven two items at the same time, one that has kedushas sheviis and the other that does not, he should sell him the item that does not have kedushas sheviis at a high price, and the kedushas sheviis accompanies it as a gift. This is permitted, even though everyone realizes that this is a means of avoiding imbuing the sales money with kedushas sheviis.

Shamur and neevad

According to many (and perhaps most) rishonim, if a farmer did not allow people to pick from his fields, the shemittah produce that grew there becomes prohibited (see Raavad and Baal Hama’or to Sukkah 39a). Similarly, many authorities prohibit consuming produce that was tended in a way that violated the agricultural laws of shemittah (Ramban, Yevamos 122a). This produce is called neevad.

Shemittah exports

The Mishnah (Shevi’is 6:5) prohibits exporting shemittah produce outside Eretz Yisroel. Some recognized authorities specifically permit exporting shemittah wine and esrogim, although the rationales permitting this are beyond the scope of this article (Beis Ridbaz 5:18; Tzitz Hakodesh, Volume 1 #15:4). This approach is the basic halachic reason to permit the export of esrogim that grow during shemittah this year for Sukkos, 5776. (The esrogim for this past Sukkos should all have been from the pre-shemittah crop and not involve any shemittah concerns.) I am planning to send out an article on that topic closer to next Sukkos.

Sefichin

What are sefichin? Sefichin is a term referring to annual produce that grew during the shemittah year. Min hatorah, produce that grew by itself without anyone working the field during shemittah is permitted. Unfortunately, even in the days of Chazal, one could find unscrupulous farmers who would plant grain or vegetables during shemittah year and then market them as produce that grew on its own. So that these farmers not benefit from their sins, Chazal forbade all grains and vegetables, even those that grew on their own — a prohibition called sefichin. Sefichin are treated as non-kosher food, even requiring one to kasher the equipment in which they were cooked!

There are several exceptions to this rule. One is that produce of a non-Jew’s field is not prohibited as sefichin. Another exception is that perennials that do not require planting every year are not included in the prohibition of sefichin. Although trees and other perennials definitely thrive when pruned and cared for, most will produce even if left unattended for a year, and the farmer has less incentive to violate shemittah by tending his trees.

Thus, tree fruits, nuts, strawberries and bananas do not involve the prohibition of sefichin. (If they grew in a field whose owner was not observing shemittah, they might involve the prohibition of shamur.)

Biur shevi’is

At this point in our discussion, we need to explain the concept of biur sheviis. The word biur literally means elimination, as in biur chometz, which refers to the eradication of chometz performed each year before Pesach. One of the laws that applies to shemittah produce is that once a specific species is no longer available in the field, one can no longer keep shemittah produce from that species in one’s possession. At this point, one must perform a procedure called biur sheviis. Although there is a dispute among the rishonim as to the exact definition and requirements of biur sheviis, we rule that it means declaring ownerless (hefker) any shemittah produce in one’s possession (Ramban, Vayikra 25:7; cf. Rashi, Pesachim 52b s.v. mishum and Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 7:3 for alternative approaches.) For example, let us say that someone picked shemittah apricots and canned them as jam. (We should note that, according to many authorities this is not permitted to be done with shemittah apricots.) When no more apricots are available in the field, he must take the remaining jam and declare it hefker in the presence of three people (Yerushalmi, Sheviis 9:5). One may do this in front of three close friends who will probably not take the jam after my declaration; it is sufficient that they have the right to take possession. If someone fails to perform biur, the shemittah produce becomes prohibited.

Heter mechirah

Probably the most controversial issue in contemporary shemittah observance is that of heter mechirah, a dispute that goes back to the earliest days of the modern settlement of Israel, over 130 years ago. Heter mechirah means that the farmer sold his land to a gentile, who is not required to observe shemittah. 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 shemittah (Tosafos, Gittin 62a s.v. ayn odrin, prohibits; whereas Rashi, Sanhedrin 26a s.v. agiston, permits). Even among those authorities who permit heter mechirah, most do not permit Jews to work their fields. Today, most chareidi authorities will not permit relying on heter mechirah or use of heter mechirah produce.

Some contemporary poskim prohibit the use of heter mechirah tree fruit on the basis that since heter mechirah is invalid, the fruit is considered shamur and therefore forbidden. Other poskim permit the fruit, because they rule that the forbidden working of an orchard or treating it as private property does not prohibit its fruit (see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186). Thus, even if one does not consider the heter mechirah to be valid, according to many, the fruit is still permitted, but must be treated with kedushas shevi’is.

Otzar beis din

What is an otzar beis din? Literally, the words means “a storehouse operated by beis din.” Why would a beis din be operating a storehouse? Did they need to impound so much merchandise while doing litigation? No, let me explain.

As mentioned above, the owner of an orchard may not harvest his produce for sale, and he must allow individuals to help themselves to what their family may use. But what about people who live far from the orchard? How will they utilize their right to pick shemittah fruit?

Enter the otzar beis din to help! The beis din represents the public interest by hiring people to pick and transport the produce to a distribution center near the consumer. Obviously, no one expects the pickers, sorters, truckers, and other laborers to work as unpaid volunteers; they are also entitled to earn a living. Similarly, the managers who coordinate this project are also entitled to an appropriate wage for their efforts. Furthermore, there is no reason why beis din cannot hire the owner of the orchard to supervise this massive project, paying him a wage appropriate to his significant skills and experience in knowing how to manage this operation. This is all legitimate use of an otzar beis din.

Who pays for otzar beis din services? The otzar beis din divides its costs among the consumers. The charges to the user should reflect the actual expenses incurred in bringing the products to the consumers, and may not include any profit for the finished product (Minchas Shelomoh, Sheviis 9:8 pg. 250). Thus, otzar beis din products should cost less than regular retail prices for the same items, since there should be no profit margin. (See Yerushalmi, Sheviis 8:3 that sheviis produce should be less expensive than regular produce.)

Please note that all the halachos of kedushas sheviis apply to otzar beis din produce. Also note that acquiring from an otzar beis din is not really “purchasing,” since you are not buying the fruit, but receiving a distribution – your payment is exclusively to defray operating costs. Therefore, the money paid for otzar beis din produce does not have kedushas sheviis, because it is compensation for expenses and not in exchange for the shemittah fruit (Minchas Shelomoh, Sheviis 9:8 pg. 250).

Produce still in the possession of an otzar beis din at the time of biur is exempt from biur, declaring it hefker. The reason is that this product is still without an owner – the otzar beis din is a distribution center, not an owner. However, produce originally distributed through an otzar beis din and now in private possession must be declared hefker. This is so even if the fruit is the possession of someone other than the farmer in whose field the produce grew.

Heter otzar beis din

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 halachah of shemittah. If the farmer is operating with a true otzar beis din, he will allow people to enter his field and help themselves to the produce. If he bars people, then he is violating the basic laws of shemittah and his produce distribution is not according to otzar beis din principles. Similarly, if the field owner treats the produce as completely his own and charges accordingly, this contradicts the meaning of otzar beis din. These cases are disparagingly referred to as heter otzar beis din; meaning they reflect abuse of the concept of otzar beis din.

Conclusion

Just as observing the seventh day, Shabbos, demonstrates our belief in the Creator, so, too, observing every seventh year as shemittah demonstrates this faith. For someone living in Eretz Yisroel, observing shemittah properly involves assuming much halachic responsibility and education. For the modern farmer, observing shemittah can, indeed, be 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 crop somewhere in Europe. If he informs his buyer that he cannot produce during shemittah, 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. An 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!

Those living in chutz la’aretz should be aware of the halachos of shevi’is and identify with this demonstration that the Ribbono Shel Olam created the world in six days, and that the seventh year is holy. In addition, they should realize that much shemittah produce is exported from Israel, in violation of the halachah.  It is necessary to check fresh fruit and vegetables, to see that they are not shemittah produce, and, additionally, one should be careful regarding canned goods.  By being careful to assure that he is not using any shemittah produce, the Jew abroad takes part in the mitzvah!

Holding the Torah Upright

According to some rishonim, the mitzvah to raise the Torah (hagbahah) is mentioned in parshas Ki Savo.

Question #1: Holy Roller

“I was in a shul, and when they took out the sefer Torah, they opened it and carried it all around the shul, showing everyone with a yad where the beginning of the keri’ah is. I had never seen this before, and was wondering if this is a common practice. Is it mentioned in halachic sources, or does it simply manifest someone’s enthusiasm?”

Question #2: Reversing the Trend

Is there any halachic basis for the custom on Simchas Torah of reversing the sefer Torah so that the writing faces away from the magbiah?

Answer: Needing a Lift

The mitzvah of hagbahah is to raise the sefer Torah and show it, so that everyone in the shul can see the writing of the sefer Torah. The prevalent, but not exclusive, tradition among Ashkenazim is that this mitzvah is performed after each sefer Torah is read, whereas the exclusive practice among edot hamizrach (Jews of Middle Eastern and Sefardic descent) is that this lifting is performed prior to reading from the Torah. Among the edot hamizrach, some open the sefer Torah and lift it up immediately upon removing it from the Aron Kodesh, whereas others first bring the sefer Torah to the shulchan and then perform hagbahah, prior to calling up the kohen for the first aliyah (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). Some even perform hagbahah both before and after the reading (ibid.; Kaf Hachayim 134:17) As a matter of curiosity, it is interesting to mention that some Chassidim and Perushim in Eretz Yisrael observe the practice of the Sefardim and perform hagbahah before the Torah is read. When following this procedure, the magbiah does not sit down with the sefer Torah after he has completed his job, but places it down on the shulchan from which it is read.

As we will soon see, both customs – performing hagbahah before the reading and performing it after the reading – can be traced back to antiquity.

The earliest description of hagbahah

The earliest extant description of the procedure of hagbahas haTorah is found in Masechta Sofrim, as follows:

“One must raise the sefer Torah when reciting the words Shema Yisrael… and then raise it again upon reciting Echad Elokeinu Gadol Adoneinu Kadosh Shemo… Immediately, [the person performing the mitzvah] opens the sefer Torah to a width of three columns and lifts the sefer Torah — showing the writing to all the people standing to his right and his left. Then he moves the sefer Torah in a circular motion before him and behind him — because it is a mitzvah incumbent on all the men and women to see the text of the sefer Torah, to bow, and to say Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael” (Masechta Sofrim 14:11-14).

What are the sources for the divergent customs?

As noted by the Beis Yosef and the Gra, the Masechta Sofrim describes performing hagbahah before keri’as haTorah. Nevertheless, the venerated practice of the Bnei Ashkenaz is to do hagbahah after we read the Torah (see Darkei Moshe 147:4; the practice is quoted at least as early as the Sefer HaItur, who lived over eight hundred years ago). This custom is based on the Gemara (Megillah 32a) that states, “After ten people read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll up the Torah,” which refers to hagbahah and implies that it is performed after the Torah has been read. Similarly, a different passage of Gemara (Sotah 39b) mentions that the person reading the haftarah should be careful not to begin until the rolling of the Torah is complete. This implies that the hagbahah and subsequent rolling closed of the Torah is performed immediately prior to the haftarah, and not before the Torah is read.

Two places in Shulchan Aruch

This difference in practice resulted in an anomalous situation. Because the Tur was an Ashkenazi, he included the laws of hagbahas haTorah after the reading of the Torah, in Chapter 147 of Orach Chayim. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch, who follows Sefardic practice, mentions hagbahas haTorah before the rules of the reading of the Torah in Chapter 134:2, yet he also discusses the laws of hagbahas HaTorah where the Tur placed the halachah in Chapter 147. As a result, the halachos of hagbahas haTorah are located in two different places in Shulchan Aruch, some in Chapter 134, others in Chapter 147, with the laws of keri’as haTorah sandwiched between.

Why do Ashkenazim do hagbahah afterwards?

Logically, it would seem that we should display the text of the sefer Torah prior to reading the Torah, so that people observe the section that is about to be read, as, indeed, the Sefardim do. Why do Ashkenazim delay displaying the words of the Torah until after the reading is concluded?

The authorities present the following basis for what seems to be an anomalous practice: In earlier generations, there were unlettered people who mistakenly assumed that it was more important to see the words of the Torah during the hagbahah than it was to hear the reading of the Torah. As a result, many of these people would leave shul immediately after the hagbahah and miss the reading. Therefore, the practice was introduced to postpone the hagbahah until after the reading was concluded — which now caused these people to stay in shul and hear the reading of the Torah (Shiyarei Keneses Hagedolah 134:2, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 134:17).

Are there any other ramifications to this dispute?

Indeed, there is another interesting ramification that results from the Ashkenazic practice of delaying the hagbahah until after the reading is concluded. Should one notice a pesul in the sefer Torah that does not require taking out another sefer Torah, but precludes reading from this sefer Torah until it is repaired, one should not recite the words Vezos HaTorah and Toras Hashem temimah when being magbiah the sefer Torah (Kaf Hachayim 134:17, quoting Shu’t Adnei Paz #13).

What is the proper way to do hagbahah?

A sefer Torah is written on sections of parchment that are stitched together. The person who is performing hagbahah should make sure that the stitching is in front of him before he lifts the Torah, so that if the sefer Torah tears from the stress of the lifting, the stitching, which is easy to repair, will tear and not, G-d forbid, the parchment itself (Megillah 32a, as explained by the Tur; see esp. Aruch HaShulchan 147:13; cf., however, how Rashi explains the Gemara).

“Reading” the Torah

When the sefer Torah is raised, each person in shul should try to actually read the letters of the sefer Torah. This causes a bright, spiritual light of the Torah to reach him (Arizal, quoted by Magen Avraham 134:3). Some have the practice of looking for a word in the sefer Torah that begins with the same letter as their name (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). In most Sefardic communities, someone points to the beginning of the day’s reading while the sefer Torah is held aloft for all to see. Some congregations consider this a great honor that is given to the rav or another scholar (Kaf Hachayim 134:13). This may be the origin of the custom that some people have of pointing at the sefer Torah during hagbahah (cf. Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, Parshas Ki Savo, 27:26).

In order to make sure that everyone sees the text of the sefer Torah, some Sefardic congregations have the magbiah carry the open sefer Torah around the shul to display its holy words to every attendee (Kaf Hachayim 134:13).

In which direction is the Torah held?

The usual Ashkenazic practice is that the magbiah holds the sefer Torah with its writing facing him. Some congregations have the practice that, on Simchas Torah, the sefer Torah is lifted in the reverse way, so that the writing is away from the magbiah. Most people think that this is a “shtick” as part of the Simchas Torah celebration, but this is not halachically accurate.

The Bach (147) contends that the original approach was to hold the sefer Torah with the writing visible to the people — as we do on Simchas Torah. This is because when the magbiah lifts the sefer Torah the way we usually do, his body blocks the view, and for this reason, the Maharam and other great Torah leaders held the Torah with its text away from them when they performed hagbahah. Presumably, the reason this practice was abandoned is because it is much more difficult to do hagbahah this way, and there is concern that someone might, G-d forbid, drop the sefer Torah while doing it. Nevertheless, in places where the custom is to perform hagbahah this way on Simchas Torah, the reason is to show that on this joyous occasion we want to perform hagbahah in the optimal way.

The more the merrier!!

The above-quoted Masechta Sofrim requires that the magbiah open the sefer Torah three columns wide. The authorities dispute whether the magbiah may open the sefer Torah more than three columns. In other words, does Masechta Sofrim mean that one should open the sefer Torah exactly three columns, or does it mean that one should open it at least three columns, so that everyone can see the words of the Torah, but that someone may open it wider, should he choose? The Magen Avraham (134:3) suggests that one should open it exactly three columns, although he provides no reason why one should not open the sefer Torah more, whereas the Mishnah Berurah says that it depends on the strength of the magbiah — implying that if he can open it more, it is even better. It is possible that the Magen Avraham was concerned that opening the sefer Torah wider might cause people to show off their prowess and cause the important mitzvah of hagbahas haTorah to become a source of inappropriate pride — the exact opposite of the humility people should have when performing mitzvos.

Lift and roll!?

Most people who perform the mitzvah of hagbahah roll open the sefer Torah to the requisite width and then lift it, whereas others unroll it while they are lifting it. Which of these approaches is preferred?

The Shaar Efrayim discusses this issue, and implies that there is no preference between the two approaches, whereas the standard wording of Masechta Sofrim is that one should unroll the sefer Torah first.

Reciting Vezos HaTorah

When the sefer Torah is elevated, everyone should bow and recite the pasuk Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael (Masechta Sofrim 14:14). Indeed, the Chida cites sources who hold that since Chazal mention saying Vezos HaTorah, it has the status of a davar shebekedushah and can be said even if one is in the middle of birchos keri’as shema (Kenesses Hagedolah, quoted by Birkei Yosef 134:4). Subsequently, the Chida wrote a lengthy responsum in which he concluded that reciting Vezos HaTorah does not have the status of a davar shebekedushah, and therefore should not be said in a place where it interrupts one’s davening (Shu’t Chayim She’al 1:68).

Vezos HaTorah should be said only while facing the words of the sefer Torah (Be’er Heiteiv 134:6, quoting several earlier sources). If one began reciting Vezos HaTorah while facing the writing of the sefer Torah, one may complete the pasuk after the text of the sefer Torah has been rotated away from one’s view (Shaar Efrayim).

In many siddurim, after the sentence Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael, five words are added: Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe (Bamidbar 9:23), as if this is the continuation of the verse. Many halachic authorities question adding the words Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe, since these words are from a different passage of the Torah (Aruch Hashulchan 134:3). Others are concerned for a different reason, because these last five words are not an entire verse and they question the practice of reciting partial verses of the Torah. Indeed, many old siddurim do not quote this addition, and many halachic authorities contend that one should not recite it.

Who should be honored with hagbahah?

The Gemara (Megillah 32a) states “Ten people who read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll the Torah,” which refers to the mitzvah of hagbahah, since the magbiah rolls the Torah both prior to displaying it, and when he closes it, afterwards. The Baal HaItur quotes two opinions as to whom the “ten people” refers. Does it mean the attendees of the current minyan, and that the greatest of this group should be the one who is honored with the mitzvah of lifting and displaying the Torah? Or, does it means according the honor of lifting and displaying the Torah to the greatest of the ten people who were involved in that day’s reading (the seven who had aliyos, the maftir, the baal keriyah, and the person who recited the Targum after each pasuk was read, which was standard procedure at the time of the Gemara).

The halachic authorities rule according to the first approach, that one should honor the greatest person in the shul (Gra; Mishnah Berurah 147:6). They also refer to another practice, which was to auction off the mitzvah of hagbahah to the highest bidder (Tur; Shulchan Aruch). However, where the hagbahah is not auctioned, one should provide the honor to the greatest Torah scholar in attendance (Machatzis Hashekel). The prevalent practice of not necessarily offering hagbahah to the greatest scholar is in order to avoid any machlokes (Shaar Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah). Nevertheless, in a situation where no machlokes will develop, one should certainly accord the mitzvah to the greatest talmid chacham who can properly perform hagbahah. Whatever the situation may be, the gabbai is responsible to give hagbahah only to someone who is both knowledgeable and capable of performing the mitzvah properly.

The importance of performing hagbahah correctly

The Ramban, in his commentary on the verse, Cursed be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah (Devarim 27:26), explains that this curse includes someone who, when performing hagbahah, does not raise the sefer Torah in a way that everyone in the shul can see it properly. Apparently, there were places that did not perform the mitzvah of hagbahah at all out of concern that someone will be cursed for not performing hagbahah properly (Birkei Yosef, Shiyurei Brachah 134:2; Kaf Hachayim 134:15; Encyclopedia Talmudis, quoting Orchos Chayim). Although I certainly do not advocate eliminating the mitzvah of hagbahah, a person who knows that he cannot perform the mitzvah correctly should defer the honor, and the gabbai should offer the honor only to someone who fulfills the mitzvah properly.

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