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!!
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:
- 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).
- 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.).
- 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.)
- 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.
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.
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.
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.