The Borders: How Much is Ours?

Question #1: Exotic Island Fruit

jaffa-israel“According to my grocer, this fruit grew on an island in the Mediterranean that is directly west of Israel. Is it prohibited because of orlah?”

Question #2: The Golan

Is the Golan part of Biblical Eretz Yisroel?

Question #3: Cairo

“Is Cairo in Israel?”

Answer:

To answer these questions, we need to clarify what are the areas and boundaries of Eretz Yisroel. Many of the laws concerning the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, the agricultural mitzvos, as well as some other halachos are affected by the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel, so it behooves us to know exactly which areas are holy and which are not. As we will soon learn, researching this topic requires not only a thorough knowledge of the Gemara passages involved, but also knowledge of Tanach, geography, topography and history. We will begin with some basic study of the relevant Chumash.

Introduction

In several places in Chumash, the borders of the Promised Land are mentioned, including:

  1. Avraham Avinu is promised that his descendants will receive the land from the “River of Egypt” to the “great river, the Euphrates” (Bereishis 15:18).
  2. In Parshas Mishpatim (Shemos 23:31), the Torah tells us, I will set your boundaries from the Red Sea until the Sea of the Philistines and from the desert until the river.
  3. There is a very detailed description of the borders of the Promised Land in Parshas Masei, which we will discuss shortly.
  4. At the beginning of Parshas Devorim, the Torah describes the different areas of Eretz Yisroel: Travel for yourselves along the mountains of the Emori and its neighboring areas, in the Aravah, in the mountains, in the lowlands, in the Negev, along the seashore; the land of the Canaanites and Lebanon, until the great river, the Euphrates (Devorim 1:7).
  5. There is another brief description at the very end of Parshas Eikev, where it says: Every place upon which the sole of your foot will tread will be yours: from the desert and Lebanon, from the Euphrates River until the far sea will be your border.

In addition to these descriptions in the Torah, there are also references in Nach, notably in the books of Yehoshua (1:4; and the entire chapter 15) and Yechezkel (Chapter 47:15-22).

History

As I mentioned above, history actually affects, in a significant way, whether a particular area has kedushas Eretz Yisroel. Min hatorah, after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash by the Babylonians, the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz apply only to land that was part of the area settled by the Jews when they returned to Eretz Yisroel to build the second Beis Hamikdash in the days of Ezra. In other words, these laws no longer apply Min hatorah in the areas settled by Yehoshua, unless they were also part of the later Jewish settlement, referred to as the second Jewish commonwealth (Shevi’is 6:1).

The Gemara teaches that areas that were conquered at the time of Yehoshua lost their sanctity when the Jews were exiled by the Babylonians. The Rambam (Hilchos Terumos 1:5) explains that since these lands were obtained via conquest, subsequent invasion and defeat of the Jewish nation caused the sanctity to lapse.

However, those areas that became obligated in mitzvos in the days of Ezra retained their sanctity, even after the Roman conquest and destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, notwithstanding that the Jews had again lost sovereignty over the Holyland.

Shevi’is

Regarding the laws of shevi’is, those areas conquered by Yehoshua but not settled in the days of Ezra may not be worked during shemittah year; but, Chazal were more lenient regarding some of the other applicable laws (Shevi’is 6:1).

Transjordan, the territory east of the Jordan River known in halachah as eiver hayarden, is not part of the Promised Land, yet it is usually included under the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz. We have the anomalous situation in which an area that was not promised to us is sanctified with kedushas ha’aretz, whereas much of the area promised to us is not.

Thus, when defining which areas are included under the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, we take into consideration several factors:

Where is this land? Is it part of the Promised Land?

Is this part of the land that Moshe conquered?

Is this part of the land that Yehoshua conquered?

Is it within the area settled in the days of Ezra?

This week’s parshah

Let us now examine the most detailed of the descriptions provided by the Torah, the one in Parshas Masei.

This is the land that will fall to you as your possession – the Land of Canaan, according to its borders. And the southern edge begins from the Desert of Tzin near Edom. The easternmost point of your southern border shall be the edge of the Dead Sea. Then the border will turn southward to the Heights of Akrabim and then pass to Tzin, from where it will extend southward to Kadeish Barnea. It will then turn to Chazar Adar and pass to Atzmon. The border will then turn from Atzmon to the Stream of Egypt and extend towards the sea.

The western border will be the Great Sea and its “gevul,” its territory; that will be for you the western border.

And this will be your northern border: From the Great Sea, you should turn to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor, you should turn as you were going to Chamos, and the border extends then to Tzedad. The border then turns to Zifron and extends to Chatzar Einan; this will be for you the northern border.

And demarcate for yourselves the eastern border from Chatzar Einan to Shefam. The border will then run down from Shefam in the direction of Rivlah to the east of Ayin. The border will then run down and extend to the eastern shoulder of the Kineret Sea. From there, the border will run down the Jordan and extend to the Dead Sea. This will be for you the land with all its borders all around (Bamidbar 34:2-12).

There is a vast literature attempting to identify the various place names mentioned here, which includes explaining the distinction in nuance among the different terms (“run down,” “extend,” “going to,” “turn,” etc.), and attempting to correlate this description with the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel as they are mentioned in other places in Tanach. It is well beyond the scope of this article to provide an exhaustive study of all the works written on the subject. We should note that many great historical figures who were talmidei chachamim have endeavored to identify the borders of Eretz Yisroel and the descriptions of the pesukim, and that the discussion continues in the contemporary world. For the purpose of this article, we will be content with a few relatively sparce observations.

The southern border

In Parshas Masei, the Torah describes the easternmost point of the southern border to be the Dead Sea and its westernmost point to be the Stream of Egypt. Note that Avraham Avinu was promised from the River (in Hebrew, nahar) of Egypt, whereas in Parshas Masei, we are promised from the Stream (in Hebrew, nachal) of Egypt. Are these the same body of water? If they are not, what was Avraham promised, and why did we not receive it?

According to most interpretations, they are not the same — the Stream of Egypt is the Wadi El Arish in the northern part of the Sinai Desert, whereas the River of Egypt is the Nile. According to this approach, Avraham Avinu was promised that one day in the future, his descendants would have much more extensive holdings to the south and southwest than they have ever controlled in history, even after Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal, thereby capturing the Egyptian Third Army to end the Yom Kippur war. As Rashi explains, Avraham Avinu was promised the land of ten nations, including Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, which Rashi equates with Edom, Moav and Amon, but these are not the borders the Bnei Yisrael will or did possess upon entering the Land in the days of Yehoshua. The Malbim (in his commentary to Bamidbar 34) explains that the borders promised at the end of Parshas Eikev (Devorim 11:24) also reflect a promise in our distant future, when the Jewish people will acquire much more territory than what was possessed in the days of Yehoshua. According to this approach, no part of Egypt is yet part of Eretz Yisroel.

The Ramban (Devorim 11:24), however, explains this verse differently, understanding that the borders of Parshas Eikev describe the area that we are commanded to conquer. This is consistent with his opinion that one of the taryag mitzvos requires that we conquer Eretz Yisroel, a topic that we will leave for a different time.

A river or a stream?

On the other hand, some major commentaries interpret the Stream of Egypt of Parshas Masei to be the Nile, not the Wadi el Arish, making the Eretz Yisroel promised to Yehoshua far more expansive in the south and southwest. Since Cairo is on the eastern bank of the Nile, this approach considers Cairo to be located in Eretz Yisroel! Thus, the third of our opening questions “Is Cairo in Israel?” is actually a serious question, and technically is the subject of a dispute among halachic authorities.

We will return to our discussion of the southern border; but first, let us complete our reading of the other three borders.

The western border

In Parshas Masei, the Torah describes the western border of Eretz Yisroel:

The western border will be the Great Sea, and its territory [“ugevul”]; that will be for you the western border. (I have followed the translation of Rav Hirsch that the word gevul means its territory.) According to the Gemara (Gittin 8a), the word ugevul teaches that there are islands in the Mediterranean that are halachically considered part of Eretz Yisroel. There, the Gemara quotes a dispute between tanna’im regarding which islands located in the Mediterranean, the “Great Sea” of the pasuk, are halachically part of Eretz Yisroel and which are not. Rabbi Yehudah contends that the word ugevul means that any island in the Mediterranean that is directly west of Eretz Yisroel is imbued with the sanctity of the Holyland, whereas the Rabbonon’s understanding includes a more limited area. They draw an imaginary line from the northwesternmost point of Eretz Yisroel to its southwesternmost point and include only islands that are east of this imaginary line. In practice, there are very few islands in this small corridor of the eastern Mediterranean that are directly west of Eretz Yisroel.

Orlah in chutz la’aretz

Although the mitzvah of orlah, the prohibition of benefiting from fruit grown on a tree during its first three years, applies to fruit grown outside of Eretz Yisroel, its law is far stricter on produce that grows in Eretz Yisroel. In Eretz Yisroel, one may not use a fruit without first determining that the fruit is very unlikely to be orlah. In chutz la’aretz, the fruit is prohibited only when one is certain that it is orlah.

Islands in the Mediterranean

This allows us to discuss the first of our opening questions: “According to my grocer, this fruit grew on an island in the Mediterranean that is directly west of Israel. Is it prohibited because of orlah?”

We now know that if this island is imbued with the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel, then we may not use the fruit unless we are fairly certain that it is not orlah. However, if the island is outside Eretz Yisroel we may consume the fruit, as long as we are uncertain that it is orlah. According to Rabbi Yehudah, any Mediterranean island directly west of Eretz Yisroel is imbued with the sanctity of the Holyland, and fruit grown on this island needs to be treated with the same stringency as fruit growing on the mainland. According to the Rabbonon, which is the normative halachah, only islands that are very near Eretz Yisroel are halachically part of the Holyland, because they are east of the “line” that runs from the northwest corner of Eretz Yisroel to its southwest corner. Since there are very few islands in this small corridor of the eastern Mediterranean, from a practical perspective, one may assume that the fruit in the grocery does not have kedushas Eretz Yisroel.

The northern border

Parshas Masei’s description of the northern border begins at the Mediterranean (The Great Sea) at Mount Hor and then passes through Chamos, Tzedad, Zifron and Chatzar Einan. There are widely variant opinions as to where these places are. Some contend that Mount Hor is as far north as southern Turkey, others placing it north of Latakia, in contemporary Syria, whereas others peg it much further south, not far from Beirut. All opinions have it considerably further north than any of the borders of the contemporary State of Israel.

The eastern border

Parshas Masei’s description of the eastern border has it beginning in the north at Chatzar Einan and then running through Shefam, Rivlah, east of Ayin to the eastern shoulder of the Kineret, down the Jordan River and into the Dead Sea. We should note that, according to most, if not all, opinions, the northeastern area of Eretz Yisroel extends much further east than the Jordan. According to all of the Torah’s descriptions, the Jordan is the eastern border of the central plain of Eretz Yisroel. Thus, the area northeast of the central plain, what we call today the area of the Golan and further north, is much wider than the central part of Eretz Yisroel, which extends only until the Jordan.

In addition, Transjordan, or the area east of the Jordan River, which had previously been controlled by Sichon and Og, came under Jewish rule as the eiver hayarden prior to the entry into Eretz Yisroel proper, notwithstanding the fact that it was not part of the Promised Land. This was the area settled by the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe.

Difficult passage

At this point, let us examine a very difficult, albeit brief, passage of the Torah. The Torah, in Parshas Mishpatim, describes the borders of Eretz Yisroel as extending from the Yam Suf until the Sea of the Philistines and from the desert until the river? There are several questions here: First, when did Eretz Yisroel ever extend to the Red Sea (the Yam Suf), which is in Egypt? Certainly, at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, the Bnei Yisroel, did not immediately arrive in the Promised Land when they crossed the Yam Suf! (However, see Tosafos, Arachin 15a s.v. Kesheim.)

Second, the Mediterranean, which is the Sea of the Philistines, is the western border of Eretz Yisroel. How then could Eretz Yisroel be described as stretching from the Yam Suf, on its west, to the Mediterranean, also to its west?

The Rashbam explains that the Torah means that the Yam Suf is the eastern border of Eretz Yisroel and that from the Yam Suf until the Sea of the Philistines means from east to west. This follows the approach of the Rashbam’s grandfather, Rashi (Shemos 10:19), who explains the Torah to mean from the Yam Suf on the east, meaning, presumably, from the Gulf of Eilat (also called the Gulf of Aqaba), which is an inlet of the Red Sea, to the Mediterranean Sea on the west. According to this approach, from the desert until the river means from the desert on the south to the Euphrates on the north. A result of this calculation is that the entire Negev is within the southern borders of Eretz Yisroel.

The Netziv rejects the approach of Rashi and the Rashbam. The obvious reason for his criticism is that the Gulf of Eilat is not, by far, the easternmost point of Eretz Yisroel, so why would this be used as a promise of the expansion of the land? The Netziv contends that the Yam Suf, the Red Sea, is meant to be the southern border, and that from the Yam Suf until the Sea of the Philistines means from south to west, notwithstanding, as he notes, the fact that one usually describes an expanse from opposite sides; here, it is not the case. The Netziv, therefore, explains that from the desert until the river refers not to the desert of the southern border of Eretz Yisroel, but the eastern border. This means that the border referred to is neither the Sinai desert nor the Negev, but the Jordanian desert, and it is including Transjordan, after it was conquered from Sichon and Og.

Conclusion

Many generations had to be content with reading about Eretz Yisroel and imagining what the descriptions of its borders mean. We are fortunate to live in a time when visiting and even living in Eretz Yisroel is a reality. We should be filled with hakoras hatov that we can traverse the land that was promised to our forefathers. Inhabiting our native land reminds us that it is a land of elevated kedushah, and therefore requires special laws that apply within the halachic borders of this special land. Furthermore, living in Eretz Yisroel provides us with a direct relationship to Hashem, for which we should all strive.

 




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!