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.

 

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!

 

Shemittah Revisited

How can we pass Parshas Behar without discussing the laws of shemittah? And the fact that we read these laws annually teaches that the Torah wants us to understand the lessons of shemittah every year. Yet many chutz la’aretz residents see no need to learn these laws, assuming that they are never affected.

Well — Guess again, — Although halacha prohibits exporting shemittah 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 Yisrael 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 sefichin. What does that mean?”

Situation #3: HETER MECHIRAH

Several shemittah 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.”

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 shemittah; we are prohibited from working the land of Eretz Yisrael 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 shemittah 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. They may take as much as their family will eat, and the landowner himself also may take this amount (see Rambam, Hil. Shemittah 4:1).

LAWS OF THE FRUIT

Although shemittah 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 shemittah will again become a mitzvah min hatorah. The Torah imbues shemittah produce with special sanctity, called kedushas shvi’is, declaring vehaysa shabbas ha’aretz lachem le’ochlah, “the produce of the shemittah should be used only for food” (Vayikra 25:6). According to accepted opinion, one is not obligated to eat shemittah 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 shemittah produce. For example:

I. One may not sell shemittah produce in a business manner (Rambam, Hil. Shemittah 6:1). Although one may pick shemittah produce for one’s personal consumption, one may not harvest it to sell commercially (Tosefta, Shvi’is 5:7).

II. One may not export shemittah produce outside Eretz Yisrael (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5). There are some opinions that allow 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).

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

IV. If one trades or sells the shemittah produce, the food or money received in exchange also has kedushas shvi’is (Sukkah 40b).

V. One may not intentionally ruin shemittah produce (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 shemittah potatoes, nor may one cook shemittah cucumbers or oranges. Contemporary authorities dispute whether one may add shemittah 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).

SPOILED TURTLE

One may feed shemittah 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 Shemittah 5:5). During the last shemittah, a neighbor of mine, who’s pet turtle usually eats lettuce, had a problem what to feed it. Before shemittah he was trying to get it to eat grass, but the turtle preferred lettuce.

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 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 it to shvi’is produce (Shu’t  Mishpat Cohen #85, based on 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 shemittah produce. Therefore, one who has excess shvi’is produce may not trash it. Peels that are commonly eaten, such as cucumber or apple, still have shemittah kedusha and may not simply be disposed. Instead, these peels are placed in a plastic bag which is then placed into 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 shemittah produce in the regular garbage.

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 shemittah bin.

WHY DECOMPOSE?

This leads us to a question: If indeed one may not throw shemittah 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 shemittah food is meant to be eaten, even though there is no requirement to do so. However, once the shemittah 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 we do not consume the produce today 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, one also may not dispose of them or even 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, one may not destroy the challah portion, but must place it somewhere until it decays on its own, just as we do with unused shvi’is produce.)

A SHEMITTAH ROAST IN AMERICA

We can now explore the first question I mentioned:

1a: May one use shemittah 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 shemittah wine-flavored roast?

If one uses shemittah 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 shemittah potatoes in cholent or shemittah 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 shemittah 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 in the garbage, nor should the leftovers in the pot or on the platter.

Just as 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 shemittah 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. One may not trash the leftovers, but instead one may 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 by itself without anyone working the field during shemittah. Unfortunately, even in the days of Chazal one could find Jews who deceitfully ignored shemittah laws. One practice of unscrupulous farmers was to plant grain or vegetables, marketing 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 that cooked them!

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

In all likelihood, the growers of this produce relied on heter mechirah, a topic I dealt with extensively in a different article, but which I will touch on here. (Contact me by return e-mail if you would like to read that article.) The authorities who follow this approach permit most of the fieldwork to be performed only by gentiles. However, in contemporary practice, most Jewish landowners who rely on heter mechirah sell their land to a gentile, but then work it as their own. As a practical matter, few contemporary chareidi poskim permit heter mechirah, and, even among non-chareidi authorities, support for its use is waning, although there are still some who permit it. 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. Most, but not all, chareidi poskim today consider vegetables grown through heter mechirah to be prohibited sefichin that are forbidden to eat, although one will find different opinions whether one must kasher equipment used to cook these vegetables.

WHY NOT FRUIT?

When Chazal prohibited sefichin, they only included in the prohibition crops that are planted annually. 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 shemittah. What is the halacha if a farmer treats this produce as his own and refuses entry to it during shemittah?

The Rishonim dispute whether this will make the fruit forbidden. Some contemporary poskim prohibit the use of heter mechirah tree 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 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, the fruit might be permitted but must be treated with kedushas shvi’is.

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 hechshers 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 occurred and allow the customer to ask his individual rav for halachic guidance.

For someone living in Eretz Yisrael, observing shemittah properly involves assuming much halachic responsibility and education and often great commitment since shemittah-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.

image_print