A Shemita Primer for Chutz La’aretz

By: STAR-K Rabbinic Staff

Beginning on Rosh Hashana this year (5782) and ending Rosh Hashana next year (5783), it is the Shemita/sabbatical year in Eretz Yisroel. This is certainly one of the most special mitzvos that we have. The amazing demonstration of our absolute faith and emunah in Hashem which is displayed from its proper observance is unique from all other mitzvos. Furthermore, the guarantee that Hashem will provide us with sustenance in advance that comes along with observing Shemita is something that proves that the Torah can be directly only from Hashem himself.

Although Shemita does not apply to land outside of Eretz Yisroel, there are still a number of circumstances that we in chutz la’aretz will likely encounter, and thereby give us the ability to observe the mitzvah of Shemita properly. The laws of Shemita are quite extensive and complex. The goal of this article is to hopefully provide concise guidance to Shemita issues that people outside of EY may encounter. The psakim presented are based on the direction and guidance of Rav Moshe Heinemann shlit”a, Rabbinic Administrator of STAR-K Certification, and Rav of Agudas Yisroel of Baltimore.

Halachic Background

Before ‘digging in’ it is important to have a basic background of some of the potential issues with Shemita produce.

1) Shamur V’Ne’evad: Produce is considered to be ownerless/hefker during Shemita. Anyone who wants to come pick any produce that is growing is allowed to do so. While farmers are allowed to take minimum precautions to ensure that no damage occurs from people entering their fields, they may not fully guard the field by prohibiting entry. Fields that were guarded and had improperly restricted access are considered shamur/watched. Ne’evad/worked refers to fields that were worked on in a prohibited manner during Shemita. There is a dispute amongst the poskim if fruit from either of these categories is prohibited to be eaten1 ; at the very least they should be avoided2 .

2) Sefichin: Although the Torah only forbids physically working the land, there is an issur d’rabanan to eat certain types of produce that grew by themselves even if no one was involved in the process. Included in this prohibition would be vegetables, grains and fruits that grow on the ground (e.g., strawberries). It does not apply to fruits that grow on trees or vines.

3) Biur: Although one is allowed to buy and bring home produce of Shemita, there is a requirement that all Shemita produce be removed from your homes by the end of the harvest season for that item3. The only way to continue to eat these items once this time has passed is to take the produce out of your house and declare it ownerless/hefker in front of three people. Once this declaration takes place, it may then be reacquired and brought back inside and eaten. This Halacha applies even for produce that has been exported) and even though it was prohibited to export4). Produce remaining after the time of biur and has not been declared hefker may not be consumed. There are lists published which announce the dates of when each type of produce will reach its time to do biur. (See here.)

4) Shemita produce must be eaten in EY; it may not be exported. However, if it was exported, it does not prohibit consumption, although the produce retains its sanctity and must be treated as such.

5) Shemita produce may be eaten only in a normal manner. It may not be wasted or used for any other purpose. Any edible peels (e.g., citrus peels) may not be disposed of in the garbage. They need to be kept until they rot and become inedible and only then disposed of. Many people in EY have a special bin, called a Pach Shemita, for proper disposal of Shemita items.

6) There is a prohibition to do business with Shemita produce. Buying and selling of such produce is forbidden. Furthermore, any money used to purchase Shemita produce becomes sanctified and may only be used for like transactions. This does not apply to purchasing with a check or credit (including credit cards).

7) The kedusha of produce grown during Shemita as well as the prohibition of eating sefichin does not end after Rosh Hashana 5783. So long as it was grown during Shemita, it must be treated with kedushas shvi’is. Dates will be published after which produce next year can be assumed to be from after Shemita.

Israeli Produce Exports

Eretz Yisroel is known world-wide for its high-quality produce. During non-Shemita years, there are many Israeli produce items that get exported. Carrots, citrus fruits, herbs, peppers, and radishes are just some of the items that are commonly found in North American markets from EY. The typical concern is to ensure proper terumos and maasros are taken. During Shemita however, terumos and maasros are not typically applicable5 , but there is significant concern that the produce may be from Shemita.

There are a number of methods used in EY to ensure adequate supply of produce in Israeli markets during Shemita, including importing from outside EY, growing in areas that are outside the Halachic borders of EY, buying from non-Jewish farmers or utilizing the Otzar Beis Din system. However, during Shemita, due to anticipated shortages of produce, all produce grown or obtained with these methods are almost certainly not exported.

Furthermore, all produce sold in EY is controlled at least minimally by the Israeli Rabbinate which ensures the basic prohibitions of Shemita are adhered to, often utilizing many leniencies (e.g., Heter Mechira) that is beyond the scope of this discussion. However, when it comes to exports, there is no Rabbanut control at all. In fact, farmers that do not keep Shemita properly are more likely to export their items to avoid any Rabbanut interference. Therefore, any Israeli produce found outside of Israel during Shemita is actually more likely than not to be from growers that violated the laws of Shemita.

As stated above, there are a number of potential problems with such produce and some of which may even prohibit their consumption. Furthermore, if someone did purchase Israeli produce and paid cash (as opposed to check or credit card), returning it to the store may also potentially violate the prohibition of doing business with Shemita produce. If this did happen by mistake, a rav should be consulted. If someone would obtain produce that he was able to find out was grown properly and/or biur had been performed, it would still need to be consumed while maintaining the proper treatment and sanctity of the produce.

Flowers

The question of whether flowers have kedushas shvi’is or not is a complex issue. It does seem that a significant percentage of flowers (in the United States, at least) come from EY. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l ruled that flowers that do not give any scent do not have any kedushas shvi’is. If they do have a scent, then it depends. If they are being harvested and used for their scent, they would need to be treated with kedushas shvi’is and may also be problematic to purchase as they may be sefichin. If they are being harvested primarily for display, even though they also give off a scent, one would not be required to treat them with kedushas shvi’is.

It would seem that most flowers are used primarily for display purposes and therefore, even if they also happen to give a scent, they would not be subject to the laws of Shemita. This seems to be the accepted minhag, to not require any special treatment of flowers, at least in chutz la’aretz.

Wine

Wine and brandy are allowed to be produced from grapes grown during Shemita. There are a number of wineries that produce wine during Shemita under the auspices of Otzar Beis Din. Such wine though does maintain the kedushas shvi’is and must be treated as such. It must be consumed fully and not wasted. Common examples would be that it may not be used for Havdala when there is a custom to overflow the cup with wine and also extinguish the candle in the wine, or likewise by the Pesach Seder for the ten makos.

The main issue in chutz la’aretz, even with wine that was properly produced, is that it usually arrives here well after the time of biur and it may not have had biur performed properly. At that point, after the time of biur has passed, biur can no longer be done. Therefore, in chutz la’aretz, it is best to avoid such wine or brandy.

Shemita wine or grape juice can possibly become available as soon as a few weeks after Rosh Hashana. Additionally, there is still wine and brandy on the market from the last Shemita. Any Israeli wine from 2015 or 2021 (the year is usually stated on the bottle) are from Shemita. Even wine with other years can sometimes just be stating the year of bottling and not the proper harvest year. Therefore, it is always prudent to check for proper a hechsher and the statement that is “free from concerns of Shemita”.

Buying Land in Eretz Yisroel

There are organizations that promote the ability to buy a parcel of land in EY which is purported to allow you to observe Shemita by having it lay fallow. While is not clear that this enables actual observance of Shemita by the purchaser6, the cause is certainly worthy if the funds are directed either to farmers who will truly be observing the mitzvah of Shemita or to other tzedakah organizations.

Loans

One aspect of Shemita that applies worldwide is the cancellation of debt. All loans become cancelled at the end of the Shemita year unless a special document, called a pruzbul, is executed. The document in essence places the debt under the authority of Beis Din and not an individual person. Such Beis Din-controlled loans are not cancelled during Shemita. The time to execute a pruzbul takes place before the end of Shemita year (prior to Rosh Hashana 5783), although some have a custom to also do so at the beginning of Shemita.

Conclusion

Just as the mitzvah of Shemita is unique, the blessings and merits bestowed upon those who observe Shemita properly are also unique. The above guidelines present some of the ways that even those outside of EY can take part in observing this special mitzvah. The Sefer Hachinuch writes that the point of the mitzvah of Shemita is to strengthen our emunah and remind us of Who the real source of our sustenance is, which certainly applies outside of EY as well. Some poskim7 even say that when we say Shehechiyanu in Kiddush on the first night of Rosh Hashana, we should also have in mind the observance of Shemita.

May our careful support and observance of this special mitzvah allow all of us in chutz la’aretz to merit the extensive blessings bestowed upon those who observe Shemita carefully, and may we merit to return to Eretz Yisroel where we can observe these mitzvos properly and fully.

Wishing everyone a ksiva v’chasima tova!

1 הרמב”ם )שמיטה ד:א, ט”ו( פסק שהפירות מותרים. וחלק עליו הראב”ד שם. ויע’ יבמות קכ”ב תוס’ שם ד”ה של עזיקה. והגר”א )שנות אליהו שביעית ח:ו( וגם שו”ת חשב האפוד סי’ כ”ב מחמיר. והחזו”א )שביעית י’:ה'( והגר”ח שליט”א בדרך אמונה ח’:י”ב ס”ק פ”ט כתב להקל

2 חזו”א סדר שביעית סי’ כ”ו

3 והיתה שבת הארץ לכם לאכלה…ולבהמתך ולחיה אשר בארצך תהיה כל תבואתה לאכל )ויקרא כ”ה ו’ -ז'( ודרשו שבזמן שכלה מן השדה לחיות, גם כלה לבהמתך מן הבית

4 If one does have Shemita produce outside of EY that is not prohibited already for other reasons, he must do biur before the time passes. An example would be esrogim that grew during Shemita that will arrive next year for Sukkos 5783/2022 (NOTE: NOT this year, 5782/2021); one would need to do biur at some point after Sukkos. The exact deadline by when biur must take place will be announced next year.

5 Although there are some poskim who maintain that TU”M are applicable to produce that was not made hefker properly.

6 The Rambam (Shemita 1:1) notes that [although the Torah seems to express the observance of Shemita as a positive commandment/mitzvas asei, )ה:ה”כ ויקרא )לארץ יהיה שבתון שנת [really the observance of Shemita is a negative commandment/lo sa’aseh and not a positive commandment. As such, there is no gain from buying land and then having it lay fallow (e.g., there is no mitzvah to buy something not kosher and then not eat it).

7 בשם הגרש”ז אויערבאך והגרי”ש אלישיב זצ”ל