There are those who think that whatever comes from Israel is kosher and who are not aware of the many issues associated with goods that are produced in Israel, be they concerns of orla, terumos, maasros – or Shemita. And they believe that once the Shemita year ends, Shemita issues are a thing of the past.
The Shemita year ended more than a year ago. To many of us, it already seems like a distant memory, a topic that we will next revisit in roughly five years, when we prepare for Shemita of 5789. But the truth is that Shemita of 5782 is still very relevant. It is important to remember this because our brethren in Chutz La’aretz are less aware of mitzvos hatluyos ba’aretz. Since produce in the Diaspora are not subject to these laws, there is less awareness of Shemita repercussions.
We are currently in a period which I would term, “Shemita after Shemita.” As you will see, there are several market sectors that are still very much affected by kedushas shevi’is, long after the conclusion of Shemita. Let us explore the ramifications of this post-Shemita year period on produce, alcoholic beverages and raw materials, as well as on the “guardians of Shemita” who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep this precious mitzvah.
As was indicated in a previous Kashrus Kurrents article, the Halacha regarding fruits is that their Shemita status is determined by chanata (when they blossom), and not lekita (when they are picked). Fruits that blossomed during Shemita will not reach the market until the following year. Thus, many fruits circulating in the market currently may have blossomed during Shemita and are seventh-year fruits.
The Shemita period for fresh vegetables has ended, but that may not be the case for canned vegetables exported abroad – such as hummus, tomatoes, corn and pickles. These may well be from the shevi’is crop.
The Israeli wine industry has become a formidable player and export powerhouse. With the growing popularity of marketing Israeli wines abroad, so too is the challenge. It is worth noting that all the wine that is currently marketed in Eretz Yisrael is from the shevi’is crop, and is thus vested with kedushas shevi’is. The eighth year vintage began in the month of Av 5783.
Exported Shemita wines are highly problematic. For one thing, many consumers are unaware that wines which bear a label stating “2022 vintage” were produced in the Shemita year. Additionally, there is a prohibition both to remove wine with kedushas shevi’is from the Land of Israel and to engage in conventional commerce with it.
Liquors have similar Shemita challenges. Gin, for example, is a thriving export industry in Israel that is heavily dependent on citrus products in its production – citrus peels, oranges and lemons. If the raw materials have kedushas shevi’is, then the gin will, too.
Speaking of raw materials, unbeknownst to most consumers, these can also have Shemita concerns. Raw material exports include food coloring from dried tomatoes, dietary fiber from vegetables, or flavors from Shemita oranges and lemons. Some of these products can have a shelf life of two to three years, in which case Shemita issues can still be relevant in the eighth year and beyond. Aromatic oils and essential oils, which are used in many food applications, can also have Shemita issues. Israel is a major exporter of citrus oil and extracts.
STAR-K’s Shemita Policy: Complete Adherence to Halacha
At STAR-K Israel, we don’t rely on Shemita leniencies; we simply bow out of the game entirely. Following the psak of STAR-K Rabbinic Administrator Harav Moshe Heineman shlit”a, we will not rely on a heter mechira (the sale of land) nor on the Otzar Beis Din to engage in normative commercial activity.
Our Israeli wineries, such as Elul Winery and Katalev Winery, deal with wine from the sixth crop; during Shemita, their grapes lay fallow and their fields are not harvested – they leave the market for an entire year. These tzaddikim meticulously follow the Torah commandment to provide the land with a true Sabbatical rest: v’shavsa ha’aretez Shabbos l’Hashem.
Lessons on Emunah from a Guardian of Shemita: Absolute Reliance on G-d’s Promise
Emunah peshuta: the simpler it is, the more admirable. What is the experience of a winery owner who sets aside his source of livelihood for an entire year and puts all his trust in G‑d?
For Yossi Itach, owner of the Katalev Winery, there seems to be no question.
“Shemita for me is like Shabbat,” he says simply, “I don’t find a difference between what the Torah says about Shabbat and what is written about the Shemita. I also tell people who ask me to lecture on observance of the Shemita, why don’t you lecture on Shabbat? It’s the same. The moment they say that Shemita should be kept, it means that there is a possibility that it should not. In my view, there is no such possibility.”
Asked how he deals with the economic challenge of putting his business on hold for an entire year, which can be likened to a deep pothole in the middle of the road, he responds simply: “Baruch Hashem, I’ve been privileged to keep Shemita since 2001. It’s been four Shemitas and I’ve had no setbacks. I appreciate that only good will come of it. As for the “pothole” you mentioned, I think if you travel in a car with good springs, you will ride over the potholes. If you believe, you get it back. It’s as simple as that.
“People ask, ‘What are you living from?’ I respond that this is the only time in life that a person can look up and say, ‘This is His problem.’ G-d promised. And blessing isn’t just about money, it’s much more than that.
“Baruch Hashem, I’m fine, I didn’t see a shortage, and the business continued to exist. We’ve had ups and downs, not necessarily because of Shemita, but I think Shemita has a providence in itself. You see lights on Shemita. You see things working out for you alone, you don’t have to make an effort. You see that the wine is doing well.
“Everyone was afraid that the break of activity during Shemita would ruin the vineyards. But see the vineyards now, after Shemita. They are awakened, resurrected, the fruit comes out properly, and this is without touching them throughout the Shemita year. “I’m glad I have had the privilege to be a guardian of Shemita.”
 i.e., termuos, maasros, orla and shevi’is.
 Actually, this applies to all produce from Israel.
 See “The Otzar Beis Din: Shemita’s Treasure Trove,” Kashrus Kurrents, Summer 2022, for an in-depth discussion of the Otzar Beis Din.