Shmitah Basics for the Novice

February 4, 2008

Visiting Israel this year and next will certainly present some challenges to the shmitah-concerned consumer.
In a nutshell, there are three shmitah categories; shmitah l’mehadrin, kedushat shvi’it, and heter mechira.
The hareidi population by-and-large observes shmitah l’mehadrin, as do many not affiliated as hareidi, which in essence means using produce from non-Jews, avoiding the complexities of the ‘holy’ produce of the seventh year.
Kedushat Shvi’it refers to the produce handled in accordance to Torah Law, produce carrying the kedusha of the seventh year. That is fine, but demands we familiarize ourselves with the laws to avoid violating the sanctity of this mitzvah. This includes but in no way is limited to not discarding leftovers, not using wine or grape juice for havdalah [since it cannot be spilled out], not preparing a vegetable
in an unusual manner; in a way it is not regularly eaten during the six regular years.

And last but not least, heter mechira, which means the Jewish fields are sold to non-Jews and then the produce is sold as regular produce. This is perhaps analogous to the sale of chametz for Pessach.
Sorry folks, no recommendation from me – ask you LOR (local Orthodox rabbi). Not touching this one with a ten foot pole. Each of us must act in accordance with our spiritual mentor.
Most of the venders, actually the overwhelming number of stalls in the “shuk” (Machane Yehuda) in Jerusalem sell heter mechira. For the mehadrin stuff, most of the venders are located at the end of Eitz Chaim Street, the closed street, near the Jaffa Road side but there are a small number of others scattered about. They are under the supervision of a number of agencies; Eida Hareidit, Machzikei Hadas (Belz), Rav Efrati and Agudat Yisrael. Take your pick.
Generally speaking, they only sell non-Jewish produce but BEWARE. Just last week we spotted a large prominent display of bananas in one of the Agudat Yisrael places with a barely visible sign stating they bananas are kedushat shvi’it, meaning they are not from non-Jews, but permissible Jewish produce that demands acting accordingly.
If you are unclear as to the signs, do not be embarrassed to ask and when in doubt, walk away and go to another store.
As a result of harvesting season realities, the laws will go well into the eighth year, or more accurately, the first year of the next seven-year cycle.
In addition, when you buy canned goods from Israel, such as pickles, olives, jams, preserves and more, if you do not have an appropriate hechsher, such as the Jerusalem-based Eida Hareidit, OU and others, you do not know if the contents are free of shmitah concerns. This can hold true even two or more years from now – depending on the product. I just read an article relating concerns in Lakewood, NJ for example, after it was discovered that cherry tomatoes in a local supermarket were from Israel – so you see, even outside of Israel, one must know what one is buying this year as well.
…and don’t forget, the laws of shmitah also apply to flowers and we must also seek a flower vendor with a kosher certificate for shmitah for those who observe accordingly. This would apply to those purchasing flowers for Shabbat/Chagim or a simcha.
Shmitah observance today is a particularly disputed or even volatile area since there are more than a few people who oppose using the hechsher of organizations that oppose [or do not support] the modern State of Israel and/or purchasing produce from Arabs.
I am not going there. One must know the facts, and then act within one’s own life parameters. I am not delving into politics, just trying to present straightforward halachic concepts for the layperson, nothing more.
Questions/comments welcome. Please post to the list and hopefully, an appropriate response will be forthcoming.

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