In the previous Halachot we have explained that fruits grown during Shevi’it and vegetables picked during Shevi’it from fields owned by Jews in Israel retain the sanctity of Shevi’it. (This year, 5782, is the Shemitta year; we shall explain further the halachic significance of this sanctity.) We have likewise explained that there are several kinds of produce available for sale on the market under reliable Kashrut supervision and we shall now elaborate further on this issue.
Produce of the Sixth Year
The first type is produce from the sixth year of the Shemitta cycle, i.e. fruits and vegetables preserved in beneficial conditions before the sanctity of Shevi’it takes effect in addition to fruits whose ripening occurred during the sixth year. Thus, such fruits would not retain Shevi’it sanctity even if they were picked during Shevi’it. (Due to space constraints, we cannot delve into what is considered the beginning stages of a fruit’s growth in this regard.) Such fruits, when bearing an appropriate Kashrut certificate attesting to the fact that Terumot and Ma’asrot have been separated from them, may be consumed just like during any other year with no concern whatsoever.
Produce Exported From Outside of Israel
Another type of halachically permissible produce during the Shemitta year is produce grown outside of Israel, for Shevi’it only applies in Israel (and Syria). Such produce from outside of Israel is completely permissible like during any other year, for the sanctity of Shevi’it does not rest upon it at all.
The third type of produce is produce grown on fields belonging to non-Jews residing in Israel (predominantly from Arab villages) which retains no Shevi’it sanctity whatsoever according to the ruling of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch.
The fourth type of produce is that grown under Heter Mechira usually supervised by the local Rabbinate. As we have explained, these fruits do not retain the sanctity of Shevi’it similar to the law regarding non-Jewish produce; however, one who acts stringently and abstains from purchasing Heter Mechira produce wherever possible is especially praiseworthy. Nevertheless, according to the letter of the law and especially when there is a need for it, such fruits are permissible for consumption and they do not retain Shevi’it sanctity.
We have likewise written based on an explicit ruling to his grandson, author of the “Halacha Yomit”, Hagaon Harav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, that when Mehadrin produce is noticeable overpriced, one may purchase Heter Mechira produce even preferably without any hindrance whatsoever (this ruling applies even to Kollel families and Torah scholars). Although some rule extremely stringently on this matter, the letter of the law follows the opinion of the saintly and illustrious Sephardic sages who ruled leniently and relied upon Heter Mechira.
Otzar Bet Din
The fifth type of produce is called “Otzar Bet Din.” Such fruits are especially common in places with large populations of Torah observant Jews. Otzar Bet Din wines are also available.
What is Otzar Bet Din? The Torah states (Shemot 23): “And on the Seventh year, you shall leave it fallow and abandon it,” meaning that one render any produce grown in one’s field during Shemitta ownerless and one may not lock one’s field during the Shemitta year in order to prevent anyone from gathering its fruits; rather, one must allow anyone who wishes to pick fruits during Shevi’it to do so. Nevertheless, during the period following the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash, our Sages saw that there were wicked people who wished to do business with the fruits of Shevi’it and would empty out entire fields of their produce during Shevi’it in order to sell them for full-price in the market.
Thus, our Sages enacted that agents of the Bet Din (rabbinical court) would sit at the entrance of every city and anyone who wished to leave the city with fruits in his hands would have the fruits confiscated; these agents would allow one to retain an amount of fruit that would suffice for three meals and the rest would be confiscated, placed into storage-houses, and distributed to the city’s residents every Erev Shabbat based on the size of one’s family. This is because of the prohibition to sell Shevi’it produce, as the Torah states, “And the Shabbat of the land should be for you for food” and our Sages expounded, “For food but not for business.”
When payment is collected for such fruits, this is not for the actual Shevi’it produce, for one may not conduct business with the fruits of Shevi’it; rather, this is for the reimbursement of the workers that pick and harvest this produce and any other expenses incurred as a result of this method of distribution. One may therefore not collect an unreasonable amount of money for these fruits, for this resembles transacting with Shevi’it produce.
Based on the above, one who wishes to purchase such Otzar Bet Din fruits must treat them in accordance with their Shevi’it sanctity. In the next Halacha we shall, G-d-willing, discuss the proper way to treat fruits grown with the sanctity of Shevi’it upon them and what is forbidden and permissible in this regard.