Halacha for Thursday 15 Cheshvan 5782 October 21 2021

When the Sanctity of Shevi’it Will Apply to Fruits and Vegetables and More on “Heter Mechira”

In the previous Halachot we have explained that any produce grown in Jewish-owned fields in the Land of Israel this year (5782) retain the sanctity of Shevi’it. We have likewise discussed the ramifications of this sanctity and the proper way to treat such produce. This sanctity rests even on fruits that were grown in Israel and later exported to other countries. Similarly, the Etrogim (from Israel) which will be marketed in countries outside of Israel before the Sukkot holiday of next year will retain the sanctity of Shevi’it.

We have also explained that produce grown on land sold to a non-Jew through the “Heter Mechira” process does not retain the sanctity of Shevi’it, for Heter Mechira is absolutely legitimate according to Halacha. Because we have received many questions and comments on this matter this year and the previous Shemitta year (seven years ago), we will once again clarify that the opinion of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l was that Heter Mechira is absolutely permitted, even according to the more stringent opinions. One who acts stringently and purchases non-Heter Mechira produce, such as Otzar Bet Din and the like, is merely acting beyond the letter of the law. Thus, during this period of time since we have seen that the produce from fields that do not implement Heter Mechira costs much more than produce from Heter Mechira fields, there is no necessity at all to purchase non-Heter Mechira produce, for Heter Mechira is absolutely permissible. Even regarding Kollel men and Yeshiva students who customarily act stringently regarding many different matters, Maran zt”l has instructed us to publicize in the “Halacha Yomit” that even they should not act stringently and purchase specifically produce of Otzar Bet Din or non-Jewish fields; rather, they should purchase Heter Mechira produce, for this process is absolutely legitimate according to Halacha.

We must point out that were it not for the fact that Hashem sent down Maran zt”l to our generation, all sorts of parties with various levels of involvement would surely have advocated against Heter Mechira such that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel would abstain from performing it at all because of their fear of those rabbis from the opposing side. If this would happen, the marketplace would be flooded with fruits and vegetables from fields kept and worked during Shevi’it in a forbidden manner as well as the forbidden form of vegetables known as “Sefichin.” Only Maran zt”l, through his courage and righteousness, insisted that the Chief Rabbinate continue with their practice of carrying out the Heter Mechira and published several lengthy responsa strengthening the validity of this practice with proofs that have no rebuttal. As a result, a rampant desecration of Shevi’it is prevented every Shemitta year.

Let us now discuss when the sanctity of Shevi’it rests on fruits and vegetables that are not products of Heter Mechira.

Although the Shemitta year lasts from Rosh Hashanah 5782 until Rosh Hashanah 5783, nevertheless, the sanctity of Shevi’it only applies to produce based on their stages of growth, as we shall explain:

The determining factor regarding when vegetables is when they are picked from the ground. Any vegetable picked during Shevi’it retains the sanctity of Shevi’it even if was fully grown the year before, the sixth year of the Shemitta cycle.

The determining factor regarding when olives, grapes, grains, and legumes will retain the sanctity of Shevi’it is when they reach a third of their growth. If they reach this stage during Shevi’it, they retain the sanctity of Shevi’it.

The determining factor regarding when other fruits of the tree retain Shevi’it sanctity is the beginning of the fruits maturation. Some say this refers to the first third of the fruits growth while others maintain that this refers to the first time a fruit is noticeable after the falling of its blossom.

For this reason, most fruits sold on the market at this point do not yet retain the sanctity of Shevi’it and the words “Produce of the Sixth Year” are written next to them because from a halachic standpoint, they do indeed belong to the sixth year. However, vegetables of Otzar Bet Din do retain the sanctity of Shevi’it.

There is no correlation whatsoever between the sanctity of Shevi’it and the prohibition to work the field during Shevi’it. Thus, even plants which do not retain Shevi’it sanctity, such as flowers and the like, may not be tended to through works meant to improve the plant during Shevi’it beginning from Rosh Hashanah of 5782 until the end of the year.

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