Question: May one send Mishloach Manot containing fruits or vegetables which retain the sanctity of Shevi’it?
Answer: This year (5782) is the Shemitta year. As we have explained previously, produce grown this year on a Jew’s land in Israel retains the sanctity of Shevi’it. All fruits and vegetables in stores under reliable Kashrut supervision in Israel are labeled so that the customer will know the exact origin of the produce and whether it retains the sanctity of Shevi’it. (During this time of year, most fruits are still from the sixth year, besides for bananas of which many are Shevi’it produce.)
Shevi’it produce is perfectly permissible for consumption, and one may consume as much as he wishes. Similarly, one may give Shevi’it produce to one’s friends or relatives as a gift without any concern.
Business With Shevi’it Produce
Regarding Shevi’it produce, the Torah states, “And the Shabbat of the land shall be for you to eat.” Our Sages (Bechorot 12b) expound that this means “to eat and not to perform business with.” This means that although consuming Shevi’it produce is permissible, it is nevertheless forbidden to perform business with such fruits (besides for buying a small number of fruits and the like, which is customary in fruit stores under reliable Kashrut supervision regarding Shevi’it issues).
Since the Torah forbids performing business with Shevi’it produce, our Sages deduced that one may not use such produce to repay a debt. For instance, if one borrowed one hundred apples from a friend, one may not return one hundred apples with Shevi’it sanctity to the friend, for this constitutes performing business with Shevi’it produce.
Mishloach Manot Containing Shevi’it Produce
Based on the above, several Acharonim discuss whether one may send Mishloach Manot comprised of Shevi’it produce, for every individual is obligated to send Mishloach Manot to a friend. If so, by giving the friend Mishloach Manot, one is, in essence, “repaying a debt.” Thus, Hagaon Harav Gershon Lieberman writes (in his Mishnat Yosef, Volume 1, Chapter 27) that it is prohibited to send Mishloach Manot containing Shevi’it produce. Hagaon Harav Shmuel Ha’Levi Wosner Shlit”a (in his Responsa Shevet Ha’Levi, Volume 7, Chapter 183) rules stringently on this matter. Nevertheless, they do not provide a concrete proof that this is indeed forbidden and merely write that it makes sense that Mishloach Manot is tantamount to repaying a debt.
On the other hand, Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l (the saintly Ben Ish Hai) rules in his Responsa Torah Lishmah (Chapter 193) that it is permissible to send Mishloach Manot containing Shevi’it produce. (His only discussion there is whether it is permissible to return such Mishloach Manot containing Shevi’it produce; however, the initial sending did not raise any concerns for him whatsoever.)
Similarly, Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss zt”l writes (in his Responsa Minchat Yitzchak, Volume 10, Chapter 57) that it seems that sending Mishloach Manot is not included in the prohibition of doing business with Shevi’it produce and just as it is permissible to fulfill any Mitzvah with Shevi’it produce, such as, purchasing Matzah for Pesach or purchasing an Etrog for Sukkot, and this is not considered performing business with Shevi’it produce or repaying a debt, it is likewise permissible to send such produce as Mishloach Manot, for these fruits belong completely to their owner and he decides whom to give them to. There is no halachic, monetary lien on these fruits that would consider using them for Mishloach Manot repaying a debt.
Since Shevi’it nowadays is not a Torah commandment, it seems that we should rule leniently on this matter. This is especially true since Rabbeinu Yosef Haim rules leniently on this matter and those who rule stringently do not provide a clear halachic proof to support their stringent view. Nevertheless, it seems from the ruling of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Chazon Ovadia-Purim, page 154) that he likewise feels that there is room for stringency regarding this matter. However, this only applies to the first Mishloach Manot one gives which is the one is using to fulfill the Mitzvah; any subsequent Mishloach Manot one gives out may certainly contain Shevi’it produce.
Thus, those who order fruit platters or arrangements for their friends and loved ones to be given as Mishloach Manot should be cognizant of the above discussion.