Shmita Unplugged- laws, loopholes, and support groups
As Jerry Seinfeld might put it, what’s the deal with shmita? This is my first time in Israel for a Shmita year and I’ve tried to understand all the laws and practices about 15 times and I still have a blank look on my face. Luckily, I found a handy dandy Shmita FAQ by Rabbi Weiss in Ranaana, a Yahoo support group, and a website for all my Shmita cuirosities. Here’s a shocking bit about shmita in Israel, the supermarkets don’t feel any differnet – no signs, no labels, no special shmita rabbi, just the same old same old. And one more comment before the real deal about shmita, whats with the spelling – I’ve seen the following versions: shmita, shmitta, shmittah, shemittah, shmmmmmmitah. It’s out of control.
Here’s a simplified slice from Rabbi Weiss’ Q&A. For a more in-depth version, click here
1. What is all the fuss?
The Torah commands us to refrain from various forms of agricultural activity each 7 years in Israel. These activities include sowing, planting, pruning, reaping, harvesting and, in general, improving the Land. The 7th year is referred to as “Shmita,” or “Shvi’it.” References in the Torah to Shmita are found in Shmot 23 and 24; Vayikra 25. More
2. So what are my options for pomegranates and carrot sticks?
a. Produce from the 6th year (the year prior to Shmita). Truma & Ma’aser would be taken from this produce. (Note: 6th-year produce may be frozen or dried & used well into the 7th year.
b. Vegetables grown apart from the soil (e.g. hydroponically or in a hothouse). Truma & Ma’aser should be taken, but
without a Bracha.
c. Otzar Beit Din – produce grown on Jewish land (planted in the 6th year and harvested in the 7th), which has been turned over to the Bet Din (Jewish Rabbinical Court), who collect the produce and offer it to the public. The money paid for this produce covers only the expenses incurred by Bet Din and not the produce itself. Such produce, offered at specially designated outlets, has Kedushat Shvi’it & must be treated in a special manner (see #7). Truma & Ma’aser is not taken. **This produce should be kept in a separate bag and thrown out separately because it has holiness.
Shiny New Option: Otzar Ha-aretz being undertaken to ensure that local stores have enough guaranteed business to operate Otzer Bet Din outlets. Please see www.hashmita.co.il and click on “English” for more details).
d. Produce from one’s own property – sufficient for himself & his family may be eaten as usual. Truma & Ma’aser are not taken. One should declare his property hefker (ownerless), so that anyone – including himself! – may eat from it.
e. Heter Mechira – produce grown on Jewish land which is leased to a non-Jew for the duration of the 7th year & worked according to specific Rabbinic guidelines, a practice approved by Rav EIchanan Spector in the Shmita of 1889, renewed by Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, Rav Kook, in 1910, and continued by all subsequent Chief Rabbis in Shmita years that followed. May be discarded as usual; Truma & Ma’aser are taken without a Bracha. Note: Many cafes & restaurants utilize the Heter Mechira for produce served on premises.
f. Produce grown in Eretz Yisrael on land belonging to a non-Jew has no Kedushat Shvi’it (this is the widespread opinion; the Chazon Ish rules that such produce does have Kedushat Shvi’it ), so you don’t need to throw it out separately. No Truma & Ma’aser are taken. (Note: One should be certain that this produce was actually grown on non-Jewish land, & is not Jewish produce being sold by a non-Jew.
Therefore, it is not recommended to buy from a non-Jew selling produce on the street, unless one knows definitely that the products were grown on non-Jewish land).
g. Imported produce from outside Israel are totally fine.
Rabbi Weiss tells us to make sure that a current, reliable, certificate has been issued. More