The shmitta year is over, but the extra kashrus preoccupation surrounding shmitta produce are still very much a concern at the OK. “We start working on shmitta kosher matters in the sixth year and in the eighth year we are still working on them,” says Rabbi Aharon Haskel, head of OK Israel, who adds, “It doesn’t even end then. In the eighth year, shmitta has special relevance to industries such as fruit concentrates, orange peels, etc. But even after that, we still have issues with preserves and legumes, which have a very long shelf life.” The halachos of shmitta are relevant to food production in Eretz Yisroel almost every year!
Since manufacturers of products which contain fruits or vegetables as ingredients need to go on producing, they have to find approved alternatives until the dates by which the specific fruit or vegetable they use ceases to be considered “shmitta produce”. How long that takes varies greatly depending on the specific item. Says Rabbi Yitzhak Rosenfeld, Field Representative at OK Israel: “We have provided all factories with lists saying exactly how long any fruit, herb, vegetable or legume is considered shmitta. Many fruits are problematic almost until the end of the eighth year. Oranges are allowed only in Tammuz, for example, and pomegranates only in Av.”
How do the factories manage to go on producing? They either purchase produce from a local gentile (not heter mechirah, on which the OK does not rely), import from abroad, or use sixth year produce. “Before shmitta started, our mashgichim entered all storage rooms where sixth year fruits were stored, counted them and locked the door,” explains Rabbi Rosenfeld. “The mashgiach is the only one to have the key, to ensure nobody is adding shmitta fruits to the stock. We will go on inspecting the storage rooms during shmitta as well, until the restriction of shmitta produce ends”.
Often, the OK has to help the manufacturers find suppliers for missing ingredients. “Usually there are severe limits on importing produce, since the government wants to help local farmers,” says Rabbi Haskel. “However, when it comes to shmitta we are allowed to import many more things. And indeed we helped clients get herbs and garlic from as far away as China. Others also had to import avocado and ginger.”
Wineries have unique problems of their own explains Rabbi Rosenfeld: “We did not certify many wines from the 2015 harvest since many wineries used heter mechirah grapes (which the OK does not accept). Only two wineries got certification for the 2015 wines since they purchased grapes from gentiles.” The fact that wineries produced uncertified wines bear ramifications for 2016. “When they want to use the barrels again, we have to kasher all of them. It’s a chumra we adhere to strongly.”
Another special case is esrogim. Rabbi Rosenfeld explains: “Esrogim fall in two categories of shmitta produce: if they have hanata – the stage when the fruit begins to appear – during shmitta, then it is a shmitta fruit. But even if the fruit appeared during the sixth year, if the esrog was picked during the shmitta year, then it is a shmitta fruit, too.” See Kosher Spirit, Issue 14.
What are the ramifications of this? “All esrogim this year are otzar beis din [the beis din pays the farmer a flat wage to grow his produce for the public]”, says Rabbi Haskel. “That means, among other things, that no esrogim can be exported since it is forbidden to take holy shmitta produce out of Eretz Yisrael.”
As it says in the Torah, G-d’s blessing upon those who observe shmitta extends from the sixth year to the eighth year. May all who undertake the great challenge of observing shmitta at the highest level, from the farmers, to the factories, to the kosher consumers, be continued to be blessed in great abundance, materially and spiritually.
Some Rabbonim feel that if we conditionally sell the entire land of Israel to non-Jews it would circumvent many of the restrictions of shmitta. (This is, in fact, the policy of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.) However, many prominent Rabbonim reject this approach for a variety of reasons. The prevalent opinion is not to rely on this approach and even the Chief Rabbinate of Israel considers it acceptable only because of great need, and not the ideal approach.
Otzar Beis Din
The produce of shmitta must be treated as “ownerless” and permitted for anyone to take. It is, however, permitted for a public entity, acting in the public interest, to hire workers to harvest the fields and make the fruit available to the public. The public entity may collect a fee to recoup their costs. This is the most common method used today to obtain an esrog in a shmitta year. Obviously consumers should look for the certification that their esrog is being “sold” through an Otzar Beis Din. Typically an Otzar Beis Din set-up will result in esrogim sold for a [relatively] fixed price and for less than in a typical year.