Consumer Questions for the OK – Tishrei 5769

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Dear OK,
I’ve come across many questions regarding the use of an esrog grown in Eretz Yisroel during shmitta. Can you outline the main issues?

The OK responds:
This is a very complex question, with many more questions hidden below the surface. Here is a list of potential questions and possible solutions regarding an esrog grown in Eretz Yisroel during a shmitta year. Please take these questions to your local Orthodox rabbi for a definitive answer.

  • 1. Can you buy an esrog that was grown in Eretz Yisroel during a shmitta year?
  • 2. Can you take a shmitta esrog out of Eretz Yisroel?
  • 3. If yes, do you have to send the esrog back to Eretz Yisroel after Sukkos?
  • 4. Can you dispose of the esrog after Sukkos?
  • 5. Can you eat jelly made from the esrog?
  • 6. Is it permissible to make esrog liqueur from the esrog?
  • 7. Does the esrog have kedushas shvi’is if it blossomed during the sixth year, but was picked during shmitta?

To address the questions of whether one may buy or use a “shmitta esrog”, we first need a short introduction regarding the general laws of shmitta.

In Eretz Yisroel, during the shmitta year, it is forbidden to plant, do most forms of “working the land” (activities done to prevent damage are generally permitted), or to do business with shmitta produce and otherwise treat them in a manner that reflects ownership.

It is permitted to eat and use (in a non-destructive manner) fruit that grew on its own during the shmitta year.

However, according to Halacha, a shmitta fruit cannot be taken out of Eretz Yisroel. 1 Some Rabbonim give a heter to take the esrog, because it is used for a mitzvah or because it is transported by non-Jews, while others give the heter on the condition that the esrog is returned to Eretz Yisroel after Sukkos.

We therefore need to deal first with how we can “buy/sell” the esrog.

Methods of dealing with the “sale” aspect of the esrog:

A. Heter Mechira
Some Rabbonim feel that if we conditionally sell the entire land of Israel to non-Jews, then this would circumvent many of the restrictions of shmitta. This is, in fact, the policy of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. However, other prominent Rabbonim reject this approach for a variety of reasons. 2 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. This holds true for all shmitta produce, not just esrogim.
The OK does not certify products containing produce produced using this leniency.

B. Havla’a
The Gemara 3 says that after the year of shmitta, one should buy a lulav (a non-food item not subject to the laws of shmitta) and have the esrog included with no charge. This might be the reason why traditionally the arba minim has always been sold as a set and not individually. Many are hesitant to rely on this approach, because in the time of the Gemara, the relationship between the value of an esrog and lulav was such that one could conceivably include an esrog in the price of a lulav. These days, when the value of the esrog greatly exceeds that of the lulav, it is hard to view the esrog as being “included” in the sale of the lulav.

C. Otzar Beth Din
Another approach is what is known as Otzar Beth Din. As noted above, 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 4 to harvest the fields and make the fruit available to the public. They may then 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 Beth Din. Typically an Otzar Beth Din set-up will result in esrogim being sold for a [relatively] fixed price and for less than in a typical year.

Using the Esrog
If an esrog has been procured and handled by one of the methods mentioned above, then it is acceptable for use. If however, one suspects that the esrog was sold or tended to in an unacceptable manner then there is the possibility that the esrog is not kosher to eat. It is a dispute among poskim whether an esrog that is not kosher to eat is kosher to shake. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZT”L 5 (among others) rules that, in fact, such an esrog is kosher to shake.

There are some people who remain uncomfortable using an esrog grown in Eretz Yisroel for Sukkos following shmitta (like this year), even if the esrog was handled properly, and therefore buy esrogim from California, Arizona, Morocco, Mexioc, Italy, or other locations that are not subject to the laws of shmitta.

Many people prefer to buy a Yanover esrog from Calabria, Italy every year, because there is a tradition that when Hashem told Moshe, “and you shall take for you a pri eitz hadar,” messengers were sent on a cloud to bring esrogim from Calabria. In addition, there is a mesorah that all Yanover esrogim are from pure (and not grafted) esrog trees.

After Sukkos
A shmitta fruit may not be ruined or disposed of. However, the fruit may be eaten 6 in the manner it is normally eaten or left to rot on its own. The best solution is to allow the esrog to dry up or rot immediately after Sukkos and then dispose of it.

1. Rambam 5-13.
2. Mostly due to questions regarding the legitimacy and appropriateness of the sale of Eretz Yisroel to a non-Jew.
3. Succah 39.
4. As a practical matter, these days the “workers” will typically be the field’s owners. They know the fields, need the money, and have time on their hands.
5. O”C 1-186.
6. According to some opinions, shmitta fruit may not be eaten outside of Eretz Yisroel.