As we conclude the shmitta year, it’s tempting to think we can ease our intense focus on the fruits and vegetables that we usually take for granted as kosher. Yet, this coming year will still come along with plenty of reasons to be careful, because many fruits that grew during shmitta will actually be available on the market this coming year and still retain kedushas shvi’is, like wine and Israeli esrogim. Therefore, it’s doubly important to check for the OK symbol on all packages, even ones that you regularly buy, because if products contain shmitta produce they will not be certified kosher.
In Israel one can never simply buy fruit without knowing the history of the fruit tree it grew on! One needs to know that the mitzvos HaTeluyos Ba’Aretz were observed (shmitta, terumos and ma’asros, etc.).
This was one of the reasons I spent a few weeks in Israel this summer. The agricultural community in Israel has transformed the land from a mostly barren desert to a booming agricultural market on the cutting edge of the latest high-tech innovations, including sophisticated watering systems, expert knowhow, and plain ingenuity. In addition, since it is Eretz Yisroel, great attention must be paid to when and how the saplings (small little baby trees that are started in greenhouses) are planted in order to properly observe the mitzvah of orlah.
Although orlah is applicable everywhere, in Eretz Yisroel we take a stringent approach and there is no room for any leniencies. If one is in doubt if the produce is orlah then it is not permissible. Great effort is put in to record and monitor the origin and planting date of every sapling to ensure the prohibition of consuming orlah is not violated. Events such as rocket strikes or tractor accidents that destroy small trees or vines, or irrigation hoses that need repair requiring the vines to be uprooted and replanted, must all be recorded so the new trees will not be harvested until after the years of orlah.
At OK-certified wineries, expert agronomists are sent year-round (even outside of the growing season) just to monitor, map, and photograph all of the vineyards and their plants.
Our sages tell us, “Ki adam eitz hasadeh.” “Man is like a tree in the field.” May we grow to be strong, may we grow to be fruitful, and may we grow spiritually.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and sweet New Year,
Rabbi Chaim Fogelman
Editor in Chief, OK Kosher Executive Kashrus Vaad