Our Sages teach us that all cycles of seven have special meaning (Yalkut Shemot 276). Every seven days is shabbos, purification is a seven-day process, and every seven years is shemitah. The Sifra in Bechukosai (26:31) explains that the lesson of shemitah is to internalize that even though we work the land, it belongs to Hashem.
Those who live outside of Eretz Yisrael generally don’t have the opportunity to perform this special mitzvah. However, we should embrace the opportunity to learn about the mitzvah with the hope of having the merit to practice it in real life. In addition, there are certain laws of shemitah that will affect those overseas, either because of imports from Israel or when observing shemitah while visiting the Holy Land.
The laws of hilchos shemitah in Eretz Yisrael are split into three different categories: working the land, relinquishing ownership of the produce, and handling the [holy] fruit. The area most relevant to those who live overseas is the issue of handling the fruit, which will be discussed at length in this article.
SHEMITAH PRODUCE OVERSEAS
Fruits and vegetables that have reached a certain stage of growth during shemitah have a special holiness called kedushas shevi’is (see Sefer Hashemita 7:1). According to some opinions, there is a positive mitzvah to consume such produce (see Megilas Esther on Ramban Shechichat Asin 3). The holiness of the produce has numerous halachic implications. For example, produce that has kedushas shevi’is may be eaten only in Eretz Yisrael and by Jews (in most cases); one may not do business with such produce or actively ruin it (for example, smashing fruit for fun is strictly prohibited). As mentioned, it is prohibited to take kedushas shevi’is produce out of Israel. Early authorities bring different reasons behind this prohibition. Rav Shlomo of Siriloi (Talmud Yerushalmi 6:5) rules that since the fruit has holiness, it should only be eaten in the holiest place, the Land of Israel. Most authorities note that the reason behind not exporting kedushas shevi’is produce is because of various halachic concerns, not because of the essence of shemitah produce. The Ra’avad (Toras Kohanim, Behar 1:9), for example, writes that the concern of exporting shemitah produce is that people outside of Israel would not handle such produce with respect.
It is accepted among most poskim that exporting fruit and vegetables that have kedushas shevi’is is prohibited. However, certain circumstances exist which might allow one to either order or export kedushas shevi’is produce. One should consult with a competent halachic authority on a case by case basis.
There is kedushas shevi’is in fruits, vegetables, herbs, esrogim, and plants used for cosmetics. Kedushas shevi’is is present in the produce itself and also in any subsequent usage and refinement. For example, salad dressed with kedushas shevi’is oil has kedushas shevi’is. If even one vegetable with kedushas shevi’is is in a soup, the entire soup is infused with kedushas shevi’is (Kedushas Ha’aretz 21:6-12).
Despite the halachic ruling against export, in practice there are situations where one might encounter kedushas shevi’is produce in North America.
- Vegetables and fruit picked from a home garden or from areas declared ownerless during the shemitah year that were brought overseas.
- Fruits and vegetables purchased from otzar beis din that were exported.
- Heter mechirah produce exported to North America (even for those who do not rely on the heter mechirah, such as the OU).
- It is possible to find kedushas shevi’is fruit in the form of imported wines (sometimes a mix of vintages), imported citrus fruit (only from mid-winter) and Israeli products that contain ingredients from fruit or vegetable sources.
It should be noted that when seeing kedushas shevi’is produce overseas, there is no reason to automatically avoid purchasing it (unless it is heter mechirah). The process of consuming such fruit is simple; as such, it should not be a deterrent when seeing such products overseas (Chazon Ish Shevi’is 10:6).
USE AND DISPOSAL OF SHEMITAH PRODUCE
It is permissible to prepare kedushas shevi’is produce in conventional ways only. For instance: squeezing an eggplant, cooking a tomato, mashing a banana, peeling an apricot and making popcorn from fresh corn kernels would all be permitted. Any form of preparation which is unconventional is prohibited; for example, making liquor from shemitah dates. However, date honey may be produced since it is considered a more common use (see Kedushas Ha’aretz 27:11).
It should be noted that even if the produce was utilized in an inappropriate manner the food remains permissible to consume (Sefer Hashemita p. 30).
It is permissible to eat shemitah produce in any regular, conventional manner, even if some of the food might be wasted or lost (hefsed). For instance, it is permissible to eat half of an apple (even though the remainder will spoil). When possible, it is best to finish the entire fruit or vegetable, to avoid hefsed.
Small, insignificant scraps that people generally throw away (bits of leftover salad or soup, peels, pits, a drop of grape juice in a cup) should be thrown away using a pach shemitah (see below). However, one may wash away the small bits of food stuck to the walls of the pot (see Kissei David 6:46).
If food has become spoiled, it is prohibited to be fed to animals and it is considered “wasting” shemitah produce. If food has become slightly spoiled one is permitted to change it or use part of the food to make it edible. For example, slightly spoiled shemita tomatoes can be cooked and used for dips (Derech Emuna 5:85). Certain poskim (Tzitz Eliezer 2:17) maintain that orange peels have kedushas shevi’is since they are often candied. Also, peels that many people eat – like apples and cucumbers – should be handled as having kedushas shevi’is, even if you personally peel them.
Leftovers of kedushas shevi’is can be disposed in the following fashion: Place the leftovers in a receptacle (pach shevi’is, shemita bin), until no longer edible to humans. If the food is cooked, after two days it can be discarded in the regular garbage. If raw, wait a week until adding it to the regular garbage. It is important to be careful when adding new leftovers to the pach shevi’is: if Tuesday’s scraps touch Monday’s scraps, it will accelerate the new scraps’ rate of spoilage. For this reason, either (1) place each day’s leftovers in a separate bag or (2) separate each day’s scraps with newspaper or paper. It is best to prepare a wide, shallow bin and place each day’s scraps side by side and not on top of one another. Liquid leftovers should be left out until they spoil and are considered non-edible.
It is best to avoid using kedushas shevi’is wine or grape juice for havdalah if your custom is to fill the cup until it overflows (Shabbat Ha’aretz 22). The havdalah candle should not be extinguished in the grape juice or wine, as this is not consistent with the respect required for shemitah produce (Mishpetei Eretz 21:5).
Shemitah fruits are for eating and not for preserving for following years. When the produce from that type of food is no longer available in the fields, there is an obligation to observe the mitzvah of biur (eradication). The laws pertaining to biur are slightly complicated and differ for certain types of produce. In practice, for most consumers this obligation applies only to food products that last for a long time: wine, oil, jams, etc. When the time comes for the biur, one should remove the shemitah produce from his house, bring three people, place the fruit in front of them and say: “Our brothers Beis Yisrael: everyone who needs to take can come and take.” They may then take the produce.
If one can’t take the fruit out of his house, they may bring three people into the house and make the food hefker in front of them. Even after biur has been done, the produce is still holy with kedushas shevi’is and the laws still apply (Ohr L’Tzion Shevi’is p.54).
The schedule of biur dates for each crop depends on several factors.
For more on the zmanim of biur and other kashrus questions, feel free to contact the OU Kosher hotline at 212-613-8241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.