Oct 30, 2007
Shmitta: Otzar Beis Din
In my initial post on shmitta I described Otzar Ha'Aretz as OBD.
In reality, Otzar Ha'Aretz is one form of OBD. It is just one (of numerous) organization running a version of OBD.
OBD is a system by which, more or less, Beis Din takes control of the produce growing in a field. They then hire the farmer to harvest the produce and they deliver and distribute the produce. When you buy OBD produce, you are not paying for the vegetables, which are in essence free, rather you are paying for the expenses the Beis Din incurs in the process of getting you your cucumbers. Technically the OBD produce should be cheaper than normal, but sometimes the Beis Din has inefficiencies (after all they are no in the vegetable selling business) which lead to higher costs, along with the extra expenses of more mashgichim and other various expenses.
The vegetables sold under the OBD system have limitations. First of all, they are limited by amounts. There is an additional issue by vegetables that they need to be replanted every year. That is prohibited in the shmitta year. If vegetables are planted in the shmitta year they are prohibited from being eaten. The issur is known as the issur of sefichin.
The fact that one cannot plant veggies in the shmitta year means any veggies being sold under the OBD system are remaining from plantings that took place in the 6th year, and they only finished growing and were harvested in the shmitta year.
That means, these veggies run out and will not be available as soon as that 6 year crop is finished. vegetables (at least "greens" such as cuces, tomatoes, lettuce, etc.) do not have much of a shelf life and therefore cannot be stored for months in storage to be used during shmitta. They are picked and sold. As soon as all the 6th year produce is finished being picked, that is it. There is no more planting and no more vegetables (under this system).
(disclaimer: by 6th year produce I am referring here to the produce planted in 6th year and harvested in 7th year. I am not referring to the classical 6th year produce being sold in the stores that are sold from storage, such as potatoes, carrots, etc.)
I have tables detailing the various vegetables and when they are expected to run out of 6th year produce and the issur of sefichin would begin.
Once this happens, a person eating OBD veggies will have to find another source. He will either buy veggies imported from Europe (there is very little of this available and the costs are fairly high and restrictive), from Arab produce (another post will discuss this issue), from hetter mechira, or refrain from eating vegetables.
Most vegetables will be completing this cycle and no longer be available under OBD right about now (within the next couple of weeks for the most part).
What will I do about eating veggies? I am not yet sure.
Vegetables consumed under this OBD system have to be treated with respect and holiness of shmitta.
That means one cannot waste them. Peels and waste cannot be disposed of in the regular garbage can because their spoiling process is being hastened by mixing with other spoiling food.
One must keep the waste of OBD veggies separate and allow them to spoil on their own. Once they are considered spoiled you can then throw them into the regular garbage.
Many people have a pach shmitta (special garbage can only for shmitta produce). We never bothered buying a separate can, but keep the peels and waste in a bag which we put into a large jar. We add bags of peels and remove older bags of peels as necessary.
There is a debate among the rishonim whether there is an actual mitzva to eat produce of shmitta. Some say yes and some say no (like by anything else in Judaism). But regardless of whether there is an actual mitzva, everybody agrees that the preference and ideal of the Torah is to be eating such produce. The passuk says so very clearly that this produce should be eaten (unless one says it was just a reality as markets back then were not global and if you did not eat this produce you would have nothing else to eat as you could not import from other places).
Many people prefer to not eat OBD produce. They say that the restrictions on it are too difficult to deal with. They do not know what to do with the peels, what happens if you throw something out by mistake, how can you stop the kids from wasting the food, and all sorts of other issues that make it difficult to deal with OBD produce. They say it is easier and simpler to just buy non-shmitta produce (a.k.a. Arab produce) and not have to worry about all that.
On the one hand, there is a debate and differing customs on whether Arab produce (grown in Israel) is free from these restrictions. Some people say these restrictions apply equally on Arab produce. Clearly these people are not going to prefer Arab produce to solve the difficulties, as they have not solved anything.
They will be buyinh Arab produce mostly because of availability. OBD is very limited, as I mentioned above, and stops about 6-8 weeks into shmitta, while Arab produce is always readily available.
Regardless, most people do not keep the same restrictions on Arab produce and buy Arab produce because of a) availability and b) no restrictions.
The restrictions on what can be done with shmitta produce do make it difficult. One has to know what to do, and must have a Rabbi available to call when a question arises that he does not know the answer to. However, we have not found it so difficult that we find a reason to not use such produce.
It has been a learning experience for us. My kids know to ask if the cucumbers (or whatever) have kedushas shviis. They know that if the answer is yes that means they take smaller portions so as to minimize the waste.
Just last night I served at dinner a plate of cut up, lightly salted cucumbers (which my kids love). As my son reached out with his hands to grab a bunch (no, shmitta does not help in teaching kids to eat with forks and having manners. that is a separate work in progress) he turned to me and asked if they have kedusha. When I responded in the affirmative, he took less than he had planned to take and when he finished with what he took, he then took more.
It does create some difficult scenarios. Like when my daughter was making a salad and forgot the vegetables had kedusha. It just slipped her mind. She knew when she took them out, but she got distracted and forgot. She threw the peels into the garbage by mistake and she realized right afterwards. She and her uncle (who was there at the time) had to root around in the garbage and extract the peels. It was not so bad as they were mostly piled together, but it was still uncomfortable.
One more thing worth noting: I do not know how long in a regular year the produce is held in storage before it is sold in the stores. I do know that the cucumbers and peppers I purchased from OBD almost 2 weeks ago (and am running out of) are still fresh in my refrigerator. They are firm and of good quality. In a regular year, 3-4 days after I buy the cucumbers they are already soft and beginning to get mushy. Another day or two and they start getting moldy. I do not know if that means in a regular year they store it for longer before they sell it, or if it is grown lower quality, but the OBD produce I have bought has been far superior in that regard.