Nov 25, 2007

Shmitta: where do the veggies really come from?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Yevul Nochri (Arab produce) being used as the most popular method of avoiding kedushas shviis vegetables and as a solution for eating veggies throughout the shmitta year, even after the issur of sefichin begins.

One of the problems I mentioned with yevul nochri is that you never really know where the vegetables are coming from. While most of them might actually be Arab produce, there is a minority of such produce that originated as Jewish produce and was sold through the Arabs as a way of getting these veggies onto the market. So if you buy Arab produce, you might actually be buying Jewish produce without realizing it.

In this week's Mishpacha newspaper (Hebrew), there was a report of another, albeit similar, problem with Yevul Nochri. The hechsher organizations are finding this problem, yet are saying they are not responsible for it and have not (yet) presented any solutions.

The problem is this; There are many areas in Israel whose halachic status in regards to shmitta is in question and under debate. Is the halachic border of Holiness of the Land over here or 2 kilometers further west or east or north, etc. There are many opinions on the matter, many of them are in the "Arava" region. The Arava has sections that halachically do not have kedusha and growing crops in those areas has been a solution (albeit limited). However, there are many debates as to the exact borders and some might hold this border is halachic and therefore produce grown in that area is ok for shmitta, while others might say that is still halachic Israel and problematic for shmitta.

There are large parcels of land that remain a safek if they are Eretz Yisrael, even land going into parts of Jordan.

The basic accepted opinion has generally been that if the Hazon Ish who defines what he considers the actual halachic borders. Though other opinions still argue.

It has been found, that the farmers/marketers/wholesalers have been marking produce grown in questionable areas as being produce from "abroad" (and thereby being free of any shmitta issues).

They have found that many veggies grown in these questionable areas, are being sold as Yevul Chu"l (veggies from abroad), despite their really coming from areas that might actually be Eretz Yisrael and if they are grown by Jews in these areas (as they often are), that would make these veggies prohibited from being eaten.

It turns out that the fruit and veggie guy is basically deciding halacha for you and telling you you can eat something that there is a good chance is assur.

One proposed solution is to mark every item (veggies) in the store with the exact location it came from, rather than the general term of "chu"l" and letting the consumer decide (with the psak of his own rav if necessary) whether he considers that location as part of kedushas Israel or not.

The problem with this is that it is up to the veggie guy to make the signs and mark his produce and not the hechsher. they have no control over that. So far they have not marked the veggies so specifically noting the actual source of the veggies.

So, if you eat Yevul Nochri, do you actually know that your veggies are shmitta free? Do you know if they are even allowed to be eaten?

Maybe you can still say it is a minority of produce and not something to be concerned about (it is battul b'rov maybe). I do not know, but it still seems yevul nochri is problematic.

I still do not know what I am going to do once the Otzar Beis Din on vegetables stops because of sefichin (within the next couple of weeks)... So far I have bought almost exclusively OBD (and 6th year where possible) produce. In about 2 weeks, this will become a big issue for me and many others.


  1. I'm confused; what's the problem?

    Isn't that the job of the hechsher? Just like they make sure that nothing else is mixed in, aren't they supposed to be verifying that the vegetables come from where the grower says they come from...?

    The hechsherim providing Y.N. stuff are generally viewed as being medakdek on these sort of things, and not trusting anyone for anything...

  2. I agree with you. But even more, why can they not force the veggie guy to put up accurate and specific signs? They say (in the article) they cannot and it is not their job. They say they will not allow the veggie guy to lie and put up a false sign, but they cannot make them be specific.

    I do not know why not. I would think it would be their responsibility to do so.

  3. I believe that Otzar Haaretz buys from the south Arava (with a heter mechira on it just on case)?


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