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Oct 13, 2008

Shmitta: Otzar Beis Din: distributing Esrogim

Normally I buy an esrog in a closed box. My theory is that I have little patience to look at esrogim that tens or hundreds of people have already handled and rejected. As well, I hardly know what I am looking at. All the marks look the same to me, so there is no point in my inspecting it the way I see plenty of other people inspecting. I figure, if a hechsher is good enough for me to rely upon for the food I buy, for deciding Jewishness, conversions and marriage, even for my laundry detergent, bleach, and paper plates, then it is also good enough to tell me my esrog is kosher.

So instead of my inspecting the esrog just to look as frum as everyone else (which is the only reason I personally could ever have to inspect an esrog closely), I buy the closed box with the hechsher. The most inspecting I do is for where it is being sold cheaper. I see no reason to pay a hundred shekels for an esrog when I can pay 40 for the same thing. Granted, I am no big negotiator, and I am never good at bringing merchants prices down on anything, but if I wait until the prices naturally start to go down, I have saved myself a lot of money.

Also, I will generally go to buy the esrog on erev yom tov when the prices start to go down. I am not quite daring enough to wait until very late in the day, when you can really get prices at the rock-bottom, but I do ghet them as they are beginning to fall.

This year, buying esrogim and the other items are a bit more complicated. Because the esrogim still fall in the category of shmitta, because fruit still has shmitta restrictions for a few more months even though Rosh Hashana has come and gone, so you cannot just go buy an esrog. You can go, or you could have gone before Rosh Hashana, to a hefker field and pick your own esrog. the chances of you getting a kosher one like that are extremely small.

The main source for esrogim this year are Otzar Beis Din. The "legal fiction" is that they say they are "distributing" esrogim and not selling them. I don't know - these guys who were "distributing" them at our shul for a nice price did not look like they would be doing it just to cover their costs. They must have somehow been sellign them for a decent profit. Otherwise why would they go through the effort of sellign them in RBS, or anywhere for the matter?

bluke at The Jewish Worker has a good review of how the details of buying Otzar Beis Din esrogim works halachically.

Not everyone, Rav Elyashiv is supposedly included in this list, likes or agrees with the Otzar Beis Din solution, so there is also a supply of imported esrogim. While the Otzar Beis Din prices are set pretty much in stone, the sky is the limit with the prices for imported esrogim.

My shul made arrangements with a supplier to sell Otzar Beis Din esrogim, and lulavim and hadasim (they do not have the same shmitta restrictions for various reasons). Because of the short amunt of time due to the way the calendar falls out, and due to the complexity of buying shmitta esrogim, and due to some other technical issues, I decided to buy through the shul this year. I paid higher prices for my species than I would in a normal year, but I am told that the quality is so nice (they are very nice, but as I said, I am not a big mumche and it doe snot make such a difference to me), it is cheap to what I would have had to pay for an equivalent esrog in any other year. Not that I would have bought such a nice esrog any other year, but I guess it is somehow a good deal.

I still find it hard to understand how when shmitta means everything is supposed to be free, and the Otzar Beis Din system means they charge for the costs, why things are so expensive. they say they are just covering the costs, but it seems the costs are so much higher than in regular years. And not just for esrogs. Otzar Beis Din vegetables (when they were available) during the year were also expensive. Why does it cost more to pick a cucumber and send it to the "store" during shmitta than it does the other six years?

Anyways, that is the system in place and that is how I got my beautiful esrog this year.

the one drawback is that you cannot just put the esrog in the "pach shmitta" and let it rot and throw it out. You have to wait a few months, savig it in good condition the whole time. Eventually you have to remove it and make it hefker when the "zman bi'ur" arrives. And then you can get rid of it.

8 comments:

  1. "I still find it hard to understand how when shmitta means everything is supposed to be free, and the Otzar Beis Din system means they charge for the costs, why things are so expensive. they say they are just covering the costs, but it seems the costs are so much higher than in regular years. And not just for esrogs. Otzar Beis Din vegetables (when they were available) during the year were also expensive. Why does it cost more to pick a cucumber and send it to the "store" during shmitta than it does the other six years?"

    *sigh*

    I wish that I had an answer!

    ReplyDelete
  2. There is no such thing as otzar beis din veggies. it only works for fruits.

    That said, for esrogim i spoke to a merchant. he said that he gets 10 shekel per otzar BD esrog that he passes on. If you sell 150 esrogim, you make 1500 shekels. assuming you also sell lulavim and hadasim, it will probably be worth the guys time, even though hes not making the killing he makes the other 6 years.

    The way it works is that the BD determines how much the expenses are. Then they try to estimate how many esrogim will be used. Then they make 3 prices. The "real" price, the high price and the low price. In the end, the hope is that the high and low prices offset and they make their costs and expenses. Thats why the Edah's esrogim for example were selling for something like 5 shekel a pop on erev YT since the night before the BD sat and determined that if they sell "x" amount of esrogim (x=the number they figured they would sell if the prices were dirt cheap) at "y" price, and combine that amount of money with the money already brought it, then they will break even - which is the goal.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I dont inspect hadasim or lulavim.. I just buy mehudar koreia lulavim and hadasim I get every year from michoel ben chorin.

    Esrogim its a mitzva to inspect, not the hidur of the mitzva rather the torah explicitly states "pri eitz hadar" the pshat of hadar while we are meramez it as a esrog nonetheless it needs to be hadar and as such its a mitzvah to inspect.

    If you dont have to time, you should at least be zoche in opening the box and examining the esrog after purchasing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. During shmitta our local store had otzar beit din fruits and veggies through otzar ha'aretz.

    NOw, after shmitta, there are only otzar beit din fruits.

    ReplyDelete
  5. anonymous - the OBD veggies wer euntil about channukah time. After that veggies are sefichin, as there are pretty much no more from what was planted before the last rosh hashana. I heard there were some tomatoes OBD later than that, but most veggies were finished with OBD around channukah time.

    elchonon - of course I open it up and look as it before yom tov, but that is mainly to make sure they did not stick a pomegranate in the box instead of an esrog.

    C Abbi - the veggies they had later in the year, mostly after channukah, were not OBD. They were mostly from outside of the borders of Eretz Yisrael, or matza menutak or other solutions.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I used to not have the patience or desire to pick out the "perfect" esrog. Then someone pointed out that the esrog symbolizes the heart. If Hashem were giving out hearts to people for their bodies, they probably wouldnt' want something that just comes in sealed box and get whatever they get (unless they really had faith in the person who examined it). So when we are choosing such a chefzah shel mitzvah, we should try to take a similar approach and hand pick something that is as close to perfect as we can find.

    It may not be a perfect parallel, but the point hit home.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The purveyors of Otzar Beit Din etrogim here are offering to send them back to Israel immediately after the chag.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I know why Otzar BD is so expensive - the BD pays too much to the farmer!!! A friend of mine on a kibbutz told me the only year the kibbutz doesn't lose money on their [fruit] is Shmitta, because the BD pays them to be Otzar BD. Obviously the BD pays them more than what a regular distributor pays them.

    ReplyDelete

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