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Oct 11, 2007

Shmitta: some of the basics and Otzar Ha'aretz

I have decided to finally write about shmitta. I am going to make it into a series of posts, each will be regarding a different aspect of shmitta. Hopefully this will help me clarify my thoughts and resolve some of my issues.

Briefly, Shmita is the 7th year of a 7 year cycle. On this 7th year we are commanded in the Torah to let the land lie fallow. No work can be done, no plowing, planting, etc. The farmer must allow anyone who wants to come eat from any crops that might grow.

The purpose of this (on a basic level) is to ingrain in the farmer trust in God, that it is not his own efforts in working the land rather (while they help and are necessary it is really..) Gods control. God promises that He will provide enough crops for those who keep the shmita and do not work the land.

There is a debate among the poskim whether the mitzva is to not work the land or if there is more to it than that. Some are of the opinion that aside from not working the land, there is another mitzva to eat produce grown in shmita with "kedushas shviis" - holiness of the 7th year. According to these opinions, priority should be given when purchasing fruit/veggies to those grown with the holiness over imported produce or other.
Others are of the opinion that there is no such mitzva, rather one must not work the land, one must treat any fruit/veggies with extra care, but there is no actual mitzva to eat such produce. one could just as well import vegetables from other places or not eat veggies at all or whatever, but they say there is no priority to these veggies.

Any fruit/vegetables that grow during the shmitta year can be eaten but they are imbued with a level of holiness due to the special shmitta year. They have to be treated special. All food must be treated well - not wasted or abused, but with shmita produce one must be extra careful.

because of the great detail involved in dealing with produce from shmita, it is very expensive and consuming. Not only that but there are many debates on what can be eaten and what cannot be eaten at all! It is prohibited to do business with such produce, making it difficult to buy/sell. There are innovative solutions to this problem, one of which is called Otzar Beis Din. This is a solution in which beis din sort of takes control of the produce and they sell it at "cost of production" with no profit.

Otzar beis din generally deals only in fruit and not vegetables because vegetables have some added problems (called sefichin) in growing them past certain dates. The timeframe in which it is a viable solution (for veggies0 is fairly small, and most Otzar Beis Din (OBD) solutions therefore choose not to get involved, as the effort is too great for too little return.

There is one organization that chose to deal with vegetables in this fashion, despite the difficulties. It is called the OBD of Otzar Ha'Aretz.

While other kashrut organizations get around the problem of not having vegetables by importing from Arab areas which do not have that holiness (a debate on its own whether this is true or not and how it works), this Otzar Ha'Aretz chose not to use those solutions.

Otzar Ha'Aretz prefers to not use Arab produce. Much of the proceeds of such produce is assumed (and in some cases proven) to end up supporting terror and terror acts against Israel. This is a very sensitive issue and will be discussed more in future posts. Otzar Ha'Aretz prefers to use Jewish produce that is grown in an acceptable manner. Using Jewish grown produce is a way of supporting the Jewish farmers, who financially have a very difficult year, aside form not supporting terror.

Because Otzar Ha'Aretz is a new system, they requested people register with them. They did this so they could gauge how much of a demand there would be for such produce. This would help them calculate how much they needed (so there would not be too much or too little in the stores) and it also gave them leverage with the farmers when trying to convince farmers to work through their system.

I signed up for Otzar Ha'Aretz. I liked the concept they used, and my Rav supported it and urged members of our community to join Otzar Ha'aretz.

I got my vouchers very late, just at the end of sukkos. I did not want to buy Arab produce, and I was too lazy to go to the store selling Otzar Ha'aretz produce, at least without the vouchers, so from about 2 days after Rosh Hashana (when shmitta began) until now, I had not bought fresh vegetables.

Let me add that not everything has a problem yet. Many types of produce are still being sold from 6th year produce (out of storage), such as potatoes, onions, carrots, etc.. but cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, etc are a problem now and I had not bought them since Rosh Hashana.

Because I finally received my vouchers, I decided to head out to the local Otzar Ha'aretz distributor and buy some. They had nice looking produce (much nicer than the Arab produce being sold int he supermarkets) and the prices were more or less the same, on some things lower and on others equal.

I still have not bought my "pach shmita". I will try to do that tonight. the special garbage can for shmita produce is necessary because the veggies cannot be disposed of in the regular garbage. Due to their holiness, it is considered disgraceful to mix them in the regular garbage can. This is in addition to the problem of putting into the regular garbage would cause the spoilage process to speed up, which would mean you caused their spoilage in a sense.

This is the first installment of my shmita series. Because shmita is a year long, even more because certain fruits extend into the following year, you can look forward to a lot of posts on the shmita topic.


  1. An added benefit of OBD stuff: my four year old knows to ask if vegetables are kedushas sheviis, and she makes sure to finish every bite of her salad before taking more...

  2. the educational aspects of it are great. this mornign I only told my kids briefly that I bought kedushas shviis stuff and they should be careful not to waste, and tonight we will go through the details.

  3. Rafi,

    I'd like to add a few comments to your informative post.
    1. There is a fundamental difference between fruit and vegetables, since fruit comes out on the trees every year - no matter what and there has to be a way in which to distribute these kedushat sheviit fruit- hence otzar bet din.
    2. but vegetables only grow when they are planted! (which is prohibited on shmittah in Jewish-owned fields), therefore the only kedushat sheviit that is possible are vegetables that were planted in the 6th year and are picked after rosh hashana – which are also kedushat sheviit and also distributed by OBD. But this is only available for a limited amount of produce and time in the beginning of the year (depending also on how long they can stay fresh refrigerated). But shortly there will no longer be kedushat sheviit vegetables and the only veggies available will be either imported from abroad, from non-Jewish owned fields (hamas, fatah or heter mechirah) or some other "patents" available such as growing on tables in hothouses or in the southern aravah region, etc.
    3. Otzar Haaretz is an organization that markets Jewish grown F&Vs – including OBD produce. Depending on how much produce is grown and how many customers they have, they will also market all other types of produce (tables, aravah) and when needed – heter mechirah (under their own supervision) and imported from Europe.
    4. Otzah Haaretz will not have "Palestinian" produce under any circumstances (not just prefer" as you wrote)


  4. thanks yehuda for your clarification. I was being general in this post buit I will clarify a little further based on your comment...

    on points number 3 and 4, aside from all that, Otzar ha'aretz will, if necessary, market produce grown by Israeli Arabs (if I understood correctly). While they prefer Jewish grown, they do admit that at times there might be a shortage of certain veggies and their alternate source would be Israeli Arabs. They will not go to PA produce.

  5. Otzar HaAretz also says (so far, I've only seen OBD) that they'll label the source of all their products, so you can tell if it's their HM, Arava (possibly even _which_ area, in case different people want to trust different shitos in "arava"), etc.

    In other words, they're trying to market their reliability in addition to their piskei halacha.


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