Nov 7, 2007

Shmitta: Yevul Nochri

Yevul Nochri. Non-Jewish (grown) produce. This really means Arab produce, as that is the only non-Jewish produce sold in Israel (though there is a very minute amount of imported produce from Europe and Asia).

Because Jews have to make their fields hefker for the shmitta year, and Jews are not allowed to work the fields and do business with produce grown in shmitta, the kashrus organizations have found a workaround. This is the workaround that is the most prevalent in the Haredi communities, and is also found in other areas though not as prevalent. The workaround is to buy produce grown by Arabs.

This works because Arabs do not have a mitzva of keeping shmitta. they can work the land this year as they do any other year, and they can do business with the produce they grow.

If you do not keep Hetter Mechira, this is the only other solution to attaining vegetables during the shmitta year (other than OBD which I am not including here because the time period of OBD is short (finishing over the next couple of weeks) and the availability is severely limited not rendering it feasible for the masses) is to use Yevul Nochri/Arab Produce.

There is some debate as to whether Arab produce grown in (halchik) Israel has kedusha or not. The ramification of this debate is whether you can eat veggies like in any other year, throwing out the peels, letting your kid mash his tomato all over his hair, smear mashed potatoes all over the floor, etc. or whether such produce needs to be treated with holiness, similar to the way OBD produce is treated.

The debate is based on a larger question of whether an Arab (or any non-Jew) has the ability to remove the kedusha of the land simply by purchasing a tract.

The common custom is known as Minhag Yerushalayim, considers Arab produce to not retain any holiness. So according to that you can let your kids go to the annual tomato fight in Tel Aviv (I think) using Arab grown tomatoes.

The opposing opinion is known as Minhag Bnei Brak. The Chazon Ish decided that Arab produce does retain its holiness and must be treated respectfully. Most people in Bnei Brak follow this custom.

As true of many chumros, the stricter custom of Bnei Brak has begun to spread among the Haredi public of other areas. Even though other places always kept the custom of Jerusalem on this issue, we are finding this shmitta year that many are accepting upon themselves the custom of Bnei Brak.

In my community, the various Rabbis have all told their congregations that they do not need to treat such produce with holiness, as per the custom of Jerusalem. There is one Rabbi of a large congregation however who told his congregation to be machmir and treat it with kedusha. Along with that there are individuals who decided to be machmir.

Many are against using Arab produce for various reasons. Probably the most common reason is the nationalist aspect. People do not want to buy Arab produce because doing so "supports the terrorists". If you buy Arab grown cucumbers (for example), your money is going into the pockets of an Arab. Often that money will end up in part by the PA (taxes) and inadvertently, if not directly, will end up being used (in all likelihood) by terrorists to by guns and ammo which will likely be used against fellow Jews. So the thinking goes, if you buy Arab produce you are supporting terrorists.

Another reason people are against Arab produce is a more halachik based reason. You never really know where the produce is coming from. Arab produce is, for unknown reasons, very expensive. Basic items that normally sell for 2-3 NIS per kilo are selling for anywhere between 7 and 10 NIS per kilo.

That means that a farmer selling his produce elsewhere for 3 NIS per kilo goes into a Haredi supermarket and see the same veggies selling for 10 NIS a kilo. he then has to figure out how he can charge so much.

Often, and it does happen often, the farmers will go to the Arabs and sneak it into the Jewish consumers via the Arab (sometimes they are caught and more often they are not). He will sell it to the Arab who will then pass it off as his own. Now the Jewish farmer is selling in Jerusalem for 10 NIS per kilo the same cucumbers he was charging 3 NIS for in Tel Aviv. Much more profit.

In addition, the farmer often has his market limited. Maybe he sells Hetter Mechira produce and the Haredim will not buy from him. Maybe he has no kashrut at all because he does not follow the shmitta laws, and demand for his produce is even more limited. Selling it off through an Arab as if it is Arab produce allows him to pass off his produce when he would otherwise have a very difficult time finding buyers. (And he gets a lot of profit because of the high prices).

These two problems are very serious because when it happens, the buyer is inadvertently eating produce that is for all intents and purposes, not kosher.

So some people avoid it for these reasons - if you buy Arab produce there is a reasonable chance it is not kosher at all.

Another reason not to buy Arab produce is the issue of ownership. It is extremely difficult to determine who is the rightful owner of a piece of property in Israel. Land has to be registered in Taboo and often that land is not registered correctly, making it difficult to determine who really is the owner. Sometimes the Jewish owner will take on or already have an Arab partner and they will just say the land is owned by the Arab, even if it really is not. Sometimes there are pieces of land that were owned by Jews over the years and due to the restrictions on the Jews Arabs squatted on the lands (pre-State) taking ownership. Then they might technically own the land in question but halachically that might still be considered as owned by a Jew.

In any of these examples, and there are more, if the land is secretly (or without even being known) owned by a Jew, all that produce is considered not-kosher.

Others simply say it is Arab produce and the kashrut organization certifying it has to deal with those issues. If they say it is fine, that is fine by me. This is an attitude people (including myself) use regarding any kashrut issue - it has a hechsher and the mashgiach has to deal with those issues, not me..

There is another issue - health. Some people say that eating yevul nochri is dangerous. They say the Arabs use lower quality materials - manure, sprays, water, sewage, whatever. I do not believe this to be true, even if it is a bit lesser quality than jewish produce (I do not know if it is or is not, but even if it is that does not mean they use sewage instead of water and it does nott mean it is dangerous to consume).

I suspect that such accusations are baseless and are more similar to the blood libels we Jews were always accused of, such as poisoning the wells, causing the Plague, spreading AIDS among the Palestinians..etc.

I know some people claim that last shmitta they know people who got Hepatitis or other diseases from eating Arab produce that had been grown with sewage. I do not know how they can be so sure of what the source for the illness was.

I know plenty of people who eat Arab produce exclusively and they are as healthy (or unhealthy) as always. So, personally, I would discount this accusation.

11 comments:

  1. so you mean to say that if you buy arab produce (bdat"z)there is a chance /percentage that it is actually ossur (grown in an actually jewish-owned field), but if you get heter mechira then you are sure that it was sold to a non-jew and (notwithstandingthe issue if HT should be done or not) it is kosher?

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  2. some do say that hetter mechira is better for that reason. others say hetter mechira is completely assur.
    others say hetter mechira is assur but once done can be bought. others say it is not assur.

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  3. because the time period of OBD is short (finishing over the next couple of weeks)

    Why is that so? Is it because the produce will no longer be in the fields, and so zman biur has arrived? But if that's so, where is the heter mechira and the yevul nochri stuff coming from? Some stuff (I think like potatos and apples, although shmitah for applies doesn't start until Tu Bshvat, right?) can last in refrigerators for a long time, but other stuff (I'd guess most of the stuff in the produce section) can't.

    Actually I'm happy that OBD has a short season. It means that when I find a carrot stick on the floor at kiddush I don't have to worry if it has kedushat shviit, or that a friend might bring me a salad that I'm not allowed to throw out the leftovers of until it goes bad. I know there are people who treat HM with kedushat shviit as a chumrah, but I don't. Just wondering why it has a short season.

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  4. OBD has a short season because OBD does not include any produce planted in the 7th year. All OBD produce is veggies that were planted in the 6th year and are finishing to grow in the 7th year. Eventually (mostly within mid-chashvan) they run out of those veggies.

    HM and nochri keep planting throughout the year, because by definition they do not have the problem. Goyim can work the land because they are not commanded on shviis laws. So they plant and they harvest and people (who eat these types of produce) eat because these are not shmitta affected crops.

    I have heard that some people treat HM with kedushas shviis. I have heard in the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that though he was against HM, he did allow it to be consumed post-facto in a situation of need, and with treating it with kedushas shviis. I do not know if this statement is accurate though so do not take it on my word.

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  5. Rafi,
    Just for the record,
    Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was NOT against HM! As a matter of fact (although some might like to censor it) he was very much for the Rabanut doing HM and made sure they did it and made the decision regarding the specific nusach of the sale agreement. But he did hold to be machmir regarding vegetables (that are sefichim) not to eat, but writes specifically that fruits can be bought and eaten from HM (see minchat shlomo siman 44).

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  6. OBD has a short season because OBD does not include any produce planted in the 7th year. All OBD produce is veggies that were planted in the 6th year and are finishing to grow in the 7th year. Eventually (mostly within mid-chashvan) they run out of those veggies.

    That is the case for vegetables which have to be planted each year. But it is my impression that for fruits which grow on trees, OBD does continue to operate throughout shemitta.

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  7. Thank you for your informative and important post - well done.

    One important point:

    You note that "If you buy Arab grown cucumbers (for example), your money is going into the pockets of an Arab. Often that money will end up in part by the PA (taxes) and inadvertently, if not directly, will end up being used (in all likelihood) by terrorists to by guns and ammo which will likely be used against fellow Jews."

    You then write that you believe that those who claim that Arabs use sewage for their produce is somewhat akin to a blood libel (as those against the Jews - l'havdil!), as you think that those claims are incorrect.

    Just a quick question: If you think that (at least) some of the farmers would be directly financing terrorism with the money that they get from Jewish business, then why would you think they wouldn't want to use sewage on their produce, whether it's because they're selling to Jews or because it's cheaper?

    So, you criticize those who make the accusation of Arabs possibly using sewage as being somewhat akin to a blood libel, but admit that at least some of them would use their money directly toward terrorism, in their attempts to murder Jews.

    Please explain how it is understandable that the Arab farmers might directly fund terrorism to murder Jews, but they wouldn't use sewage to fertilize their crops?

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  8. good question, and I do not know if I have a good answer...
    I would say that funding terrorism is not up to them. they pay for protection. they have fees they pay to Hamas... even if they do not want to 9and while some might, I am sure that there are some who do not want to).

    Using sewage is a much worse claim. They have to be doing it willingly. that also means they are harming their own crops and health. and while paying a monthly fee (kind of like store owners who had to pay "for protection" - just because they paid it does not mean they were part of the mafia, but the money still went to the mafia) is less directly connected, using sewage in the growing process is a much more direct claim..

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  9. First of all, I think that "y" has a good question which must be addressed, especially by people who would consider eating "yevul nochri (arab)", as there are questions related to tevel. Concerning the issue of relying on the hechsher, I think that if there are serious halachic questions, even if a well-known hashgacha says it's ok, such as secular Jewish farmers indirectly selling their produce (which would constitute major problems, including Tevel), then I think the person shouldn't force themselves to be ignorant and justify it by saying that "others have the obligation to ensure the kashrus". The OU has pointed out that there are serious questions about "yevul nochri", as mashgichim are afraid to enter the arab areas (not surprisingly - pikuach nefesh), so they fly up a helicopter near the farms. Perhaps there are some arab owned farms in safe areas. The person should find out where the "yevul nochri" comes from. Rafi, does it come from arab areas in Gaza and the "West Bank", as well? If not, I think that everyone should get clear, unambiguous answers from a rabbi who is knowledgeable of the specifics of "yevul nochri".
    See this link from the OU about the helicopter surveillance used sometimes:
    http://209.85.173.104/search?q=cache:Dn6EW4_ojxUJ:www.ou.org/index.php/jewish_action/article/33256/+%22yevul+nochri%22+terrorism&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us

    Anyway, Rafi concerning the issue of arab farmers supporting terrorism:

    1) What is your source that Hamas, etc., forces them to pay them?

    2) According to a recent poll, over 60% of arabs in Israel (i.e. also in arab areas) support terrorism attacks against Israeli civilians. (See: http://209.85.173.104/search?q=cache:y8GaY0q9QJQJ:www.zoa.org/2006/10/recent_polls_pa.htm+support+of+Palestinian+terrorism+poll&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=2&gl=us&client=firefox-a).

    Why should we then assume that the arab farmers give money willingly and even happily to the terrorists, hoping some of it will be used in acts of terrorism against Jews?

    3) I still don't understand how it would be a spurious claim to say that arabs use sewage for their crops. They aren't known for being the most careful about cleanliness. I think that if sewage is cheaper that they would and do use sewage. Again, I'm kind of surprised that arab farmers should be supported against what appears to be a reasonable claim vis-a-vis sewage, when they, more likely than not, would be happy if one of our fellow-Jews would be murdered in a terrorist attack, chas v'shalom.

    Of course, if people don't care to check into the issue of "yevul nochri" and already eat that produce, it might be kind of inconvenient for them to face a reasonable claim that sewage might be used to fertilize the food their eating (aside from some of their money being sent off to terrorists). A reasonable person should investigate an issue, especially when it relates to things they ingest (like food), instead of "conveniently" ignoring the issue. "Worst comes to worst", they'll be disgusted by the food they eat (if it is indeed fertilized by human sewage) and might also keep their money from going to support arab terrroism (against fellow Jews - including civilians), again, which is supported by a significant majority of arabs. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts. Kol tuv.

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  10. In the previous post, I meant "why not assume that the arab farmers willing, and even happily, support the arab terrorism".

    By the way, I think it's unconscionable to be eating food from arabs when the money used to buy the food probably ends up in the hands of Hamas or other terrorists. I assume that you agree.

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  11. I am not sure why you say the sewage claim is reasonable. I do not think it is...
    But I do agree that one should try to avoid uch produce. But many people consider it better and more halachically acceptable, and that is what this post was about.

    Also, if this food is being sold on the market, it is the department of agricultures responsibility to investigate that kind claim. I do not believe that if this accusation is considered reasonable as you say, that the DOA has not investigated. Why did nobody complain to them? Why do we not see thousands and thousands of people getting sick from eating sewage?

    Why is this any different than saying Jews slaughter christian children for the blood for the matza?

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