Shmita: Where exactly is Israel?
In order to fulfill the requirement of shmita, we are forbidden by the Torah from performing certain types of work on our fields:
- harvesting- קצירה
- sowing – זריעה (includes planting – נטיעה)
- pruning vines – זמירה
- cutting grapes – בצירה
There are other agricultural activities that were forbidden by Chazal/Sages:
- clearing fields of stones – סיקול
- weeding – נכוש
- manuring – זבול
- hoeing – עדור
- watering – השקאה
This is required for all people residing within the land of Israel. The borders of the land of Israel, have changed frequently over the years, from Biblical times:
To the time of King Shaul and David:
To the current borders:
So how is it decided which borders to use? Logic might dictate that whatever the current political borders of Israel are, that is where shmita must be observed. Unfortunately, even the current political borders are disputed and some even dispute that there should even be a political border of Israel. Therefore, as in most things in Judaism, It is not such a simple question to answer.
If you compare the different maps, you can see that the western border of Israel is the Mediterranean Sea. The northern border has stretched occasionally into Lebanon and Syria. We don’t import produce from those countries so that is no problem. The more southern city of Beit Shean and the surrounding area has been disputed as possibly being outside the land of Israel. The eastern border has stretched into parts of Jordan (I’ll get back to that issue) and there is a considerable difference between the southern borders on the different maps. The southernmost border of Israel has been subject to dispute over the years. Eilat is almost always considered to be “chutz la aretz”.
This is a map of the wandering southern border of Israel regarding shmita:
What is the significance of declaring an area “chutz la aretz”? In those areas the land (and therefore the produce) does not have kedusha/holiness and the farmers are able to work the land during the shmita year. For the consumer, this means lower prices and better quality produce that what is traditionally purchased from the Palestinian Territories. This year, the fields of Ein Yahav in the upper Arava were declared outside of Israel by the Rabbanut.
Being the start-up nation, there are “shmita start-ups” to help ease some farmers’ difficulty in observing shmita. For example, some farms within the borders of Israel have laid sheets of plastic over their fields and placed large quantities of dirt imported from Europe on top in which they will be planting their crops.
One of the more serious issues is the illegal dumping of produce that does have kedusha on farms or countries that do not. Therefore it is very important to have supervision in the fields to ensure that everything is properly labelled. The Badatz has set up a “hothouse city” in Jordan this year under their strict supervision to provide mehadrin vegetables from chutz la aretz during shmita. Apparently there is strong support on the Israeli and Jordanian sides for this project, which brings employment to the region and since Israel has relatively warm relations with Jordan, the Israeli government is able to go to Jordan and inspect the produce with ease.
The whole concept of defining Israel as not part of Israel can have political ramifications as well. The EU has already declared the areas of Judea and Shomron as not part of Israel. Is it possible that our declarations can be used to strengthen the argument for the creation of a Palestinian State in those areas? For that same reason many people reject the heter mechira, which sells the land to a non-Jew the same way we sell our chametz on Pesach.
Therefore, when buying produce during shmita it is important to understand why there is a difference in the prices based on its classification. Next up: heter mechira and otzar haaretz.
The Borders of Eretz Yisroel by Shmorei Shviit
Shmita and the term “Hutz La’aretz” by yeshiva.org.il
(גבולות הרמב”ם: ‘גבולות מסעי’ או ‘ברית ביה”ב’ (תגובה by The Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel
הרבנות קבעה, החקלאים חוגגים by Israel National News
נסיעה לירדן לפיקוח על פרי אבטיח – רשמי מסע by the Plant Protection and Inspection Services