Shmitah: Otzar Beit Din
Observing shmita can be difficult both for the farmer and for the consumer. The farmer has to rely on the harvest from the sixth year to support him/her during the shmitah year or find alternative sources of income. The consumer still needs to eat fruits and vegetables (although my kids would debate that last point). In an agrarian society, one could walk up to the ownerless field and take what you need for your meals. Today we are much further removed from the fields- our produce comes from supermarkets and it is unrealistic to drive out to the country to pick a few tomatoes. Plus, as we learned yesterday, the point of shmitah produce (peirot sheviit) is not to have it sit and rot but to eat it.
So what is a modern society to do?
Machon HaTorah v’Haaretz– The Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel- has provided us with a solution- the Otzar Beit Din.
You might recognize the symbol on certain produce in the supermarket.
During the shmitah year the Oztar Beit Din becomes the middleman between the consumer and the farmer. The farmer signs a contract that the Beit Din is permitted to remove produce from his/her land and store it in the Beit Din’s warehouse. The Beit Din then distributes the produce to the members of its community. The Beit Din compensates the farmer for transporting the produce to the warehouse (and other permitted activities). The community members pay a fee to belong to the community. Since it is forbidden to weigh, sort, categorize or do any sort of commerce with peirot sheviit, the Otzar Beit Din sets up a different system for people to collect their produce. For example, the consumer pays a set price each month and the prices of the produce is set based on expenses only and therefore does not earn a profit.
It is important to pick an Otzar Beit Din that is reputable and large enough to meet the supply and demand of its community. If a Beit Din is unscrupulous, it will simply become a legal loophole that allows commerce to continue throughout the shmitah year. In addition, it is important to feel that you are truly part of the community that the Beit Din represents and not just through financial support.
The Otzar Haaretz Otzar Beit Din supported by Machon HaTorah v’Haaretz already has a significant number of rabbanim, farmers and consumers signed on. I will repost here the information in English that they have on their web site. Most of the information is in Hebrew.
You can become members of the Otzar HaAretz Customer Club through a simple process. All you have to do is register at the site. During the course of the registration you will choose how much you intend to spend on fruits and vegetables during the coming Shmita year. We will load the sum you choose into a “smart card” which you will use as a means of payment for fruits and vegetables during the Shmita year. We will divide the sum into 12 even parts and you will be able to use the relative amount each month. For example, if you chose 600NIS for the year, you will be able to use the card to purchase up to 50NIS each month. Additionally, the card will grant you unique club benefits.
Our sources of supply:
- Vegetables which were picked during the sixth year: During the course of this year, the sixth in the Shmita count, we purchase vegetables from Jewish farms and store the produce in various manners. From a halachic perspective, this produce is preferable since it has no connection at all with Shmita labors. Aside from this meticulous halachic observance, or “hidur” we encourage the Jewish farmers to increase their production, as long as it is still halachically permitted.
- Mounted trays in hothouses: This is one of our original methods for agricultural production during the course of the Shmita year. In the framework of this method we grow vegetables in closed hothouses, in sealed planters (with no openings) placed upon a sealed surface, having no direct contact with the ground. From a halachic perspective, this method is based on a combination of two opinions: (1) The opinion of those who permit planting during Shmita today in plain earth which is located inside a structure. According to this opinion, this question can be related to more leniently since in any case, Shmita laws today are “Midrabanan”/(Rabbinic Decree) according to Pe’at HaShulchan Chapter 20 paragraph 52 and other Rabbinic authorities, and (2) the fact that planting in a perforated container (with an opening) outdoors is prohibited by Rabbinic decree. Therefore a combination of the two opinions is initially permitted. This solution enables us to increase the production of certain vegetables by Jewish producers specifically during the course of the Shmita year.
- Fruits and vegetables which have “Kedushat Shvi’it” [Shmita year produce sanctity]: This refers to fruits in orchards which will begin to grow during the Shmita year and which will be picked during the Shmita year or the winter of 5776. According to that same principle there will be a supply of vegetables which were planted in the sixth year and will be picked during the seventh (Shmita), based on the accepted opinions in halacha that vegetables which began to grow during the sixth year and were picked during the seventh are permitted to be eaten, however, they must be treated as having “Shmita Sanctity”. (Based on R’sh M’Shantz Shvi’it, Chapter 9, Magen Avraham, text beginning with “All sfichin” [after-growth vegetables], Chazon Ish on Shvi’it 9:A, “Shabbat Haaretz” Chapter 4:3:B comment 11, “Yalkut Yosef Shvi’it” 23:14, in the name of the Rishon L’Zion, Rav Ovadia Yosef ZT”L, “Maadanei Eretz Shivi’it” Appendices Section 10, 11 and we also heard it from Rav Mordechai Eliahu ZT”L. (It is important to note: The farmers who will grow vegetables having Shmita sanctity will be agents of the “Bet Din” [Rabbinical Court] from the beginning of the growth through its completion, as well as all those involved in the supply of this produce from the fields and orchards until it is received by the consumers, will be done by agents of the “Bet Din” of Otzar Haaretz in accordance with the halachic restrictions which exist regarding produce having Shmita year Sanctity. Additionally, the consumption of those fruits must be in accordance with the laws regarding “Shmita Sanctity” (See an expansive explanation in our article “Halachic Fundamentals of “Otzar Bet Din” [Rabbinical Court Storehouse] in “The Torah and the Land” section 6 pps. 389-422.)
- Vegetable produce from the Southern Arava in addition to the strict interpretation of the “Heter Mechira”; the Southern Arava is indeed included in the boundaries of the Promise to Avraham Avinu at the Brit bein haB’tarim (the “covenant of the pieces”), however with regard to the commandments unique to the Land of Israel there is a disagreement among the commentaries and the halachic decisors (“poskim”) if it [that section of land] had ever been sanctified. According to the decision of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel since the establishment of the State, the commandments unique to the Land of Israel are to be kept there (According to Rav Yechiel Mechil Tukichinsky, “The Land of Israel” pps. 34-35 and pps. 82-84; the Gaon Rav Zvi Pesach Frank ZT”L, the Gaon Rav Ovadia Hadaya ZT”L, “Yaskil Avdi Responsa” 6:2, and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg ZT”L in the “Tzitz Eliezer Responsa” 3:23). Therefore, we use this produce with the addition of the strict interpretation of the “Heter Mechira”. This way we act in a way that is acceptable according to all the approaches, and at the same time we strengthen the Arava producers and supply their produce during the course of the Shmita year.
- Vegetable produce grown in hothouses in the Western Negev including the strict interpretation of the Heter Mechira: The Western Negev, an area which is located southwest of Ashqelon, was settled only by Egyptian immigrants during the First Temple Period, but not by Babylonian immigrants during the period of Ezra & Nehemia, through the end of the Second Temple period. It is important to note that despite the fact that working the land in this area is prohibited during the Shmita year, and in fact, the produce from there must be treated as having Shmita Sanctity, there are mitigating factors as follows:
- They have no prohibition of “sfichin”.
- Even according to the strict halachic decisors who do not allow use of the “Heter Mechira” during Shmita, it is permitted to do so and to eat its produce without treating it as having Shmita Sanctity following the sale of the land (according to the Gaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ZT”L, “Minchat Shlomo Responsa” Section 3 158:3). Through the use of this important area we can considerably increase the marketing of our fine produce during the course of Shmita and thereby strengthen Jewish Agriculture in the Western Negev. At the beginning of the Shmita year, vegetables planted in the sixth year will be grown and harvested during the seventh, and as such will have Shmita Sanctity.
- Non-Jewish Produce: A small portion of the vegetables available in the Israeli market are purchased from Arab farmers all the time. We will continue to purchase from the same supply sources during Shvi’it in a manner which will not expand their share of the Israeli market.
- Import: If, during the course of the summer, the produce from the above sources shall run out, we will supply imported agricultural produce, although we will not supply produce from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
For a list of supermarkets that will be carrying Otzar Haaretz produce (confirmed and in the process of signing up), click here.
Of course, this being a couponing site, I have to mention that signing up for Otzar Haaretz gives you big discounts on things like the Chavaya at the Tzomet Institute, Chavaya ba Shmitah at Machon Hatorah v’Haaretz, rafting, ice skating, the visitor’s center at Mitzei Keshet, the glass-bottomed boats in Eilat and more. See all of the discounts here.
Next topic in the series: heter mechira.