By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It is said that when the first wine products arrived from Eretz Yisroel to Europe, the Netziv cried tears of joy. Finally, there was produce available for Jews to consume that came from the land that Hashem had promised us. Nowadays, however, most of the Rabbis tell us to stay away from fruit from Israel.
Costco, for example, now has clementines from Israel, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and figs. This certainly presents a halachic challenge, and it seems that hundreds of families are inadvertently purchasing these items without realizing that there are halachos that must be observed. Many stay away from these fruits.
But is there really no way to properly eat fruits from Eretz Yisroel?
Firstly, it should be known that the clementines in Costco are currently from year six. After the winter they will be products of the seventh year.
What follows is a run-down of the three types of fruits and what may or may not be done with them. This list is just a brief overview. Check with your Rav or a Shmittah organization such as Keren haMaasros in Lakewood for a full list of the halachos.
There are three categories of products of Israel.
1] Fruits from years 1 — 6 in the Shmittah cycle — where trumos and Maasors must be properly removed before the fruits are consumed. Believe it or not, Costco Clementine fruit is still from year six until the end of the winter. Peppers and cucumbers are a different story. Check with your local Rav or the Keren HaMaasros in Lakewood, New Jersey as to the specific dates of each vegetable or fruit.
2] Fruits that are from the Shmittah year — which may only be consumed by following the guidelines of treating fruit Bikdushas Shvi’is properly.
3] Produce of the Shmittah year that is forbidden in benefit.
Let’s discuss each of them.
Fruits from years 1-6. One aspect of foods grown in Eretz Yisroel is that there are certain gifts, commonly called Trumos and Maasros, that must be taken off before the food can be consumed. There were many important purposes for these gifts. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the gifts to the Kohanim were so that could learn Torah while others worked in order to further develop our spiritual and ethical nature as a people.
Although what follows may seem complicated, there is a very simple way of doing it that involves very little effort. There is an organization in Lakewood, called Keren HaMaasros, that gives you an easy instruction guide and holds on to the necessary “Prutah Chamurah” coins. The phone number to join is (732) 901-9246. This should actually be encouraged as the story cited above about the Netziv illustrates.
In the time of the Bais HaMikdash, Trumah was a gift to the kohain. It had to be between 1/40th and 1/60th of the fruit. So if the farmer had 120 oranges the gift was either 2 or 3 oranges. Nowadays, Trumah is kol shehu — any amount. It cannot be eaten by kohanim nowadays because all of them are considered impure – Tamei mais now.
Maaser during the time of the Bais HaMikdash was ten percent of the fruit that must be given to a Levi. Thus a farmer with 120 oranges must give 12 to the Levi. Nowadays the Maaser must still be separated from the fruit, but it can be eaten after the Trumas Maaser is removed.
Trumas Maaser is one tenth of the Levi’s Maaser that must be given to the Kohain. Nowadays we remove this. It is 1% of the total fruit and is wrapped and disposed of.
Maaser Shaini is another ten percent of what is left. This must be eaten in the “makom asher yivchar” — the place that Hashem chooses — Yerushalayim. In the time of the Bais HaMikdash if one could not shlep the Maaser Shaini to Yerushalayim you could sell it and add 25% (also known as a Chomesh 20% after the fact) to it. This money must be spent on food and drink in Yerushalayim. The money cannot be spent on forks and knives, only food and drink. This is done in the years 1,2,4,5, kin the 7 year cycle.
Nowadays, we redeem the Maaser Shaini on a coin called a Prutah Chamurah. We redeem it all on one prutah of a coin. A prutah is worth between a penny and a nickel. After the Prutah Chamurah coin is filled up it is destroyed. In recent years there are clubs that hold on to the Prutah Chamurah coin for you. The coin that must be used has to be of a currency that is usable in the country. Thus in the United States, one must use American coinage.
In the years 3 and 6 of the 7 year cycle, Maaser Shaini is replaced with Maaser Ani. It is given to the poor. Nowadays, we can eat it ourselves, but it must be separated properly.
When the fruit is actually from the seventh year, new issues arise. Firstly, if one accidentally purchased seventh year fruit from Costco, then it is forbidden to drive them back to exchange them. Rather, they must be eaten wit Kdushas Shviis, a protocol of special treatment.
The fruits and vegetables must be used in the normal manner that they are used. Examples are, one cannot eat raw potatoes or make juice out of figs. These are not their normal manner of consumption.
One has to treat these fruits properly. They may not be maltreated (by throwing them in the garbage) or used for a different purpose than they were intended for. It is for this reason that people in Eretz Yisroel have something called a pach shmittah. Peels and edible scraps must be placed in this Pach Shmittah rather than in the garbage. A plastic liner is placed in it and every so often the liner is removed to allow the food to rot and then it may be disposed of when it is no longer edible. Inedible peels and shells may be disposed of immediately. Orange peels are used to make candy at times, so many Poskim rule that it is proper to be strict.
There are foods that are entirely forbidden in benefit. Some of the vegetables sold in Costco fall in this category. Check with the Keren HaMaasros as to which ones fall into this category.
There are other limitations on Shviis produce too.
The buying and selling of Shviis fruit for a profit is forbidden.
The fruit or its products may not be taken out of Eretz Yisroel.
It may only be given to those who have been given the land of Eretz Yisroel as an inheritance. Thus, although first through sixth year produce of Eretz Yisroel may be given or sold to non-Jews, that which grew in the seventh year may not.
The produce, as mentioned earlier, may only be used in a manner that gives the user maximum benefit in the manner that it is normally used. A lemon may be juiced, but pears and peaches where their most common use is not for the juice — may only be eaten.
When Shviis fruits are actually sold, such as when the leftovers of that which was collected are sold, the moneys received are considered infused with kedushas shviis. These moneys may only be used to purchase foods. Those food are likewise infused with Kedushas Shviis.
Thus, one should not buy Shviis fruit from an irreligious Jew or someone who is not careful or unknowledgeable of these halachos, because he will probably not be careful to treat the money or other foods with the care that is necessary.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN FRUIT FROM ISRAEL IS SOLD HERE?
The most common imports from Eretz Yisroel to the United States are oranges, clementines, tomatoes, and peppers. Indeed, stores such as Costco regularly sell these items.
If one accidentally bought fruit from Israel in the United States it is forbidden to transport them from place to place. It is considered as if one is moving them from Eretz Yisroel to Chutz LaAretz again and is forbidden. One must therefore leave them at home and treat them as if they were regular Shmittah fruit with the Pach Shmittah, etc. It is forbidden to return them to the store — they must be eaten bikdushas shvi’is.
Fruits that are actually Shmitah fruits are exempt from Trumos and Maasros because they are hefker — ownerless (SA 331:19).
It is hoped that the reader will spend effort to learn more about how one can actually halachically eat and purchase fruits from Eretz Yisroel.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org