By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It is said that when the first wine products from Eretz Yisrael arrived in 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 now has clementines, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and figs from Israel. Is there really no way to properly eat fruits from Eretz Yisrael?
It is a mitzvah to separate terumos and ma’asros from produce grown in Eretz Yisrael and give them to the kohanim, Levi’im, and poor people. There were many important purposes for these gifts. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the gifts to the kohanim were so that they could learn Torah while others worked in order to further develop our spiritual and ethical nature as a people.
A basic definition of terms is in order:
Terumah. In the time of the Beis HaMikdash, terumah was a gift to the kohen. It had to be between one-fortieth and one-sixtieth of the fruit. So if the farmer had 120 oranges, the gift was either 2 or 3 oranges. Nowadays, terumah is kol shehu, any amount. It cannot be eaten by kohanim nowadays, because all of them are considered impure, tamei meis, now.
Ma’aser. Ma’aser during the time of the BeisHaMikdash was 10 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 ma’aser must still be separated from the fruit, but it can be eaten after the terumasma’aser is removed.
Terumas Ma’aser. Terumasma’aser is the one-tenth of the Levi’s ma’aser that must be given to the kohen. It is 1% of the total fruit. Nowadays we remove this, wrap it, and dispose of it.
Ma’aser Sheini. Ma’asersheini is another 10 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 BeisHaMikdash, if one could not schlep the ma’asersheini to Yerushalayim, he 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 years 1, 2, 4, and 5 of the 7-year Shemittah cycle.
Nowadays, we redeem the ma’asersheini with a coin called a perutahchamurah. We redeem it all on one perutah of a coin. A perutah is worth between a penny and a nickel. After the perutahchamurah coin has been conferred with its full value of ma’aser, it is destroyed. In recent years there are clubs that hold on to the perutahchamurah 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.
Ma’aser Ani. In years 3 and 6 of the 7-year cycle, ma’asersheini is replaced with ma’aserani. It is given to the poor. Nowadays, we can eat it ourselves, but it must be separated.
Products Of Israel: Three Categories
There are three categories into which products of Israel are classified:
1. Fruits from years 1—6 in the Shemittah cycle–when terumos and ma’asros must be properly removed before the fruits are consumed. Costco clementine fruit is still from year six until the end of the winter. Peppers and cucumbers are a different story.
2. Fruits that are from the Shemittah year–which may only be consumed by following the guidelines of treating fruit b’kedushasShevi’is properly.
3. Produce that is forbidden to us to benefit from.
If one accidentally purchased seventh-year fruit, it is forbidden to take it back to be exchanged. Rather, the fruit must be eaten with kedushasShevi’is, a protocol of special treatment. The fruits and vegetables must be used in the manner that they are normally used. For example, 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 that for which they were intended. It is for this reason that people in EretzYisrael have something called a pachShemittah. Peels and edible scraps must be placed in this pachShemittah 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.
The buying and selling of Shevi’is fruit for a profit is forbidden.
Neither the fruit nor its products may not be taken out of EretzYisrael.
It may only be given to those who have been given the land of EretzYisrael as an inheritance. Thus, although first- through sixth-year produce of EretzYisrael may be given or sold to non-Jews, that which grew in the seventh year may not.
When Shevi’is fruits are actually sold, such as when the leftovers of that which was collected are sold, the moneys received are considered infused with kedushasShevi’is. These moneys may only be used to purchase foods. Those foods are likewise infused with kedushasShevi’is.
Thus, one should not buy Shevi’is fruit from an irreligious Jew or someone who is unknowledgeable or not careful about these halachos, because he will probably not be careful to treat the money or other foods with the care that is necessary.
Israeli Fruit Sold Here
The most common imports from EretzYisrael to the United States are oranges, clementines, tomatoes, and peppers. Stores such as Costco regularly sell these items.
If one accidentally bought fruits 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 to Chutzla’Aretz again. One must therefore leave them at home and treat them as if they were regular Shemittah fruit with the pachShemittah, etc. It is forbidden to return them to the store–they must be eaten b’kedushasShevi’is.
Fruits that are actually Shemittah fruits are exempt from terumos and ma’asros because they are hefker, ownerless (S.A. 331:19).
Learning The Rules
Although this may seem complicated, there is a simple way of doing it that involves little effort. There is an organization in Lakewood, called Keren HaMaasros, that gives you an easy instruction guide and holds on to the necessary perutah chamurah coins. The phone number is 732-901-9246. This should be encouraged, as the story cited above about the Netziv illustrates. It is hoped that the reader will expend effort to learn more about how one can actually eat and purchase fruits from EretzYisrael according to halachah.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.