Non-Jewish Land in Eretz Yisroel

by / Thursday, 10 July 2014 / Published in Shmita Articles
arabs picking food shmita shemittah

Kedushas Shviis of Non-Jewish Produce

Non-Jews are not obligated in the mitzvah of Shmittah. They can plant and harvest their crops as usual. The question is: does their produce have kedushas shviis? The answer to this question is very relvant because it is important to know how one must treat the fruits that he buys from the non-Jew. Actually, if the fruit has kedushah, then it’s not permitted to even buy them normally! And the leftovers of kedushas shviis must be saved in a Shmittah bin. Also, fruits with kedushah must not be exported.

There were two different opinions among the early Acharonim about fruits and vegetables that grow on land that is owned by a non-Jew. According to Rav Yosef Karo, it does not have kedushah. According to the Mabit, it has kedushah.

-Today in Yerushalayim, the custom is like Rav Yosef Karo. Today in Bnei Brak, the custom is like the Mabit.

-Other communities in Eretz Yisroel are split among the customs they follow.

Some Detective Work…

Even after deciding which custom to follow, there is plenty more to verify. In practical terms, it is not always so easy to find out which crops are indeed grown by a non-Jew on non-Jewish owned land. First of all, we must check that the non-Jew is the true owner of the land by researching the government records and title deeds. If the non-Jew is planting and working on what’s really Jewish owned land, then his produce has kedushas shviis according to all opinions.

After that detective work is done, it’s time for the mashgiach kashrus to start his work. Actually in Eretz Yisroel, it is always necessary to have a mashgiach supervise fruit and vegetable harvests, even when it’s not a Shmittah year because the produce can’t be eaten straight out of the carton like in other countries. Special actions like separating trumah and maaser must be performed to the fruit. The mashgiach is there to make sure that happens and that no cartons get mixed up before the maaser is all separated. During Shmittah, trumah and maaser are not separated. Instead, the mashgiach supervises that no Shmittah restrictions are violated by Jews.

The mashgiach who verifies that produce is Yibul Nochri, a product of non-Jewish labor on non-Jewish land, has to have both his eyes wide open and stay alert to the dangers.

Menachem’s Visit to Tirah

Let’s accompany Menachem as he visits the Arab village of Tirah.

It’s eight thirty in the morning in the Arab village of Tirah. Menachem, the mashgiach arrives at one of the greenhouses to check if the cucumbers, eggplants and peppers that will be collected later on in the day are still rooted to the ground. (Why? That’s how Menachem can be 100% sure that the vegetables really grew there!) The mashgiach must be present and vigilant during the entire time that the Arab harvests the crop to make sure that it’s indeed being done only by a non-Jew. The Arab greenhouse owner brings him to his greenhouse and shows him the cucumbers and the eggplants.

Where Are The Peppers?

“And where are the peppers?”

Mustafa, the Arab farmer tries to steer Menachem away from the peppers.

“It’s hard to get there, lots and lots of mud… Your nice shoes will get dirty.”

After waiting a bit, Menachem asks another time to see the peppers. Now the Arab says elusively “We’ll get to it later…”

350 Boxes of Peppers

A red warning light starts blinking off in Menachem’s mind. He slips away from the Arab, and heads straight over to the peppers, dirtying his clothes a bit as he brushes against the crops. What awaits him is the sight of three hundred and fifty boxes filled with peppers, ready to be picked up and delivered!

Menachem has no idea where these peppers came from. All he knows is where they didn’t come from- this non-Jewish greenhouse. Menachem is familiar with this trick that’s attempted by many Jews who don’t keep Shmittah. Since they’re left with no customers for their produce, they need to find creative ways to get it to the market. And a typical Arab sees nothing wrong with pocketing some money for the favor of being a “distributor” for the Jew’s produce.

To Menachem, the suspicion of yibul Yisrael (Shmittah produce harvested by a Jew against halachah) seems very likely indeed.

The Arab feigns innocence, “They were just picked!”

That seems far-fetched: it’s just about eight-thirty in the morning and the workers have barely begun to arrive. Today Menachem does not authorize the delivery of the peppers to the grocery under his hashgachah.

Mesirus Nefesh for Kashrus

Menachem is one of the dozens of mashgichim who serve on the Vaad HaShmittah, the board of Shmittah experts who ensure that the fruit and vegetables we buy in the stores are 100% kosher according to the laws of Shmittah.

While most of Israel is still snuggled under their blankets, Menachem and his colleagues wake up while it’s still dark outside. At three thirty AM, Menachem leaves in a jeep to the greenhouses in Arab villages, accompanied by two armed guards. He must reach the greenhouses before the greenhouse owner comes to harvest the produce for the wholesaler’s order.

(Originally published in the Mishpacha’s pre-Shmittah 5768 edition).

(Photo credits: )