For the week ending 28 February 2009 / 4 Adar I 5769


by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Craig in Chicago

Dear Rabbi,

Is there any concern regarding shemita produce now that the shemita year is over? If so, would it affect those of us who live outside of Israel? And as a follow up on that, if shemita is somehow still in effect even after the seventh year has ended, how do observant farmers fare?

Dear Craig,

The sanctity imparted to produce grown in the Land of Israel during the seventh year of the agricultural cycle, and all the laws governing its proper use, apply equally to the produce that remains after the end of the shemita year, since it grew during shemita.

Regarding this point, there is a practical distinction between most vegetables and fruit. Most vegetables that grow during the shemita year become ripe, are harvested and consumed by the end of the year. However, many fruits, while ripening during shemita, are picked only at the end of the year, or even picked after shemita is over. Additionally, the fruits may be dried or preserved, such as dates or olives, or made into long-lasting beverages, like wine. For this reason the laws pertaining to shemita fruit apply even after the seventh year and into the eighth.

Regarding how this affects those who live outside of Israel, there is an additional distinction between vegetables and fruit as based on marketing dynamics. Vegetables generally have a shorter shelf life and are less of a specialty item than fruits. So in addition to the fact that shemita concerns are extended after the year via fruits as mentioned above, these fruits are often exported outside of Israel. If one knows that a particular product comes from Israel from the shemita year, he must treat it accordingly.

How does the extended nature of the shemita affect observant farmers in Israel? The Torah provides the following answer:

You shall perform My statutes, keep My ordinances and perform them, then you will live on the land securely. And the land will then yield its fruit and you will eat to satiety, and live upon it securely. And if you should say, “What will we eat in the seventh year? We will not sow, and we will not gather in our produce!” know then, that I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years. And you will sow in the eighth year, while still eating from the old crops until the ninth year; until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old crop (Lev. 25:18-22).

G-d promises a special blessing to those who keep the law of the Land such that the produce of the sixth and eight years will compensate for the fallow of the seventh. Nowadays, we don’t rely on miracles and many organizations and individuals proactively help, encourage and support those farmers who make the admirable sacrifice to preserve the sanctity of the Torah and the Land of Israel. Despite the help, resources are limited and some farmers admittedly find it difficult. Still, every shemita has its miraculous stories that in one way or another bear out the Torah’s promise.

The following story is one of many from the recent shemita year:

The season before shemita a particular non-religious farmer invested a great deal of money in new equipment in order to start producing organically grown peppers, which he harvested but wasn’t particularly successful in marketing. Sometime before shemita he became religious and was confronted with the dilemma of whether to plant during shemita to get his budding venture off the ground (for which he had dug deep into debt), or let things lay fallow.

Despite great pressure from his family, business acquaintances and distributors, who threatened to drop him as a new supplier if he didn't deliver the goods, he decided to keep shemita. Just before the year began there was a great frost in Europe that devastated the pepper crops and European distributors were frantically searching for peppers. Unsolicited, organic pepper people "somehow" got to this newly religious farmer and not only did they pay double for his heretofore unsold sixth-year harvest, they paid all the costs of packaging and shipping to Europe. This unexpected windfall enabled him to pay off his debt, leaving enough profit to get him through his first shemita.

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