Monday, October 15, 2007

Shmitta for Dummies

Like me.

When I first realized that we were making Aliyah just in time for shmitta, I was excited. I felt this was a good siman (like being asked to bring a Sefer Torah home from America) for our Aliyah. Here is a mitzvah that we could participate in that we would never have been able to in America. Just by the fact that we live and breathe in G-d's Holy Land.

Well, uh right.

When we got here we were inundated with different opinions of how to truly observe the laws of shmitta. And of course, everyone feels that their way is the right way. Shocking, I know. And the "differences of opinion" regarding the various heterim, are enough to make the Gourmet Glatt debacle of last year look like a walk in the park.

I was hearing all sorts of things from no watering of the grass, to having to throw all my fruits and veggies away in a separate garbage can and letting them rot for ten days before they can be disposed of. Then I hear that certain fruits and vegetables can only be brought if they are produced by non-Jews, but that due to different methods of irrigation, people get hepatitis from them.


I had just about decided that we were just was not going to eat any fruits and vegetables all year. Now those of you who know me that if stopped eating vegetables tomorrow, I'd be totally fine. (Well, except for onions [sauteed], mushrooms [preferably sauteed with the onions], and gosh, I'd sure miss the tomatoe sauce on my pizza. And what about the potatoes in all those tasty borecas that are available here in every bakery and supermarket?) But I'd miss the fruit, and besides, this really wasn't a practical solution.

What to do? My technique of, "he's buying his fruit and vegetables over here and he looks pretty relig, so this must be okay" just wasn't sitting well with me. When I heard that Rav Gideon Weitzman, of Modiin was going to give a shiur on Shmitta in English, I decided to go, albeit with trepidation. I was nervous to hear of everything I was doing wrong, and of having a really stinky garbage can sitting in my kitchen.

It turns out there is so much misinformation on this issue. I think this is especially true of new olim who have never had the obligation of this mitzvah. I feel much better after hearing him speak.

Here are some of the myths I heard, and what I believe the Rav said: (**see disclaimer below)

Myth: You can't water your grass the entire year. You have to just let it die.
What the Rav said: You can water your grass to keep it alive, you just shouldn't do stuff to improve on the way it is. If you were watering your grass everyday, water it 3x a week. But you don't have to let it die. We have some brown patches on our grass, and we can't do anything about those until after shmitta (like I was running to fix that....) but otherwise we can maintain the lawn we have.

Myth: You can't eat any of the fruit growing on your property, or you can eat the fruit but only one at a time, or you can't give the fruit to your friends.
What the Rav said: Not only can you eat the fruit growing on your property, but it is actually a mitzvah to eat it because it has "kedushat shvi'it"; that is to say it is fruit grown in Eretz Yisrael proper during the seventh year. I think some of us misunderstand the halacha, because we are technically supposed to let the land lay fallow, and let the poor people come and get the produce of the land. And we are. But the Rav said that that doesn't mean we can't eat our own produce. And letting people come and take your fruit (which was what was done way back when) doesn't mean we can't put some limits on that (e.g. everyone can come and get it between the hours of 1 and 4). As for giving your produce to friends, this can be done as long as its not a "commercial quantity". And obviously you can't charge your friends for your tomoatoes.

Myth: You have to throw out all your the things that are left over from your fruits and veggies in a separate garbage can and let it stay there for days until its completely rotted.
What the Rav said: You have to dispose only of edible fruit and veggies that have the Kedushat Shevi'it in a more respectful manner than you would normally throw away garbage. You dispose of it in a separate bag and at the end of the day (when it is inedible) you can permanently dispose of it. In other words because the fruit has the Kedushat Shevi'it (it was grown on holy ground during the very special shmitta year), you should dispose of it differently, acknowledging the fruit of our land, that G-d blesses us with. And this is only for the portions that are edible, so it does not apply, according to the Rav, to the leftovers on the table, or to potatoe or bananna peels and the like.

What about buying fruits and vegetables? This discussion got considerably more complicated. There was a great deal of discussion regarding the major leniencies, especially Heter Mechirah and Otzar Beit Din. Both have their drawbacks, and according to what I understood both are actually loopholes, which we Jews really are good at finding, are we not? In any case, the Rav did feel that using the Heter Mechirah is a perfectly acceptable solution, as is Otzar Beit Din. (He explained with regard to Heter Mechira that the produce is what's sold to Non-Jews, not the actual land).

So in our house we are generally using the Heter Mechirah, but we have also joined Otzar Ha'aretz (which does seem to have growing pains [get it--growing pains])so that we have the opportunity to eat produce that has Kedushat Shvi'it.

I have always thought that G-d gave us the Torah so that we should enjoy His Great World within certain boundaries; I don't believe he gave it to us to make our lives more difficult. Sometimes I think we Jews do that to ourselves--I'm not really sure for what purpose. Will it really give me more brownie points in the world to come if I let my grass die and allow my house to become infested with fruit flies???

**oh, and here's my disclaimer. As my father always says, "I'm a simple Jew". Many of you reading this are probably so much more learned than I am. I am not saying "this is how it should be done"; I'm saying this is how my family is doing it. And remember, I am writing about what I perceived Rav Weitzman to say, so don't blame this pious man for any errors I may have made.

But still, how blessed are we that we get to participate in this great mitzvah?

By the way, the Yovel can't be celebrated until all Jews are living in Eretz Yisrael...

And one more thing: you are all invited to my garden and take lemons, olives, pomegranites and plums any time of day or night. Just ring the bell to say hello first.


Anonymous said...

thanks for the clarification on shmita. I agree with you that some people go a little overboard when following halacha. Do you really have all that stuff growing in your yard?

Baila said...

The pomegranites are the neighbors, some of them hang into our yard, but they said we could have what we wanted. I'm not quite sure how edible they are. And we see plums on the ground, but are not sure where they are coming from.

Come and check it out!

Anonymous said...

There was an article recently in the NY Times about shmittah and from reading it and you blog if I was living in Israel i too would hold by the heter mechirah. I can't wait to come and eat from you garden in April.

Baila said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baila said...

So far I only know one family who is coming to Israel in that you?