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Israeli Produce

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. My va’ad sent out an alert that Israeli clementines and peppers are being sold in my area.  Does that mean I can’t eat them?  

A. It is obviously a privilege to have food from Eretz Yisroel and support Israeli farmers, but we must ensure that the special mitzvos relevant in Eretz Yisroel have been addressed.  These can basically be divided into three areas: arlahshemittah, and ma’asros.

Arlah – Fruits that grow in the first three years after a tree is planted are forbidden.  [Arlah does not apply to vegetables.]  It so happens that arlah also applies out of Eretz Yisroel, but in chutz la’aretz the halacha is that if there is any doubt whether a given fruit is arlah, it may be eaten. As a result, essentially the only fruits in chutz la’aretz which are subject to the prohibition of arlah are those that were grown in a home garden, where you are sure the fruit is from the first three years of the tree’s growth.  But in Eretz Yisroel the fruit is forbidden if there is any reasonable chance that it is arlah.  Some of the most widely accepted opinions of what “reasonable chance” means are 50%, 10%, and 5%.  For example, all would agree that one can ignore the concern of arlah on apricots since only 1.25% of them are arlah, but most would avoid (uncertified) starfruit, since 12% of them are arlah.  In Eretz Yisroel there are lists which record the percentage of arlah for each type of fruit, and these lists are used by Israeli and American hashgachos to provide information to consumers, caterers, and certified stores.

Shemittah – Every 7 years is shemittah, and there are two basic rules to know:  First is that vegetables which grew during shemittah are completely forbidden as sefichin, a Rabbinic decree to discourage people from planting vegetables during shemittah.  Thus, carrots from shemittah may not be eaten.  The other is that fruits are not forbidden as sefichin (since they are not replanted each year) but must be treated with kedushas shevi’is.  That means that one may not waste or ruin the fruits (including leftovers), they cannot be exported from Eretz Yisroel, nor may they be transacted in the normal manner, and at a certain point each person must declare any produce which they have as hefker (a procedure known as biur).

Back to the original questions: Clementines would have to be checked that they are not arlah, and if they are from shemittah, then they would have to be treated with kedushas shevi’is, while the peppers would only have to be evaluated for whether they are from shemittah (in which case they would be forbidden as sefichin).

Ma’asros – The last issue to deal with is terumah and ma’aser.  Namely, one may not eat produce of Eretz Yisroel until they separate 5 tithes: terumahma’aser rishonterumas ma’aserma’aser sheini, and ma’aser ani.  In practice, that takes 6 steps where you:

1.  Separate a tiny piece for terumah.

2.  Designate 10% of the produce as ma’aser rishon, by saying (for example), “The 10% on the north side is ma’aser rishon”.

3.  Separate 10% of the ma’aser rishon (#2 above) as terumas ma’aser.

4.  Designate 10% of what’s left as the secondary ma’aser (which is ma’aser sheini or ma’aser ani depending on the year).

5.  Double wrap the terumah and terumas ma’aser (#1 and #3 above) and discard them.

6.  Take a coin (worth 10 cents or more) and say that the kedushah from the ma’aser sheini (#4 above) should transfer onto the coin.  Then deface the coin and throw it into a river or sea.

After this hafrashah procedure is completed, the remaining 98.5% of the produce can be eaten.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, February 16, 2024.