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Shemittah Wine

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. I saw an Israeli kosher wine from 2022 which was a shemittah year.  Is it okay to drink it?

A. During shemittah there are foods which are distributed using the Otzar Beis Din system where – basically – a Beis Din represents all the consumers by collecting the produce from the hefker fields, bringing it to the cities where people live, and giving it out for “free”.  The Beis Din is allowed to charge for their services (delivery, packaging etc.), and they usually hire the farmer to do that work so he can make a few dollars during shemittah.  Assuming the Otzar Beis Din is done correctly, that is a good system.

Food from the Otzar Beis Din still has kedushas shevi’is, such that it cannot be wasted, bought and sold, taken out of Eretz Yisroel, etc.  The question is what the status of that food is when the time of “biur arrives.  Usually, as soon as there is no more of a given fruit (e.g., oranges, apples, grapes) in the fields, people must take all that they have left in their house and make it available for everyone else.  [They can also partake in this fruit if they take a small amount at a time.]  That whole process is called “biur”.  Many hold that anything which is part of the Otzar Beis Din “system” does not require a formal biur because it is already set up in the most efficient manner for distribution to everyone.  That would justify the fact that the wine made with Otzar Beis Din does not have a formal biur.

Is there kedushas shevi’is after biur?  There are strong sources to indicate that after biur the fruit no longer has any kedushas shevi’is, and those who certify the wine you saw, are accepting this opinion.  Accordingly, once the time of biur passes (for grapes/wine that is Pesach in the year after shemittah), they hold that the wine may be exported from Eretz Yisroel, it can be bought and sold, and the people who buy it do not have to be careful not to waste it.  Others assume that kedushas shevi’is remains even after the time of biur, and, therefore, all the above would be forbidden.

In different locations, Chazon Ish presents different rulings on this matter, but it is noteworthy that wherever Chazon Ish wrote “instructions” for standard consumers (as opposed to intricate halachic discourses) he wrote that one should be machmir on this question.  Accordingly, most hashgochos do not recommend the sale and use of such wine in chutz la’aretz.  However, as noted, if you have the wine, then you can drink it but should follow the rules of kedushas shevi’is when doing so (i.e., use it in its optimal manner, no wasting, etc.).

Some shemittah wines are certified not through Otzar Beis Din, but because they rely on the heter mechirah.  For those who do not subscribe to the heter mechirah, the wine would theoretically still be permitted to drink (with kedushas shevi’is).  However, when Pesach of the year after shemittah comes, the wine requires biur, and since biur was not performed, the wine is forbidden to consume.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, March 29, 2024.