What Is Shemitah?
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“This year due to Shmittah all Esrogim will be ‘distributed’ through an Otzar Bais Din”
By Yaakov Charlap
Why is Bais Din getting involved in Distributing Esrogim ?
It says in The Torah that every seventh year is Shmittah, and we are prohibited from working the land of Israel. You are not allowed to plow, plant, prune, or harvest your field, or work the land during the year of Shmittah.
Shmittah today is ‘miderabanan’ (Rabbinical), so we are lenient and allow certain work, such as watering to keep the trees alive.
One may not sell Shmittah produce in a business manner. Instead, many growers declare their fields ’Hefker’ during Shmittah, and have their fruits distributed through an Otzar Bais Din (Rabbinical Court Storehouse) in a way that implies it is a division of the produce rather than a sale. One is allowed to use and even eat Shmittah fruit as long as it was pronounced ‘Hefker’ by the field owner.
Bais Din represents the consumer by hiring people to cut, gather & store the Esrogim and distribute them to the public in an organized way.
Obviously, the Otzar Bais Din cannot expect the laborers to work as unpaid volunteers, nor can they use the production equipment free of charge. The managers who coordinate this project are also entitled to a wage for their efforts. The Otzar Bais Din divides these costs among the consumers. However, there is no charge for the actual fruit, since they are ‘Hefker.’ These costs are referred to as ‘Schar Tircha’ (payment for time & work).
The first Otzar Bais Din was established over 100 years ago.
This year, each distributor for Esrogim is acting as a ‘Shliach’ for the Otzar Bais Din to distribute the Esrogim according to the guidelines that the Otzar Bais Din has established.
The grower plants everything before Shmittah and is given extremely detailed instructions regarding what he may and may not do during Shmittah.
The grower agrees in advance to a price for his produce which he will receive, regardless of the quality of the produce.
The grower must understand that this price is not to purchase the produce, but compensation for his out-of-pocket expenses, including compensation for his own time.
Exporting Shmittah produce to chutz la’aretz presents yet another problem & is resolved by allowing Esrogim to be exported in order to allow people to fulfill the Mitzvah, since there would not otherwise be enough Esrogim available for the general public. Some Poskim insist that the Esrogim be returned to Israel after Sukkos, while others require them to dry out completely.
During previous Shmittah years many consumers relied on ‘Havla’a’ , acquiring the Esrog by means of purchasing the Lulav & Hadasim, or ‘Heter Mechira’ (selling the land to a non-Jew during Shmittah) although many Rabbonim, including my Great Grandfather Horav Yaakov Moshe Charlap zt”l were against the practice of ‘Heter Mechira’.
During this year of Shmittah, one should be careful to purchase Arba Minim from a reliable source with a reliable Otzar Bais Din. Even though the Esrogim will be used after Shmittah (for Sukkos of 5776), they still have a ‘Kidushas Shvi’is’ since they grew & were cut during Shmittah (of 5775).
Some rely on ‘Bosur Likitah’ and use Esrogim that were cut after Rosh Hashanah. However, according to most Poskim, any Esrog that was almost fully grown during the year of Shmittah (5775), would still have a ‘Kidushas Shvi’is’ regardless of when it was cut. In any event, as previously stated, after Sukkos, care must be taken not to discard your Esrog, but rather to send it back to Israel or let it completely dry out.
It is always advisable to consult ones Rav for Halachic guidance.