Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Issues of Shmittah 5761: Shelichus, the Arava and More

By Yisroel Friedman

Although the shmittah year is more than a third of the way through, the observance of the mitzvah as it applies to consumers is closer to the beginning. For the first few months there are supplies of many products left over and stored from the year before. As the year progresses, the market relies more and more on recently- grown produce. Also, issues persist even after the year is over for food that is canned and otherwise incorporated into manufactured products that can last and be sold for many years.

The shmittah year for fruit has just begun, on Tu BeShevat, and the holy shmittah fruit will not start appearing for a few months.

Here we present three interviews that deal with important issues of shmittah observance that are not as widely understood as they should be: the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel, what it means to appoint the greengrocer an agent (shaliach) to buy produce, the operation of the whole chain of produce distribution that parallels both the wholesale and retail levels, and more.

Readers in chutz lo'oretz should note that some of the issues are relevant to them since Israel exports its produce and manufactured food products all over the world.

It was still dark outside when we reached Sde Dov airport of Tel Aviv. Heavy clouds and a rainy forecast spoiled my mood. Visibility was poor. The jerky movements of the light airplane navigating through the clouds did not help to make the short flight more pleasant. We were heading southwards towards an area considered chutz lo'oretz halachically.

Soon the clouds will clear and southern sunshine will light up the airplane. We have a breathtaking birds' eye view of a hilly landscape. During my interview with HaRav Yosef Efrati I manage to take some furtive glances at the view.

Rav Efrati, the southernmost point of Eretz Yisroel appears to be the Dead Sea. Why should there be anything problematic about agricultural produce stemming from areas south of this point? Why are the northern and central areas of the Aravah, the desert between the Dead Sea and Eilat, not considered to be chutz lo'oretz?

HaRav Efrati: Our holy Torah says, "Thus your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin close by the side of Edom, and your southern border shall begin at the end of the Salt Sea eastward, and your border shall turn about southward of Maale Akravim."

When we talk about the borders of Eretz Yisroel some points of identification are clear and the Dead Sea is one of them. However, even this point is not entirely clear!

The question is whether the Dead Sea is the southernmost point and any point south of it is considered to be outside the borders of Eretz Yisroel, or whether the Torah is only determining the southeastern point. In other words, according to that possibility, to the east of the Dead Sea there is no point in the southern direction of the Dead Sea latitude which is inside Eretz Yisroel. It is quite possible, however, that there may be points to the west in the southern direction which are inside Eretz Yisroel. Accordingly, if you take a look at a map, you will see that the border that we assume, extends diagonally towards the bottom [the south]. [The rov demonstrates what he means on his map].

Still, we have another point of reference: Maale Akravim. Isn't the border between the Dead Sea and Maale Akravim?

HaRav Efrati: Many people have gone into this subject and attempted to identify the exact location of the Maale Akravim mentioned in the Torah. Some have identified it as Jabal Chanzira, which is to the southeast of the Dead Sea and thirty kilometers away from it. Others think that the correct place is what is known today as Maale Akravim, which is 45 kilometers from the Dead Sea and also to the southeast of it.

HaRav Y. M. Tikochinsky zt"l tried to identify the place as today's Eilat. It is difficult to identify this location correctly, and so we cannot establish the borders of Eretz Yisroel with any degree of accuracy.

A further point has to be stressed in this context: when we talk about demarcating the border between the Dead Sea and Maale Akravim, it is not only the location of Maale Akravim that remains a mystery. The fact is that we also cannot know for sure where the southeastern point of the Dead Sea itself was.

The dimensions of the sea change. Records show that the height of the Dead Sea has not remained constant. The height has varied from 350 meters (1085 feet) below sea level to over 400 meters (1240 feet) below sea level, 50 meters (155 feet) shallower! This also means clearly that the area of the surface of the Dead Sea changed in different periods.

Josephus, for example, implies that it reached as far as Zoar. Zoar, according to the experts, is several kilometers southeast of the Dead Sea today. This would mean that in the past, the Dead Sea reached a point further to the south than today. In other words, even if we knew the location of Maale Akravim, this would not be enough, because the borderline varies depending on the location of the edge of the Dead Sea, which in turn determines the angle to Maale Akravim. Since both our points of reference are problematic, we cannot know with any certainty what were the borders of Eretz Yisroel.

The Chazon Ish already made a ruling establishing a general principle not to rely on leniencies regarding the borders of the country, even regarding the prohibition of sefichin which is an issur derabonon. We might have said that there was room for leniency with respect to doubts about borders, but the Chazon Ish zt"l ruled that we must take a stringent view. He told Rav Moshe Pelz, for example, who was the rov of Netiva, that the doubt regarding the borders of Eretz Yisroel should not even be used as a contributory element (snif) for a heter (where there are other strong reasons).

[Editor's Note: According to a letter published in Yated on 12 Shvat, and also the reports of the talmidim of the gedolei haposkim, all produce (vegetables) from the northern Aravah are sofeik sefichin and should not be used. If one has used them in his dishes, the dishes should not be used for 24 hours. After that they may be used freely.

Some of the mehadrin hashgochos that are usually relied upon by the chareidi community have been meikeil in this case to rely upon the opinions that consider that area to be chutz lo'oretz. Generally the hashgochos that are relied upon by the whole community make an effort to comply with the rulings of all major poskim, especially when the source is the Chazon Ish. In this case, however, no such effort is made.]

Our conversation was interrupted by the aircraft captain: "Please fasten your seatbelts, we are starting our descent."

Several minutes later we landed at Eilat airport. It was rosh chodesh Shevat and the davening at a local shul took more than an hour. Immediately afterwards, we headed north.

We had a clear view of the Gulf of Eilat, a sight of extraordinary beauty. The sun was decorating the uniquely shaped hills with an array of colors. The view was one you only see on a postcard, and was not something you ever expect to experience with your own senses. An eagle glides through the clear blue sky, looking for a morsel of food.

We get off the road to join a path which will take us to the hothouses of nearby Kibbutz Ayalot. These are gigantic hothouses, eight hundred meters (2480 feet) long. Red peppers, standing out against the green background, wait to be picked. The mashgiach is there, waiting, long before the workers arrive. This is where the red peppers consumed by shmittah observers come from. Later on I asked Rav Efrati why produce from Eilat is permitted.

Rav Shlomo Shmuelevitz takes something out of his briefcase, which came as a big surprise to me: A G.P.S. (Global Position Satellite hookup). It was already installed on the car window and connected to the screen of a portable computer. Information about one's exact location is conveyed from satellites floating in space. This is a true technological miracle: an up-to-date, real-time map appears on the bright screen, as our instrument and the satellite combine to determine our exact location and the path we are travelling on.

We are being closely monitored. The black dot on the screen is our car. You can tell its exact location. As the car moves forward, so does the black dot. The precision is amazing. Everything is marked. The map is also a satellite photograph. Every street appears on it, and every path is marked. Even a hut on the side of the road can be seen clearly. This is photography from space.

The Aravah road winds its way through the hills, which give the impression of having been chiseled by a sculptor. They appear almost artificial, because of the erosion formations created by the wind.

About forty minutes later, we leave the main road for an unpaved side road. Our eyes are fixed to the satellite display as we enter the fields of Kibbutz Lotan. Patches of green sprout forth from the arid yellowness of the desert. The screen shows that we have crossed the 30th latitude. The path winds its way southwards.

We stop and switch off the engine. Holding the G.P.S. in our hands, we walked towards the nearest field of the kibbutz. We are now standing on the exact point of the latitude. One row of onions is to the north of it. The halachic border of Eretz Yisroel for practical purposes according to the gedolei haposkim passes between the first and the second row. This area has already been measured in the past and been held to be chutz lo'oretz. Rav Efrati rules that as a precautionary measure, we have to be stringent and not take produce from this field and the ones near it, since there is some doubt -- albeit a small one -- about their status.

The other fields of the kibbutz are situated much further away, definitely to the south of the 30th parallel. After investigating them we head for the airport.

The return flight was much more pleasant: the airplane was bigger and heavier and we flew at a higher altitude -- above the clouds, which resembled gray pieces of cotton wool. We continued our conversation, a task made much easier by the more favorable flying conditions.

HaRav Efrati, during our outward journey you explained that we cannot know the exact borders of Eretz Yisroel, but HaRav Chaim Kanievsky in his book Derech Emunoh has a map delineating the borders of the country. On that map the border is shown to be to the north of the 30th parallel!

That is correct, but he himself, underneath the map, cites a letter of HaRav Eliashiv, which states the following:

"I have gone over what you have written about the southern border of Eretz Yisroel. Although your conclusions are firmly based on reliable sources from Talmud Bavli, Yerushalmi, Tosefta, Rishonim and Acharonim, in my humble opinion, to make a practical ruling on the basis of these conclusions -- we will not sufficiently resolve all doubts until Moshiach will come and make a ruling."

HaRav Kanievsky printed this letter prominently, thus making his intention very clear!

Before our journey to the 30th Latitude, we went to see the pepper hothouses next to Eilat. Since all doubts have not been sufficiently resolved, and there is a view according to which Eilat is also part of Eretz Yisroel, why is it permitted to use produce from Eilat?

HaRav Efrati: I must stress that we do not adopt a lenient view about Eilat because of any particular theory. On the contrary, some of the experts have identified Maale Akravim as Aqaba (which is Eilat), although someone has written that this opinion is based on a misunderstanding of a passage in Rav Saadia Gaon's translation of the Torah, where he translates vanoseiv as ve'al akev, which some have taken to be a reference to Aqaba, whereas in reality it is just a translation into Arabic of vanoseiv.

This argument, however, is not enough to refute the opinion of those who hold that Aqaba is part of Eretz Yisroel, because they have other arguments to support their view. The reason we consider Aqaba to be part of chutz lo'oretz and do not worry about these doubts, is that this was the ruling made in practice by the Chazon Ish ztv"l. There are several witnesses who testify that the Chazon Ish permitted planting kil'ei zeroim in Eilat, which can only mean that he considered Eilat to be certainly chutz lo'oretz. We see this also from the fifteenth and twenty- second letters printed in the Kovetz Igros addressed to Rav B. Mendelssohn zt"l. It is also well-known that in the shmittah year of 5712 (1951-2) he permitted the use of agricultural produce from Yotvata. Another source is the book Mitzvas Ho'oretz (chapter 42, section 23).

Rav Efrati, you say that Eilat is chutz lo'oretz and the exact borders of Eretz Yisroel are unclear. What, then, is the significance of the 30th parallel?

HaRav Efrati: "As I said, the Chazon Ish considered Yotvata to be chutz lo'oretz for all purposes. There is no halachic border at Yotvata, and in order to demarcate which areas are to be considered the same as Yotvata, areas from which produce may be taken without any doubt, our rabbonim have ruled that the whole area surrounding Yotvata up to the 30th degree latitude mentioned by the Rambam in Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh is to be considered chutz lo'oretz.

The Rambam writes there that Eretz Yisroel is situated between the 30th and the 35th parallels of latitude. Many are of the opinion that the Rambam pointed out these latitudes only for the purposes of sighting the moon for kiddush hachodesh, and that in reality Eretz Yisroel is much smaller.

Be that as it may, it appears that the 30th parallel is mentioned by the Rambam as the southernmost point of Eretz Yisroel. Anything south of it is definitely chutz lo'oretz. That is why we only take agricultural produce from areas to the south of this point on the 30th latitude which we visited today.

This chumra involves a lot of expense!

You are right. You saw those pepper hothouses in Kibbutz Ayalot. This is the only place in the whole southern Aravah that they grow peppers. We wanted to make sure that those who observe shmittah would be able to purchase produce without getting into any sefeikos and according to all the chumros. Consequently, we insisted that the wholesalers undertake to meet all the conditions of the vegetable growers.

In practice, all the kashrus committees which follow the rulings of HaRav Eliashiv -- Shearis Yisroel, Belz and our own committee (Rabbonut Yerushalayim) -- have problems obtaining enough red peppers, for example. Even when there is some produce available, the prices are expensive, because the farmers are well aware of the supply and demand of their product.

Isn't this a problem?

A problem? Is the price a problem? In every sphere of kashrus, whoever does not want to be lenient, and is not willing to get into sfeikos, knows that he has to pay for this. We can only act in accordance with the guidelines of our rabbonim, headed by HaRav Eliashiv, and so we cannot approve the marketing of any produce which is forbidden, or possibly forbidden in their opinion, such as produce from settlements to the north of Kibbutz Lotan, including Yael, Paran and Ein Yahav. Nobody ever said that to be a Jew who is very particular in his observance of halocho is cheap.

(All this is not relevant to the issues of marketing produce in Yerushalayim that was the subject of a controversy that engaged the media several weeks ago between the Rabbonut of Yerushalayim and the Chief Rabbinate. In that case, the Rabbonut of Yerushalayim wanted to ensure that all produce in the city does not have a problem of sefichin. The produce involved in that case is only under "regular kashrus" supervision and not mehadrin. That produce is as plentiful and as inexpensive as the forbidden produce that is produced under the "hetter mechirah" but that is subject to the serious halachic problem of sefichin according to the gedolei haposkim.)

What Are You Signing?

An interview with Representatives of the Badatz of Shearis Yisroel

It is Shemittah 5761. The modern world is enamored of progress, and shmittah observance also changes and progresses from cycle to cycle.

This holy work is being carried out under the administrative supervision and halachic prowess of the members of the Beis Din Tzedek of Shearis Yisroel. I arrived in the midst of a lively discussion between a group of greengrocers and the mashgiach, Rav Dov Brecher. The halachic guidelines that had been previously clarified were being brought down to the finer points of daily actions. When Rav Dov Brecher -- one of the most prominent mashgichim of the Vaad of Shearis Yisroel -- finished dealing with the greengrocers' inquiries, the members of the Badatz were available to discuss a widespread range of halachic issues.

How does it work?

Those who are of the opinion that there is no kedushas shevi'is in produce grown by non-Jews simply buy produce from non-Jews, solving the problem easily. We follow the stringency of the Chazon Ish who is of the opinion that even produce grown by non-Jews has kedushas shevi'is. This is the policy of Shearis Yisroel, and is according to the ruling of the gedolei haposkim of our generation.

The problem is that produce grown by a non-Jew in shevi'is, while it is perfectly permissible to eat, it may not be bought and sold commercially. Some vegetables are bought from non-Jewish farmers at some times of the year (every year) and some are even bought from non-Jewish farmers exclusively, every year. In order for the consumer to be able to acquire these items, a way had to be found to work through the greengrocer in a noncommercial fashion. A kesav minui shelichus (document appointing the greengrocer as an agent, a shaliach) was created to deal with this problem.

The consumer who signs the kesav minui shelichus appoints the greengrocer or retailer as his agents. He asks them: "Buy merchandise for me." Anyone who signs this kesav minui shelichus works together with the storekeeper. When the storekeeper goes to the wholesale market, he is acting as an agent for all those who appointed him, and not buying for his store and then reselling to customers as in other years.

HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky and other noted talmidei chachomim saw the kesav minui shelichus, which was carefully worded to comply with the rulings of the Chazon Ish.

With the onset of the shemittah year, people signed the kesav minui shelichus. What are the ramifications of this subscription? What are you signing? What will those who don't sign do? Are they permitted to buy? Is it permissible to sell to them? Numerous questions stand on the crossroads. The members of Badatz Shearis Yisroel answer these questions.

What Is The Meaning Of This Partnership?

When the merchandise reaches the retailer, it is already owned by those for whom the greengrocer acted as agent, that is the consumers. In actuality, it is considered as if the consumers have already received the produce. Therefore, if something happens to the produce, for example if it is destroyed lost or burned, all of the signers have to share in the loss. In non-shmittah years, a regular customer does not participate in the losses that arise in these situations. He only pays for what he actually takes and buys and he pays according to the price set by the merchant. Also, the consumers are responsible for the expenses incurred by the agent in purchasing and bringing in the produce.

I understand that theoretically we might see an advertisement in Yated stating that "as a result of a stolen truck loaded with merchandise" or "because unruly Palestinians have looted a truck full of produce," all those who have signed the kesav minui shelichus are asked to come participate in the costs of the damage!

Halachically, the consumer must partake in the expenses. In actuality, however, payment is solicited in a different way, not through advertisements. In circumstances such as the aforementioned, or in case of loss or of a fire, the Badatz will simply raise the prices of other products to compensate.

How are Prices Decided?

The wholesaler, in contrast to regular business years, is not permitted to set his own prices. If he were, he would be selling produce during shemittah and not just acting as an agent. In the agreement made with the retailer before shemittah, his salary is set according to specific percentages of the value of the merchandise. This salary is based on the mediation the greengrocer performs between the consumers and the suppliers, transferring the warehouses to the property of the partners, delivery and all the other logistics. The owner also deserves payment for his knowledge: from whom to buy and where to purchase superior merchandise at a more reasonable price and in large quantities. Every greengrocer has an estimate of goods that he will need according to the number signed up for the kesav minui shelichus.

What is the Profit of the Greengrocer?

The greengrocer's profit isn't according to percentages. In contrast to regular business years, when he fixes the percentage of his profits based on supply and demand, during shemittah the greengrocer gets a pre-set amount per kilogram. It makes no difference if he sells a kilogram of strawberries or a kilogram of potatoes. His payment is the same, regardless.

Why is this so? Because the shemittah store is not a business. It is a distribution station for all the partners. The greengrocer isn't a businessman. Rather, he is an employee of the Badatz working for the partner-consumers. True, he deserves compensation for the use of his store, and for his efforts. That's why there is a fixed price per kilogram. According to halacha, there need not be a price for each kilogram specifically; payment could have been set according to some other measure such as volume. Practically speaking, since it is easier to weigh vegetables, the greengrocer is paid per kilogram.

The amount per kilogram is not dependent on the type of vegetable--lettuce or tomatoes--and not on the quality of the produce. For less-than-perfect produce the greengrocer gets exactly the same amount per kilogram as he gets for superior vegetables. On any given day, whether the prices are high or low, his salary will be the same. A kilogram is a kilogram.

This point certainly sharpens and emphasizes the fact that we are not speaking about business. When the customer pays the greengrocer, the greengrocer is simply a middleman collecting money for the produce that he purchased for the consumer, in addition to his wages as a worker. In this instance, the Badatz constitutes the Vaad Hamarsheh on behalf of the community of signers, and it is entitled to appoint greengrocers and suppliers as it sees fit.

An additional point emphasizes the fact that this is not a business. In the contract signed by the supplier and greengrocer the following statement is emphasized: "with the reliance (ne'emonus) on the supplier and with reliance on the greengrocer." Again, the wording of the Chazon Ish.

What does all this mean? If the contents of the supplier's car were stolen, we already clarified that the costs of damage fall on the partners, that is, those who signed to send the suppliers as their agent. It is self-understood, on the other hand, that if the wholesaler is lax in taking care of his possessions, he must cover the cost of his carelessness. But in a case of an accident (ones), all partners partake in the expenses.

If anything really does happen, there may be complaints. The partner-consumers may argue that the agent was lax: You didn't take proper precautions, you went to drink coffee and left the produce alone, etc.

In these circumstances, the supplier and the greengrocer are trusted to tell the story how it was. They have ne'emonus, according to the original contract. They have the upper hand.

That means to say that when signing the kesav minui shelichus, one is taking a certain amount of financial risk!

Most certainly. And both the retailer and greengrocer don't ever need to prove anything because of the trust put in them. These three points: 1) payment per kilogram; 2) and not according to weight and with no difference for the quality of the produce; and 3) joint responsibility -- even in the case where damage occurred at the wholesaler, coupled with the contractual agreement of his ne'emonus, indicate conclusively that the arrangement here that handles the produce grown in shevi'is is not a businesslike arrangement.

The Greengrocer is paid. Is the payment considered money with kedushas shevi'is?

If a person buys produce of shevi'is in the normal business way, then besides the prohibition of doing business, the money that he pays to the store owner would have kedushas shevi'is. Therefore, it would be prohibited to give this money to someone who wouldn't give the money proper care.

Our way of handling the produce is not considered business at all, even if it looks like normal business to a casual observer. The consumer pays money that will be passed on to the wholesaler for the produce the greengrocer obtained for his partners- -all those who signed the kesav minui shelichus--and for any additional expenses incurred.

Until this point, the greengrocer paid all expenses from his pocket and now his partners are just paying their debt. Money used to pay a debt does not have kedushas shevi'is. In addition, since the produce is just being distributed and no sales are taking place, there is no problem weighing the produce.

How can the retailer buy produce from the Arab farmer if one is prohibited to give shevi'is money to someone who won't treat it appropriately?

It is permissible to give the money to a non-Jew.

I heard that in certain stores there is a different version of forms of agreement. What does this mean?

We already said that the payment in the distribution stations covers the delivery of the produce, labor, care and knowledge of the greengrocer--all at a set price per kilogram. This type of agreement is according to what the Chazon Ish decided in shemittah 5705 (1945) and 5712 (1952). There is another approach that was taken by some specific customers in their agreement with a greengrocer. According to this approach, the greengrocer sells his merchandise at cost. The customer pays the greengrocer an additional monthly fee-- based on the size of his family-- which covers delivery of the produce, rent of the store, work, care and knowledge of the greengrocer.

All that you said is fine for someone who signed the kesav minui shelichus. What happens when someone who didn't sign enters a store?

It is accepted by all the aforementioned agreements to sell to this kind of person. There are a number of ways one can explain this reasoning. It is like the din of a man who took things for the party of his son, and had some left over. A person bought merchandise for his son's wedding. In the case that not everything is eaten, he is permitted to sell the leftover food. This can be applied to our situation as well. Partners buy an abundance of merchandise; it's reasonable to assume that there will be leftovers, which would be permissible to sell. This also means that if there is not enough for all the partners, the greengrocer may not sell to anyone else.

But if one sells the extra produce to someone who hasn't signed, then it is a business deal! The money will have kedushas shevi'is. It will be prohibited to give it to the greengrocer because he may not treat it properly. Additionally, it is prohibited to weigh and measure. Even though this sale is legal, it is ossur mederabonon that the sale should appear as a normal business deal. So, how does one sell to one who hasn't signed?

In shemittahs 5705 and 5712, the Chazon Ish formulated guidelines for stores. It is understood from these guidelines that customers who aren't signed up in those stores are included in the general arrangement. Therefore, there is no problem weighing and measuring even for them. The money problem is solved as well. The Chazon Ish ruled that according to the conditions of business in the shemittah store, once the customer pays for the goods and takes them, the greengrocer has no right to ask for them back. Consequently, the money does not have kedushas shevi'is.

How does that help?

The Chazon Ish holds that through this manner of payment the money does not have kedushas shevi'is. When paying on credit, money does not have kedushas shevi'is, and this is similar to paying on credit.

Director Of Shearis Yisroel: We Have Tens of Thousands Of Mashgichim

An interview with Rabbi Yekusiel Dershowitz, general manager of Shearis Yisroel, by Yisrael Friedman

When did you start preparing for shemittah?

Technically speaking, we started a year early, in the beginning of winter 5760. We went over the files of the previous shemittah to learn from the past years' organizational skills so that we would be more efficient this year. We spent a long time delving into the material, and those who keep shemittah will see the results of our efforts. Past lessons were put into action for the benefit of bnei Torah.

Merchandise under our hashgacha is distributed in tens of places throughout the country, especially, but not only, in places where there is a concentrated population of bnei Torah. Our produce reaches the majority of Torah institutions, who have requested that we supply them with produce under our mehudar hashgacha. Many institutions and organizations -- including hospitals -- already are using our produce. Surprisingly enough, even non- religious groups who want to keep shemittah according to halacha have turned to us with orders.

How many mashgichim do you have?

We have tens of thousands of mashgichim! In truth, we only pay a few dozen mashgichim, but we really have tens of thousands.

You probably wonder how I got this number. Shearis Yisroel's supervision is open. Our consumers are bnei Torah who are very stringent and critical concerning kashrus standards. When these people hook up to our open network, great interest is aroused, many questions are asked, and lots of reactions are voiced. These are the mashgichim in addition to our paid mashgichim.

I am not being facetious. On the contrary, we are very proud of this. It forces us to have higher standards. The brochos and encouragement of gedolim also obligates us to maintain more stringent standards of kashrus. Under the supervision and accompaniment of the members of Badatz Shearis Yisroel, the halachic side of issues is carried out in the best way. On the organizational level, we have done our utmost to supply bnei Torah with quality merchandise at low prices.

This means that the customer can take the food even if he doesn't pay, even though the greengrocer can demand monetary compensation for the amount he deserves. It is self- understood that someone who pays with a check or credit card is without a doubt buying on credit. Buying on credit is most important for someone who hasn't signed the kesav minui shelichus.

In stores that are under our hashgacha, there is a sign stating that once the buyer takes the produce, the store owner cannot force him to return the goods simply by claiming that he has not paid, according to the rulings of our rabbonim.

It should be emphasized that the question concerning someone who hasn't signed the kesav minui shelichus was brought to HaRav Eliashiv. He answered that the beis din, through its intermediaries--the retailer and the greengrocer-- buys produce from the non-Jew even for those who haven't signed up in advance.

It is similar to the idea of otzar beis din in that the merchandise in the warehouses belongs mainly to those consumers who signed, but is the responsibility of the beis din. Since it is like otzar beis din, the merchandise can be sold to someone who hasn't signed. According to this line of thought, since there is no business, there are no problems -- neither with the money nor with weighing the produce.

In sum: it certainly is best to sign the written agreement. However, when taking into consideration the fact that guests, passersby and those who just plain haven't signed will enter the store, sales even without a written agreement were permitted. The beis din strongly advises those who are buying produce without having signed to at least pay with a check--not necessarily postdated--or a credit card.

May you sell to an irreligious Jew?

If an irreligious Jew comes into the store and wants to buy produce, it's highly probable that he will not treat the fruit with proper respect. Is it permissible to sell produce to him? HaRav Eliashiv ruled that it is permissible to sell to him, if he only takes an amount that he needs for right now. If he asks for a larger quantity, whether it's to stock up or to sell, then it is prohibited to sell to him.

In the kesav minui shelichus there is a section that refers to the otzar beis din. What is it for? The kesav minui shelichus is for produce of non- Jews, while otzar beis din is specifically for produce grown by Jews such as fruit, that can be consumed.

Why is it necessary to set up otzar beis din for fruit grown by Jews? Why can't the problem be solved through shelichus?

Fruits grown by Jews are hefker. There are numerous halachos regarding hefker fruits. One can't take money for hefker. Harvesting the hefker fruit must be done in a different way than it is usually done, without the use of special tools. In addition, one may only take a limited quantity of hefker fruits. Therefore, the solution of shelichus is irrelevant, as it can't be carried out on fruit that is hefker.

Instead, we have the solution of otzar beis din, which was used as far back as during Bayis Sheini, and is mentioned in Tosefta. The beis din becomes responsible for the hefker orchard, garden, or vineyard. It appoints people to tend the orchards. Understandably, the beis din prefers to employ the owner of the orchard for this job, but then, for the duration of shmittah, the owner of the orchard is simply a worker employed by the beis din. The payment he receives is for his labor, and not for the fruit's value.

This fruit is distributed to the community at the distribution stations--the shemittah stores. The price the consumer pays is to cover expenses (mostly labor) alone. Truthfully, beis din pays the employee; the customer is just repaying beis din.

We want to emphasize again: there is no payment for the actual fruits, since the produce is hefker. Consequently, there is no problem with either weighing the produce or transferring kedushas shevi'is to the money.

So far there is no fruit of shemittah, since the year starts on Tu BeShevat for fruit.


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