03 July 2016

Shmittah Alert: Wine and Grape Juice Grown and Produced in Israel

27 Sivan 5776
in honor of Shabbath Korah (Israel) / Sh'lah Lekha (outside Israel)

L'iluy nishmatam Hallel Yaffa bat Rina v'Avihai, HY"D, R' Michael ben Avraham ben Adam**, HY"D, v'Eliezer ben Shlomo v'Sarah.
L'refuah shlemah shel Chava Rachel bat Ayelet haShahar, Tehilla bat Chava Rachel v'Pedaya Menachem ben Chava Rachel.

May we all get ourselves together, may  Mashiach be revealed, and may we know no more sorrow. 

[Blogger's disclaimer/disclosure: I am writing from the perspective of following the Otzar Beth Din at this time with regard to the practice of shmittah. To the best of my knowledge, groceries (m'koloth) in my neighborhood seem to follow either this method or that of Heter Mehira every seven years. I am not familiar with all of them.] 

Actual bottles of shmittah wine and grape juice. -CDG

I am just getting ready to discard my shmittah produce guide from the most recent sabbatical year in Israel. Why now, over 9 months later? Because each fruit and vegetable grown here — I am simplifying a great deal — is considered to have qedushath shvi'ith קדושת שביעית (the holiness of the seventh year) according to its growth cycle during the seventh year. Some items don't begin to have qedushah until very late in the year, so many of us keep guides on our refrigerators to help us keep things straight.

But, at least one thing is particularly problematic, guide or no guide. That is the set of foods known as wine and its non-alcoholic sibling, grape juice. OUKosher.org has an article about how the sabbatical year affects Jews the world over. It includes advice for Jewish shmittah-year visitors, and also those who are visiting in the year after, to ask questions about these foods, as well as olive oil — and discusses when we will be obligated to observe shmittah according to the Torah.

During Shabbath, while my back was turned, my husband said something about our wine being from the year 2015. I froze momentarily, then finished what I was doing. After he went to pray minhah I took the bottle in hand. On the front there was no indication other than the year. On the back I found the following:

  ללא חשש טבל וערלה עפ"י התר מכירה שע"י הרבונות הראשית לישראל

"[Have] no concern about tevel (ma'aser taken for various designees according to Torah) and orlah (fruit taken from the first 3 years of growth, or as declared by the rabbis — it depends on the fruit in question) according to the leniency based on sale ("heter mekhirah") given by the Rabbinic Authority of Israel."

One all-important word is missing from that sentence: Seventh (שביעית), referring to produce from the shmittah year. This word is often on food packaging here. It means we can treat the food as we usually do. But not if it has the seventh-year qedushah! When it comes to wine and grape juice, one must be sure to drink every drop and spill none of it! Big problems come about if you do!

I digress now. I can hear you all snickering now. "What fools you are. You know 2015 was a shmittah year, so why did you buy the wine?" It was on sale. OK, so we made a mistake. And I figured out how to drink every drop of that wine from then on, and shared it with him. When we finish a glass of this wine, we now put a little water in the glass, swish it around and drink. A lot better than agonizing about it. And, since we are not mashgihim (kashruth supervisors), we asked our rabbi "the question" today when we saw him (you know those videos I post weekly? That's him.). He says we don't actually have to do that because according to the heter mekhirah rules, we could treat it as though it were from someplace else, instead of Israel.

That's good, as long as our practice of shmittah is d'rabbanan, according to the rabbis, and not d'oraita, according to the Torah. The latter will occur when the majority of the Jews in the world live in Eretz Yisrael. In 2007, the year before the previous shmittah, the accepted figure was 41%. As of 2014, it was at nearly 43%. The Pew Forum states: "Over the next few decades, Israel is projected to pass the United States and become, by a sizable margin, the country with the largest Jewish population." By the way, according to Ynet, we are at about 16 million worldwide (I'm projecting to this year.). This is not such a big increase; but it's the most we've had in a long time. And, that's despite the world's wanting us all dead.

Baruch haShem! More, please!

Back to the topic: There's more regarding shmittah grape products. The same thing is happening with the grape juice, called tirosh (תירוש), or "new wine." The supermarket is selling 20 percent more free and my husband got a few shekel more off from a coupon. No year on the front of the bottle, but I found the same message on the back, with the word kosher beginning the sentence. Same solution as above, and we will keep our eyes open from now on.

Back of the grape juice bottle. I'm referring to the message in the double-outlined text box on the right. -CDG

The brand was Carmel, but Gefen, Manischewitz, Kedem and other kosher brands also could easily be involved. I haven't seen them, so check. In America and other English-speaking countries the notice might be in English and be authorized by other kashruth agencies.

My big concern goes beyond the details of kashruth, as important as they are. I have heard the stories about Israel shipping shmittah produce to other countries, where Jews who don't know how to handle it might buy it inadvertently — or even on purpose because it comes from Israel, but accidentally when it comes to the shmittah issue.

Even more than this, however, is the reason we go to all this trouble every seven years, extending the rules into the eighth year for appropriate items: To honor our beautiful, wide and spacious Eretz Yisrael, even though we don't have all of her yet.

In the parshioth we learned last week, both Sh'lah and Korah highlight the regard we are to have for our land. It was only when Moshe Rabbenu heard how the Land was slandered and Mitzrayim was exalted in the eyes of the people, that he said to haShem, "Do not accept their offering. I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them." He had got down on his knees and begged Him to forgive the people for what they said about him; but, the word used for how upset Moshe became when he heard how they defamed the Land, yihar יחר, is a form of the same verb used in the second paragraph of the Shema', where we are warned that haShem will react to idol worship by stopping all rain, thus preventing all food growth and quickly driving us out of the Land! (We usually recite this silently because we certainly don't want to have that happen again!)

Today, as R' Nahman Kahana puts it, we have a lot of Korahs, although on a lot lower level than he. In these days of impending geulah shlemah, they'd better think 100 times before continuing on their path.

I pray that paying more attention to Shvi'ith products on the part of Israeli Jews (and Jews outside the Land, even though they are not obligated) will help us focus on our connection with Eretz Yisrael, and arouse the desire in all Jews everywhere to protect and defend her and our people from our enemies with haShem's help. We need to both honor our Land and her produce and honor and defend our people, no matter how much the world will hate us for it. We must combine prayer and action, honor and respect for who we are and the Land we are meant to live in.

**I don't know R' Michael Mark's parents' names and can't find them at this time.


Myrtle Rising said...

Well, I'm not snickering nor do I think you're a fool.
Honestly, it's a mistake anyone can make.
Thank you for calling attention to this and explaining the whole thing.

CDG, Yerushalayim, Eretz Yisrael Shlemah said...

Thank you, Dassie! ;)

Anonymous said...

Just a suggestion Chava, put aside, during this Shabbat, one bottle of wine and one of grape juice produced in the shmitah year 5775. Write down on the bottles "For Mashiach". Thus you invite Mashiach to one day enter your house.

CDG, Yerushalayim, Eretz Yisrael Shlemah said...


I think it is a great idea. Thank you.

I saw your comment too late to put aside these items on Shabbat; plus, we didn't have a full, unopened bottle of grape juice. My husband had put the wine in the refrigerator just to keep it from spoiling over the summer, even though it is unopened; so, we will keep it there until it starts to cool down significantly.

I did find, buy and set aside a heter mehira bottle of grape juice.