Can I send shmita produce for mishloach manot?
Many fruits and nuts, as well as olive oil, grape juice, and wine still have kedushat shvi’it (shmita sanctity) even though we’ve reached Purim in the 8th year. Is it permissible to give these products as mishloach manot this year?
The reason we give mishloach manot
The mitzvah of mishloach manot (sending portions) is mentioned in Megillat Esther, taught in the gemara, and codified in Shulchan Aruch: “…to make them days of feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.”
Two central reasons are given as to why we give mishloach manot on Purim:
- Trumat Hadeshen connects the mitzvah of mishloach manot with the Purim seudah, so that everyone has enough food for a proper seudah, which is why we send food and not other gifts.
- The Maharal writes: “In this way they overcome Haman and his seed who are the opposite of the unity of God. And that is why on Purim in particular this is the mitzvah: Sending portions to one another and gifts to the poor because these mitzvot emphasize that Israel is the most united people of all nations.”
Giving mishloach manot increases peace and friendship and reminds us that we are one united group as opposed to what Haman told Achashverosh: “There is a certain people scattered and separate among the peoples…”
This second reason is important when considering whether giving shmita produce for mishloach manot is appropriate. Would receiving this produce bring people together in friendship? Or would the receiver resent this gift because they have to treat it with kedushat shvi’it – not waste it, dispose of the leftovers properly, perform biur on it, etc.? Yet there are other potential halakhic issues as well.
Is shmita produce ours to give?
The Torah designates shmita produce specifically “for you:”: “The produce of the shmita year shall be for yourselves, for food…”
In the Talmud, Rabbi Yossi reasons that the word “for you” means for all of your needs. Nevertheless, there are some constraints on how it may be used. The gemara teaches that there is a biblical prohibition against using shmita produce to pay off a debt: “‘And the produce of the shmita year shall be for yourselves, for food…’ indicating that the produce is designated for food but not for commerce.”
Rambam states: “Money received for produce from the shmita year may not be used to pay off a debt. Nor may it be used to repay shoshvinut (wedding gifts). And it may not be used to return a favor. And it may not be used to pay a pledge of charity for the poor in the synagogue. However, one may send it for purposes associated with acts of kindness, but one must notify [the recipients]. So too,one may not be use it to purchase slaves, land, or a non-kosher animal, and if used for such purchases, one should eat an equal amount of [non-shmita] food [according to the rules of kedushat shvi’it] as one does [when substituting] ma’aser sheni (second tithe). One may not use it to bring [obligatory] offerings…”
The Mishna teaches: “… One may give [proceeds from shvi’it] to the well-digger [as a gift] so he gives them a drink. And one may give to all [the workmen] [shmita proceeds] as a gift.” Based on previous examples in the mishna, Rav Ovadia of Bartenura explains that one may give shmita proceeds as a gift, even though they are doing so with the expectation that they will not have to pay for services from the recipient; this is still considered a gift and not payment, even though they expect to receive something in return.
Are mishloach manot considered a debt or a gift?
On one hand, Rambam allows using shmita proceeds for kind acts, and mishloach manot is a kind act. But since a person is obligated in mishloach manot, perhaps it’s considered paying off a debt?
Or perhaps it’s both.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach indicates that it depends on the giver’s point of view. For those who look at mishloach manot as a gift rather than the payment of a debt or a trade, there is room to be lenient and allow shmita produce to be given as mishloach manot.
Rav Ovadia Yosef rules that one should not send shmita produce to fulfill their obligation since this is like a debt, but once they have given mishloach manot they may send shmita produce in subsequent packages since these are gifts. Rav Mordechai Eliyahu agrees but adds that those who are stringent and do not send shmita produce will be blessed.
What about someone who has fulfilled their obligation, but wants to send mishlochei manot in return to people who have sent to them? Rav Ovadia Yosef considers this a gift since one has no obligation to send in return. While he allows one to reciprocate with kedushat shvi’it produce, some poskim indicate this may be problematic. Based on the Rambam above, if this is considered returning a favor it should be avoided, but if it is considered an act of kindness then it is fine. Ultimately, Rav Wosner prefers that people be stringent and refrain from reciprocating with kedushat shvi’it.
It is best to make sure that you fulfill the mitzvah of mishloach manot by sending at least one package with at least two non-shmita items.
Once you fulfill your obligation, you can put whatever you want into the other packages, including shmita produce. These packages are gifts as they are not given to fulfill your obligation. You must tell the receiver that the products have kedushat shvi’it.
If someone brings you mishloach manot and you want to give to them in return, it should be made up of non-shmita produce so that you are not repaying them with shmita produce.
 Megillat Esther 9:22, TB Megilla 7a: “Rav Yosef taught in a Braita: The Megilla states “and sending portions one to another entails sending two portions to one person.” Shulchan Aruch OC 695:4: “One must send to his friend two portions of meat or food. Two portions to one person (is the obligation).”
 Terumat Hadeshen I 111
 Or Chadash, Esther 9:22
 Esther 3:8
 Vayikra 25:6
 Vayikra 25:6, TB Sukka 40a
 TB Avoda Zara 62a
 Rambam Hilkhot Shmita v’Yovel 6:10, based on Tosefta in Shviit 7:6 and Peah 4:16
 Shvi’itti 8:5
 Dinei Shvi’it HaShalem 17:9
 Chazon Ovadia Purim pg. 154
 Ma’amar Mordechai, Shvi’it 13:53
 Responsa Shevet Halevi VII 183