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Exporting Shemita Fruits

Shevat 5783 | January 2023


Tu b’Shevat is often celebrated by eating the fruits of Israel. This is a bit more complicated this year, since last year was a shemita (sabbatical) year. In Israel we’ve been dealing with shemita for over a year, but outside of Israel some may be wondering: what can I do for Tu b’Shvat this year?

Why is shemita relevant if the shemita year is already over?

During the shemita year the Torah commands us to let the Land of Israel rest.[1] Nothing new may be planted and one may only maintain and gather vegetation that was planted before the year started. Shemita produce has kedushat shvi’it – sanctification of the sabbatical year – and is bound by certain rules:

  1. It is ownerless (Shmot 23:11)
  2. It may not be wasted or destroyed (Vayikra 25:6, TB Pesachim 52b)
  3.  It may not be traded – sold or bought (TB Avoda Zara 62a)[2]
  4. Bi’ur shvi’it – at a certain point any excess produce remaining must be eliminated from the home.
  5. There is an additional issue exporting shemita produce.

Ramban in his emendations to Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot adds that there is a positive mitzvah to eat the Shemita fruits and not use them for any other use.[3]

Vegetables picked during the Shemita year are treated as kedushat shvi’it. At this point in the year after shemita, vegetables are no longer an issue. Grains, legumes, and fruits are a different story, their status is determined by when they grow and begin to ripen.[4] Therefore fruits that didn’t have kedusha at the beginning of the Shemita year have kedusha now- even though we are already well into the eighth year! This includes most winter fruits, as well as wine and olives.

Israeli produce during and after shemita

Commercial produce that grows in a permitted way during the shemita year may be gathered and distributed under the auspices of the Beit Din (storehouses operated by the courts).[5] This produce has the laws of kedushat shvi’it and is known as Otzar Beit Din. Charging for the fruit is problematic, but this produce may be sold by charging for labor or non-sanctified items included in the sale (such as the container it comes in). As we will see, exporting this produce is problematic.

Even before the establishment of the State of Israel rabbinic leadership saw the need for a halakhic solution to ensure that there would be enough food in Israel during the shemita year. This gave birth to the controversial Heter Mekhira, where Jewish owned land is temporarily sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the shemita year to avoid the prohibitions of shemita.[6] Though there’s some dispute, this produce is not generally considered to have kedushat shvi’it. There are several other types of produce grown within the borders of the State that are not considered to have kedushat shvi’it.[7]

Where do we learn that produce with kedushat shvi’it should not be exported?

The Mishnah (Shviit 6:5) teaches: “One may not take oil that must be burnt and shemita produce from the Land of Israel outside of the Land.”

Rambam teaches: “We do not remove the Shemita fruits from the Land of Israel, not even to Syria.”[8]

The Raavad explains that if shemita produce is exported it may get mixed up with other produce and its sanctity would not be preserved.[9] Aruch HaShulchan similarly explains that the concern is that outside of Israel the fruit will not be treated in accordance with the laws of kedushat shvi’it.[10]

Others explain that exporting shmita produce will lead to problems with bi’ur, as we will see.

What is bi’ur?

The Torah allows everyone to eat the produce of the shemita year: “The Shabbat produce of the land shall be yours to eat, for you, for your slave and for your maidservant; and for your laborer and for your resident who dwells with you. And for your cattle and for the beast that is in your land shall all its crops be to eat.”[11]

The midrash explains that the verse compares domesticated cattle to ownerless beasts to teach us that as long as the produce exists in the field for the wild beasts to eat, the domesticated cattle are allowed to eat the produce gathered in the house; once it is no longer available in the field for the beasts to eat it must be removed from the home.[12]

When a certain type of produce is no longer found in the field it must be eliminated from the home. This is called bi’ur and many explain it can be accomplished by declaring the shemita produce ownerless.[13] The Tosefta describes how to perform bi’ur:

“In the case of one who has shemita produce when the time of bi’ur arrives, he can distribute as much as he can to his neighbors, his relatives, and his acquaintances. He then places the remainder at the entrance of his house and says: ‘Our brothers, House of Israel, anyone who needs to take, let him come and take!’ He may then bring the produce back inside and continue eating it until it is finished.”[14]

As stated above, produce that grows during shemita is ownerless. One is not allowed to stockpile it for their own needs. The mitzvah of bi’ur ensures that when the produce disappears from the field anyone who has large amounts must once again make it available for the taking. This leads many to rule that bi’ur should be performed in the area where the produce was originally grown.[15]

Based on the reasons cited above, taking produce abroad is similar to stockpiling it;in both cases it is no longer available to the local residents. There are those that explain that the prohibition against exporting shemita produce outside of Israel is because bi’ur must take place in the Land of Israel.[16] Once bi’ur is performed on the produce in Israel it may be exported.[17]

Rambam explains that, even though it is prohibited, if produce from Israel is exported before the time of bi’ur, bi’ur should be performed at the proper time in the current location and the produce shouldn’t be moved from one place to another.[18]

Buying exported shemita produce

Chazon Ish brings Ridbaz that one can be lenient and export shemita produce if there is concern that the fruits will rot if they stay in Israel.[19] As we explained, produce is supposed to remain in Israel to make sure that everyone has enough to eat, as well as ensure that the sanctity is preserved. If there is a surplus because the people in Israel have plenty to eat, it is better to send the fruits abroad where there is a chance they can preserve their sanctity rather than letting them rot, and wasting them.

Some halakhic authorities rule that regardless of whether exporting produce with kedushat shvi’it is permitted, the consumer may buy it under certain circumstances. For example, Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that those who rule that exporting shemita produce is prohibited only prohibit exporting the produce, not using produce that someone else has exported. Therefore, one may use an etrog with kedushat shvi’it on Sukkot, but since one may not buy produce with kedushat shvi’it they should include the etrog in the price when they purchase their lulav or full set of 4 minim.[20]

According to the Chazon Ish:“If the etrogs are sent abroad, this falls under the category of ‘one may not export shemita produce abroad’. Nonetheless, the fruits are not forbidden and can be used to fulfill the mitzvah of etrog.”

Rav Chaim Kanievsky permits sending etrogs with kedushat shvi’it to Jewish communities outside of Israel so that they can perform the mitzvah properly, and not with grafted etrogs.[21] He stipulates that they should not be part of a business transaction and that they should be treated with kedushat shvi’it.[22]

In practice, aside from etrogs and a small amount of wine, Otzar Beit Din products are not exported outside of Israel.

According to the Torah VeHa’aretz Institute, two out of the three lines of Otzar Beit Din wine do not allow their wines to be exported. 95% of the Otzar Beit Din wine that is exported is only exported after the time of bi’ur  (erev Pesach) while 5% is exported earlier in the year but the exports are stopped three months before bi’ur.

Those that allow exporting wine after bi’ur rely on the explanation that shemita produce may not be exported because bi’ur must be done in the area where it grows. Once bi’ur is completed there is no longer a halakhic issue with exporting produce.If you’re looking for kosher Israeli wine to have for Tu b’Shvat this year, you will most likely find bottles that are from before shemita; the kosher symbol on the back will indicate this with the words “l’lo chashash tevel u’shvi’it.” If you buy Otzar Beit Din wine before  erev Pesach this year, which is the time of bi’ur, you must ensure that you perform bi’ur on any amount over what will be consumed over 3 meals by those eating at your table.

Torah Ve Haaretz Institute explains that contrary to what many people think, most Israeli fruits found abroad at this time are likely from growers who rely on Heter Mekhira. Since many kashrut authorities abroad do not accept the halakhic validity of the Heter Mekhira, or prefer not to rely on it, they tell their communities not to buy anything from Israel that may have grown during the shemita year. Therefore, people who accept the halakhic validity of Heter Mekhira, may eat fruits from Israel at this time.

May we merit to enjoy the holy fruits from Israel in the Land of Israel!


[1] This only applies to the Land of Israel that is sanctified. There’s consensus that the land originally settled during the Babylonian exiles’ Return to Zion in the beginning of the Second Temple period is sanctified. There’s some dispute as to the status of land conquered by the Hasmoneans and areas under Israeli State control today. Mishna Shvi’it 6:1 and commentaries, Rambam Hilchot Terumot 1:5, Hilchot Beit HaBekhira Chapter 6, and discussion in Tzitz Eliezer 10:1 and Eretz Chemda 3:13.

[2] One may charge for the labor involved in gathering the produce, but there are strict rules  that must be followed in this case.

[3] Emendations Positive Mitzvot 3

[4] TB Rosh HaShana 13b. There is a dispute as to the precise stage of development. See Rambam in Hilchot Shemita v’Yovel 4:9-14 and Tosfot TB Rosh Hashana 12b, Sefer Ha’Shvi’it b’Halacha Chapter 25.

[5] See an early description in Tosefta Shvi’it 8:1-2

[6] For details see Pninei Halakha, Shvi’it v’Yovel, Chapter 7 “Heter Mekhira”, for English

[7] Yevul Nochri, produce grown by non-Jews in Israel on their own land, produce grown on land that is not considered sanctified, and produce grown disconnected from the ground, such as certain types of hydroponics – are generally not considered to have kedushat shvi’it and can be exported. Some are stringent and observe some aspects of the laws of kedushat shvi’it, such as disposing of the fruit in a respectful manner.

[8] Hilkhot Shemita v’Yovel 5:13

[9] Commentary on Torat Kohanim Behar 1:9

[10] Aruch HaShulchan HaAtid Hilchot Shmita 24:25

[11] Vayikra 25:6-7

[12] Torat Kohanim Behar 1. A similar explanation is found in Yerushalmi Shviit 9:3. Mekhilta d’Rashbi 23:7 teaches different types of produce and different regions have unique times for bi’ur.

[13] Tosafot on Psachim 52b and Ramban on Vayikra 25:12. Rambam in Hilkhot Shemita v’Yovel indicates that one may not keep more than the amount of produce for 3 meals, and everything else must be destroyed. Most poskim do not follow Rambam in this case and rule that it is enough to distribute and then declare the produce ownerless. Destroying it may even be prohibited. See Mishpat Cohen 83, Chazon Ish Hilchot Shvi’it 11:7, Minchat Shlomo 51:18

[14] Tosefta Shviit 8:6.

[15]For example, Rambam Hilchot Shemita v’Yovel 7:12, Rashi Pesachim 52b “mishum”, Rabbi Ovadia m’Bartenura on Mishna Shvi’it 6:5

[16] Rash mi’Shantz, Commentary on Shvi’it 5:6

[17] See Rav Kook Shabbat Ha’Aretz, Kuntras Acharon 23

[18] Hilchot Shemita v’Yovel 7:12

[19] Chazon Ish Hilkhot Shvi’it 10:6

[20] Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim Vol. I 186 and Vol. V 42. He does not seem to permit exporting shemita produce but brings opinions that would allow in certain cases and explains that because those who export the etrogim rely on halakhic opinions that permit it, (such as Tosfot that allows exporting fruit that will not be eaten,) this is not considered “misaye’a lidvar aveira,” “helping perform a transgression.”

[21] Grafting two species of trees together is prohibited, and using the fruit from a prohibition for etrog is a “mitzvah haba’a b’aveira” a mitzvah through a transgression, which is invalid.

[22] Derech Emuna Zera’im, Hilkhot Shemita v’Yovel 5:96:179

Sharona Margolin Halickman

is a graduate (2019) of the Matan Bellows Educators Institute. She is currently studying in Hilkhata - Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute. Sharona is the founder and director of Torat Reva Yerushalayim and teaches at Machon LeMadrichei Chutz La’Aretz.