Produce of Israel: A Primer

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By: Rabbi Tsvi Heber, Director of Community Kosher 

The Land of Eretz Yisroel is imbued with special holiness. The Torah emphasizes the holiness of the land through a number of mitzvos that are exclusive to its produce. These mitzvos include Sheviis (Shemittah), Terumos, Maaseros and Bikurim[1].

Rav Avraham Danzig zt”l[2], in his introduction to Shaare Tzedek, a sefer that deals specifically with the laws of Eretz Yisroel, proclaims that one of the primary reasons for writing his sefer was to prepare himself for his planned move to Eretz Yisroel. “Should a person walk into the courtyard of the king and be oblivious to the laws and customs of his palace – surely that person risks the death penalty.”

Today, even if we are not able to live in Eretz Yisroel, we can still partake in its produce. Global economies of the 21st Century have allowed us the opportunity to enjoy this produce from across the Ocean. One need not go farther than the local supermarket or fruit and vegetable store to find a selection of imported Israeli fruits and vegetables.[3] Certainly, it is our duty to familiarize ourselves with these laws so that we treat this produce in the appropriate manner.

Tevel

Israeli produce[4] that is fit for human consumption[5] is considered “Tevel” and may not be consumed[6] until Terumos and Maaseros have been separated.[7] In ancient times, when the Bais Hamikdash stood in its glory, Terumos and Maaseros were distributed to Kohanim, Levi’im, the poor or eaten in Jerusalem. Nowadays Terumos and Maaseros are not distributed or eaten in Jerusalem but the obligation to separate is still in effect.[8] These laws apply even to produce exported to Chutz La’aretz.[9]

In an article published in 2007 by the Orthodox Union (OU),[10] Rabbi Yaakov Luban, Senior Rabbinic Coordinator, wrote, “Many people mistakenly believe that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel separates Terumah and Maaser from all produce exported to America. Our office clarified this matter with the Rabbanut and, regrettably, this is presently not the case. Of course, if the produce is a packaged item which bears reliable supervision, one need not be concerned with Tevel; however, in the absence of supervision, the consumer must separate Terumah and Maaser himself.”

Notwithstanding, fruits and vegetables that we find in the general marketplace have the designation of “safek Tevel” (not certainly Tevel). This is because there is still a slight possibility, however remote, that someone may have separated Terumos and Maaseros.[11] The halacha is that we must still separate Terumos and Maaseros but without reciting the brachos.[12]

Terumos and Maaseros

There are four categories of Terumos and Maaseros: 1) Terumah-Gedolah; 2) Maaser Rishon; 3) Terumas Maaser; and 4) Maaser Sheini or Maaser Oni (Maaser Sheiniis separated in the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th years of the Shemittah cycle whereas Maaser Oni is separated in the 3rd and 6th years of the cycle).[13]

 

  1. Terumah Gedolah: A minimal amount[14] of produce is designated as Terumah Gedolah. In the times of the Bais Hamikdash, this separation was set aside for a Kohen and could not be eaten by anyone else. Today, even Kohanim may not consume Terumah as they are tamay (ritually impure).
  2. Maaser Rishon: 10% of the remaining produce is designated as Maaser Rishon. In the times of the Bais Hamikdash, Maaser was separated and given to the Levi but could then be consumed by anyone. Today, halacha requires that we verbally designate the Maaser Rishon. Consumption is permitted thereafter.[15]
  3. Terumas Maaser: 10% of the Maaser Rishon (1% of the total produce) is separated as Terumas Maaser. Terumas Maaser has the same status as Terumah Gedolah and may not be consumed.
  4. Maaser Sheini or Maaser Oni: 10% of the remaining produce (9% of the total produce) is designated for either Maaser Sheini or Maaser Oni. In the times of the Bais Hamikdash, Maaser Sheini was eaten only in Jerusalem or it was redeemed and the money was used to purchase food which would be consumed in Jerusalem. Nowadays, Maaser Sheini must be redeemed on a coin, which is valid currency in the country that the redemption is taking place, and that is worth at least a (shoveh) pruta.[16] In the times of the Bais Hamikdash, Maaser Oni was given to a poor person and could then be consumed by anyone. Today, Maaser Oni has the same status as Maaser Rishon, merely requiring a verbal designation.15

The Procedure[17]

  1. Place all of the produce of a single species,[18] that was purchased from a single bunch of produce,[19]  together and in front of you.[20]
  2. Separate a little more than 1% of the total produce.[21] For example, if there are 99 peppers, 1 pepper should be separated.
  3. A coin is designated for the redemption of Maaser Sheini. This coin must be worth at least a shoveh pruta. [22] At the time of writing, a nickel is sufficient.[23]
  4. The following text is recited:[24]

"The amount in the northernmost[25] part of the separated portion which is greater than 1% of the total amount of the produce shall be Terumah Gedolah. The remaining part of the separated portion, plus an additional 9% on the northernmost side of the produce shall be Maaser Rishon. The part of the separated portion that was previously designated as Maaser Rishon shall be Terumas Maaser. 10% of the remaining produce on the southernmost side shall be either Maaser Sheini or Maaser Oni in accordance with the year of the Shemittah cycle during which it was grown. If the 10% on the southernmost side is Maaser Sheini, it should be redeemed by transferring its kedusha calculated at its value plus 25%,[26] to the coin. If the produce is Neta Revai,[27] it should be redeemed by transferring its kedusha calculated at its value plus 25% to the coin."

  1. If one has difficulty reciting the full text or if it not available, one may recite the following simplified version:

"All separations of Terumah and Maaser and redemptions of Maaser Sheini and Neta Revai shall be effected in accordance with the text of the Chazon Ish."

  1. The separated portion is wrapped and discarded. The coin must be disposed of so that no one shall accidentally find it and use it.[28]

Pruta Chamura

The aforementioned procedure can be performed so as long as the total value of the Maaser Sheini is equal to or greater than 4 prutos.[29]  If the value of the Maaser Sheini is not equal to 4 prutos,[30] one cannot use a regular coin for redemption (please see footnote 30 for actual values and calculations). One would require a coin that has previously been used to redeem Maaser Sheini[31] of equal or greater stringency.[32] A pruta chamura is a coin that has been used to redeem the “most stringent form” of Maaser Sheini.[33] On this coin, one is able to redeem all types of Maaser Sheini thereafter, up to the value of the coin.  

 

Orlah

The Torah[34] prohibits[35] fruits borne to a tree in the first three years of its existence.[36] Chazal[37] teach us that the Torah’s prohibition is limited to fruits of Eretz Yisroel. Notwithstanding, we have a halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai (tradition given to Moshe at Sinai) that the prohibition of Orlah applies even to the fruit of Chutz La’aretz.[38] As such, Orlah is different from Terumos and Maaseros as it applies even to fruit in all places, even that of a gentile.[39]

A fundamental difference exists between the halachos of Orlah in Eretz Yisroel and Chutz La’aretz pertaining to the case of safek Orlah (“fruit of unknown age”). According to halacha, one may consume fruit of unknown age if its origin is Chutz La’aretz. Conversely, one may not consume fruit of unknown age if its origin is Eretz Yisroel. Some Poskim permit consumption of unknown fruit as long as the majority of the species in question do not grow in the first three years.[40] Others permit consumption only if an overwhelming majority is present.[41] One must be well informed of all the species that may present a problem of Orlah and consult with their Rav before purchasing.

Neta Revai refers to fruit of a tree’s fourth year which were eaten only in Jerusalem. Nowadays, the fruit of Neta Revai must be redeemed before it may be consumed.[42] The halachos that pertain to the redemption of Neta Revai are similar to those of Maaser Sheini as explained above.



[1] Mishna Kiddushin [36b]

[2] Author of Chayay Adam and Chochmas Adam

[3] Information regarding country of origin can often be found on a sticker adhered to the produce. Our experience has shown that store signage alone is not a reliable indicator and one should always look for the sticker.

[4] Produce that is grown by a gentile, even on land within the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel, is exempt from Terumos and Maaseros. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah (YD) [331:4]

[5] Produce which is not fit for human consumption is exempt from Terumos and Maaseros. See Rambam, Hil. Terumos [2:1].

[6] Forms of hana’ah shel ke’luy are also forbidden. See Shulchan Aruch, ibid. [116, 117, 119]

[7] Most Rishonim are of the opinion that only the five species of grain, grapes and olives (and their derivatives) are considered biblically Tevel. Accordingly, the obligation to separate Terumos and Maaseros from all other produce is rabbinic.

[8] There is a dispute as to whether, nowadays, the obligation to separate Terumos and Maaseros is biblical or rabbinic. Rama ibid. [2] cites the dispute and rules that the custom is to consider it a rabbinic obligation.

[9] See Mishpatay Eretz, Hil. Terumos U’Maaseros [3:11] and footnote [34] for a discussion of the din pertaining to exported produce brought in Shulchan Aruch, ibid. [12]. See also Mishpatay Eretz, ibid. [12] for a discussion regarding produce that is grown solely for the purpose of export.

[10] http://www.oukosher.org/index.php/common/article/separating_terumah/

[11] Sefer Hakashrus [15:2] states that we have two sfaykos: 1) we are unsure if the produce was grown by a gentile (on his land); 2) even if it was grown by a Jew – it is possible that the farmer may have already separated Terumos and Maaseros. One can add a third safek that the produce may have been grown solely for export purposes in which case it may possibly be exempt from the obligation to separate Terumos and Maaseros (see footnote [10]). Exported produce should therefore be treated like d’mai.

[12] The nusach of the brachos are "l'hafrish terumos u'maaseros" and “al pidyon maaser sheini” respectively.

[13] Terumos and Maaseros are not separated in the Shemittah year.

[14] Although the Torah does not require a minimum size for Terumah Gedolah, in ancient times when it was given to a kohen, the rabbis mandated an amount that ranged from 1/60th to 1/40th of the produce. Nowadays, since Terumah is not consumed, we do not separate more than what is minimally necessary. Shulchan Aruch, ibid. [19]

[15] This is because the produce may possibly be exempt from Terumos and Maaseros as explained in footnote [12]. As such, we apply the rule of hamotzee may’chavayro alav haraya (the burden of proof lies on the extractor) – and permit the owner to consume the maaser rishon after it is designated.

[16] Shulchan Aruch ibid. [138]

[17] Thee following procedure may not be performed on Shabbos or Yom Tov, see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim [339:4]

[18] One may not separate from one species of fruits or vegetables onto another species. Shulchan Aruch YD [331:53]

[19] One may not separate from produce that is exempt from Terumos and Maaseros onto produce that is still obligated or vice versa. See Shulchan Aruch ibid. [55]. Being that all of the produce in the marketplace is "safek tevel" (see footnote 11), one may not separate from produce of one store onto produce of another store or even from separate loads in the same store, for fear that one of the two is exempt from Terumos and Maaseros. One may also not separate from one year's produce on that of another year's produce. Shulchan Aruch ibid. [57]    

[20]This is done so as to satisfy the requirement of min hamookof. Shulchan Aruch YD [331:25] and Shach [ibid:49]

[21] This is the total separation representing both Terumah Gedolah and Terumas Maaser

[22]Shulchan Aruch, ibid. [133]


[23]A shoveh pruta is equal to the value of 1/40th of a gram of pure silver. There are approximately 31.1 grams in a troy ounce. Therefore, a shoveh pruta is worth 1/1244 of a troy ounce. At the time of writing (05/04/14), the spot price for a troy ounce of silver is 19.46 USD, so a shoveh pruta is equal to approximately 1.57 cents.


[24]The English translation of the nusach is quoted from "Separating Terumah and Ma'aser" by Rabbi Yaakov Luban http://www.oukosher.org/index.php/common/article/separating_terumah/

[25]While the formula is being recited, neither the produce nor the separated portion should be moved since the formula refers to designated locations on both the separated piece and the rest of the produce.

[26] When redeeming one’s own Maaser Sheini, he adds an additional chomesh (1/5th mi’libar or 25%) to the total value of the Maaser Sheini. See Rambam, Hil. Maaser Sheini [5:1]

[27] See section entitled “Orlah”.

[28] Shulchan Aruch ibid. [133] states that one may throw it, as is, into the yam hagadol. I have heard from Rabbanim that one may also throw it into the sewer.

[29] See Bava Metzia [53b] which brings two opinions: 1) The Maaser Sheini must be equal to or greater than a pruta 2) The additional chomesh (1/5th mi’libar or 25%) of the Maaser Sheini must be equal to or greater than a pruta i.e. the Maaser Sheini would be equal to or greater than 4 prutos. Rambam, Hil. Maaser Sheini [5:4] rules in accordance with the latter opinion. Chazon Ish, Hil. D'mai [3:15] rules in accordance with the former opinion. Please consult with your Rav for a psak halacha.


[30] When the value of Maaser Sheini is 4 prutos, the value of the total produce will be 44.4 prutos. At the time of writing (05/04/14), if the entire produce is worth more than approximately .70 USD (or .77 CAD at today’s exchange rate  which is 0.9112) one may use a regular coin. **Please note that this value fluctuates regularly and will increase or decrease with the value of silver. **


[31] Rambam, ibid. [5] “Pidyon al maos harishonos

[32] For example, one may not redeem the Maaser Sheini of grapes on a coin that was used to redeem the Maaser Sheini of peppers. See Chazon Ish, ibid. [15:12]

[33] Mishpatay Eretz ibid. [15:12]

[34]Vayikra [19:23]

[35] One may not even derive benefit from Orlah. See Shulchan Aruch YD [294:1]

[36] A halachic year is not always 12 months. For details pertaining to the calculation of the age of a tree, please refer to Shulchan Aruch ibid. [4]

[37] Kiddushin [39a]

[38]Shulchan Aruch YD [294:8]

[39] Ibid.

[40] The question of whether one may rely on the majority to determine the status of unknown fruit depends on whether we consider the situation as one that is kavua or parush.

[41] For a full discussion on whether one can rely on the majority, see Sefer Hakashrus [16:21,22]

[42] We have chosen not to expound on the laws of Neta Revai in this article. Please see Shulchan Aruch ibid. and, for example, Sefer Hakashrus [ch. 16] for a full treatment of these laws.