Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spot the Otzar Beis Din wine

Look at this bottle of grape juice. Obviously it’s kedushas shviis. The banner reading “Otzar Beis Din” on the top of the label is clear to all. Now look at this bottle of wine by the same company. The label is a regular one. Obviously not kedushas shvi’is right? Well, lets look at the back just to make sure… Humm. Something is missing but you wouldn’t perhaps notice straight away. The Badatz hechshir is missing. Now look in the bottom left hand corner under where it says “Kasher LePesach”. Look very carefully. You might need a magnifying glass. Here, I’ve blown the photo up to 3X magnification. You see! It says Otzar Beis Din! This bottle is also kedushas Shvi’is ! Thousands of Kedushas Shvi'is bottles like these are being sold in regular supermarkets in Israel. They are mixed with the regular stuff from previous years with almost identical labels. Just for your information I present a quick summary of what an Otzar Beis Din is supposed to be. (Notes taken from an article entitled “What is an Otzar Beis Din, and is it Good for the Jews?” by Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff)

Kedushas Shvi’is Wine and Grape Juice.

Literally, the words mean "a storehouse operated by Beis Din”. The Torah (VaYikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shmittah, and we are prohibited from working the land of Eretz Yisroel. Any produce that grows during the Smittah year on its own is called Shmittah produce and is imbued with special sanctity, called kedushas shvi’is.

The landowner may not treat what grows during shmittah as his own. The produce is hefker (ownerless) and should be made available to anyone who wishes to consume it.

One must be careful not to sell shmittah produce in a way that implies that one is its true owner. (Mishnah Shvi’is 8:3).

It should not be sold in a regular store or at least there should be a clear distinction between regular produce and Kedushas Shvi’is (Yerushalmi Shvi’is 7:1).

One may not export shmittah produce to chutz la’aretz (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5).

The Otzar Beis Din acts as the consumer’s agent by hiring whoever is necessary to produce the product, pack it, store it and distribute it to where the consumer can obtain it. Obviously, everyone in the production and distribution process must be paid for their work. The Otzar Beis Din divides these costs among the consumers. However, no charge is made whatsoever for the fruit, since they are hefker. Thus, Otzar Beis Din products should in theory always cost less than regular retail prices for the same items.

Rules for a modern Otzar Beis Din are set out in Sefer Minchas Yerushalayim as well as tshuvos of the Chazon Ish of Bnei Berak. Some of these rules are:

The Wine manufacturer acts as the agent of the Otzar Beis Din and is entitled to payment for its work, as are all other employees who harvested, crushed, packaged, and transported the crop, but no one is entitled to any profits on the produce.

The Otzar Beis Din should predetermine the price that the consumer should pay for the wine, guaranteeing that it be significantly lower than its usual market price (Sefer Minchas Yerushalayim pg. 161).

The wine and fruits could be distributed only to people who would observe the shmittah sanctity of the products (Sefer Minchas Yerushalayim, pg. 163; see Tosefta Shvi’is 6:11).

Anyone who has purchased Otzar Beis Din wine and grapejuice should take it out of his home on Erev Pesach and declare it hefker (ownerless).

If the wine is poured into any mixture then that mixture takes on the status of kedushas Shvi’is with the halachos applying to it. For instance if one poured kedusha shvi’is wine into the charoses on Leil HaSeder then the charoses becomes kedushas shvi’is. It has to be totally consumed and cannot be wasted or thrown away. Because none of the wine can be wasted, you cannot spill the wine which means you should avoid using kedushas shvi'is for havdallah or for the second kos on Leil HaSeder (where you dip your finger in the wine). Obviously, you should avoid giving kedushas shvi'is grape juice to young children who are liable to spill it.


I spoke to two Rabbonim in my area and they both told me a similer story regarding these bottles sold in the supermarkets. Apparently there is a psak by Rav Ovadia Yoseph that allows the Otzar Beis Din of the Rabbanut to appoint the supermarket as an extension of the Otzar Beis Din. This being the case, the supermarkets have not technically taken ownership of the wine. Therefore they do not need to mafker the wine on Erev Pesach. However they were both very uncomortable about the fact that the supermarkets were mixing the kedushas shvi'is bottles with the regular bottles on the same shelf and that they were charging the regular retail price for the wines. In other words, they were making a profit on the wines as if they owned the wine.

This seems to be making a joke of the whole concept of Otzar Beis Din which is problably why they print the fact that the wine is under the authority of the Otzar Beis Din in such tiny letters as if to say that we are just using a trick to sell wine made from grapes that have kedushas shvi'is and that its business as usual. The local Rabbonim advised me not to drink the wine. I received a bottle as a present so I asked what I was supoosed to do with it if I couldn't drink it? I didn't get a clear answer. I then spoke to my Rav (who lives in Yerushalayim) and he had an idea. Being that the bottles are allowed in the supermarket based on a psak by Rav Ovadia Yoseph, I should ask the local Rav whether it would be possible to give the bottle to a sefardi Jew. I have not as yet asked but when I do I'll update this blog post.

Today I spoke to a Chareidi Sefardi friend of mine and he brought up what seems to be a good point. He said that he could explain why the prices were not cheaper. Even though in theory, Otzar Beis Din products ought to be cheaper, in practice when he was buying fruit and vegetables from a legitimate Otzar Beis Din supplier, the prices were always more expensive than the Heter Mechira equivalent. Why is this so?

He said because they charged extra for the special labour in the fields and the storage and guarding and special delivery. So he said that they can make the same arguement for the wine. Because it is a special production we are lucky that its not more expensive than previous years. So I asked him how he could justify the different prices for wines made from more expensive grapes such as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay? Why arnt they the same price as the cheaper grapes like Riesling and Merlo or sauvignon blanc bearing in mind that the halachah is that you cannot charge for the actual grapes themselves? He answered that even though the distribution of the bottles is the same, its probably the case that the more expensive grapes need more care, labour and time to produce these wines and it is that which is reflected in the price. He did however concede that it was not good that "kedushas Shvi'is" was written in such tiny letters on the label.

When I have more information about this subject I'll Be"H update this post. Meanwhile I welcome your comments but please play nicely. No name calling / Lashon HaRa etc. Let's have a civil and respectful discussion. Toda Raba.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am use to looking at the kashrut of goods when I buy them in the shops and they are mostly on the back of the goods as when you buy wine so to me it makes sense to read if these are also Kedusha Shviet also on the back next to the kashrut.
Its been months now that the super has been selling Tirosh white grape juice that is Kedusha Shviet.
I think the upsetting thing is people don't bother checking simply because they are not interested in it as when I explained to a number of people who are religious they tell me "wow you take these things so seriously" this included buying Kitneot on Pesach, so many people these days don't bother to check as this makes life harder.