How does one know when the shmita (sabbatical) year occurs? Also, may I buy vegetables from someone, if I have no way of knowing if he or she is observing the mitzva of shmita? – Anonymous
Calculating the shmita year is actually quite simple. Take the Jewish year – for instance, this year is 5768 – and divide that number by seven. If the result is a whole number – in our case, the quotient is 824 - the year is a shmita year.
Please note that the shmita count did not begin with Creation. Shmita was not observed until the Land of Israel was conquered and divided up among the Tribes.
Furthermore, during the Holy Temple era, yovel (the jubilee year) was also observed, and according to Maimonides (Laws of Shmita and Yovel 12), the yovel year is not included in the shmita count.
In any event, since yovel is not observed today, the aforementioned method is currently the simplest way to compute shmita years.
If you normally shop at a greengrocer without a kashrut certificate, there is a chance that you may be purchasing “orlah” fruit (picked from young trees). Also, you should separate “trumot u’maasrot” (tithes) - albeit without a blessing because of “safek” (doubt).
Yet, when it comes to shmita, the problem is even more severe. You may be supporting individuals who are working their fields – in violation of the shmita laws. Moreover, according to some opinions, the produce in question may not be consumed.
Thus, you should make sure to purchase only from a store with a kashrut certificate. In theory, the kashrut certificate ensures that the store in question is shmita-compliant as well.
On a related note, an organization called Otzar Ha’aretz has set a dual mission for itself: protecting the future of agriculture in the Land of Israel and also observing shmita properly. This concern markets fruits and vegetables according to all the shmita laws without relying on Palestinian growers.
Please consider supporting this praiseworthy venture by joining Otzar Ha’aretz. For more information, please call the organization at 1-700-709-177 or check out their website: www.hashmita.co.il.
All the best and have a happy and healthy new year.
(Rabbi Yaron Ben-David)