Hearts of Holiness – Shemitah Wine
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An interview with Rabbi Ari Bergmann, founder of Shnat Hasheva: about Netofa Winery, Tuvia Levkovich, and transforming bi'ur into an educational opportunity. How will Shenat Hasheva partner with Torah VeHa'aretz Institute this year?
I recently had the privilege of speaking with the founder of Shenat Hasheva, prime shareholder of Netofa Winery, and Talmud professor at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Dr. Ari Bergmann. He shared how he came to the decision to keep shemitah as an otzar beit din agent: "Shemitah isn't just about letting the land lie fallow. It's about how all of the produce belongs to Hashem and that the land's bounty reaches each and every Jew. I wanted to make the holy wine available to everyone." The harvest at Netofa Winery also connects all different types of Jews:
Instead of contracting Thai workers, we have families, students, and volunteers harvest the grapes from haredi, national religious, and secular backgrounds including HaShomer HaChadash. We want to unite everyone and connect Jews to the message of shemitah.
Lev wine in memory of Tuvia Levkovich
Rabbi Bergmann then launched into a story about his good friend, Tuvia (Tobias) Levkovich, former Chief U.S. Equity Strategist for Citigroup in Lawrence. The son of Holocaust survivors who now live in Israel, Tuvia was a proud Jew and used every opportunity to model Jewish observance in his surroundings. Tuvia was kind, humble, and constantly sought out the good in people. In 2021, Tuvia was tragically hit by a car while crossing a street on the way to synagogue. Several weeks later he passed away at the age of 60.
Since Tuvia was a friend of Rabbi Bergmann and a minor shareholder in the Netofa Winery, Shenat Hasheva decided to dedicate a line of fine dry red wine (Syrah, 13.5%) in his memory and donate 40,000 bottles to bnei Torah and families in need, selling the rest at the price determined by the beit din to cover production costs.
In my eyes this distribution is a model of what shemitah stands for, granting equal access of the land's holy bounty to rich and poor.
As an aside, Shenat Hasheva also distributes other holy wines produced from grapes grown at Netofa Winery. Rabbi Nissim Karelitz's beit din forbade Netofa Winery from producing the wine from grapes it grew as it does during regular years, to make it clear that each otzar beit din agent is not involved in transacting with shemitah produce, rather acting as an agent of the beit din only. Netofa Winery grows grapes, the wine is produced at Zion Winery, and distributed by Shenat Hasheva, Mishnat Yosef, and Mechirah Lakehillah.
Bi'ur as an educational opportunity
Towards the end of our inspiring conversation, Rabbi Bergmann raised an interesting point. Many are worried about buying wine now, ahead of bi'ur time this erev Pesach, concerned they will be stuck with surplus wine. In Rabbi Bergmann's eyes, though, bi'ur presents an excellent educational opportunity:
This year we have the unique privilege to perform two mitzvot together: bi'ur chametz and bi'ur kedushat shevi'it. Instead of viewing it as a burden, let's see it as a wonderful opportunity to teach our children the laws of bi'ur: we put aside what we need for Seder night since we are allowed to keep wine for three meals. The rest we declare hefker. The whole process takes less than ten minutes.
I wholeheartedly agree. We can take the opportunity to teach our children the laws of bi'ur and its underlying principle: shemitah produce is supposed to be available to all Jews and does not belong to us, so we cannot stockpile it. While the bi'ur process is relatively short, when we celebrate the opportunity to perform a mitzvah with our children, the impact on them is everlasting.
Rabbi Bergmann, who is also a member of Torah VeHa'aretz Institute's English WhatsApp group, contacted Torah VeHa'aretz Institute to produce clips together to educate the public about the unique mitzvah of bi'ur. We are looking forward to working together and bring the message of bi'ur to everyone.
Ordering information for Shenat Hasheva and other shemitah wine and oil products is available on our website here.
Join our Shemitah Updates English WhatsApp group here.