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Separating terumot and ma'aserot in public markets

Separating terumot and ma'aserot in public markets

Should we tithe tomatoes we bought at the shuk? Can we be sure that the carrots we bought at the supermarket were properly tithed? This review covers tithing practices in public markets: supermarkets, wholesalers, green grocers, open markets, and more.

Rabbi David Eigner, 5772

Hilchot Ha'aretz, pp.71-75[1]


Please note that the purpose of the following survey is not to be lenient about separating terumot and ma'aserot in places that do not carry kashrut supervision. Of course, when there is a doubt whether terumot and ma'aserot were separated, one should take them without a blessing. The purpose of this survey is to describe the present situation for separating terumot and ma'aserot and the kashrut supervision on the macro level in the State of Israel. Note too that while this survey was written in 5772 (2012), the situation and work methods described in the article below are the same today (Elul 5778, August 2018); however the situation may change in the future. 


Agricultural GNP in Israel comes to 5 million tons annually (per data provided by the Central Bureau of Statistic for 2017), of which approximately 3.5 million is sold as fresh produce.[2]

The vast majority of fruit is grown by Jews (about 99%); Druze growers account for a small percentage of apple growers. While there is a much greater percentage of non-Jewish vegetable growers, it is not very significant (aside from cucumbers); in any case, it is difficult to give a precise estimate of the percentage of vegetables grown by non-Jews (=Arabs).

There are several major bodies that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Below we will outline the kashrut practices of each of these organizations.

  1. Wholesale markets (such as the Tzrifin wholesale, Jerusalem wholesale, etc.)
  2. Major supermarket chains and private wholesalers (such as Shupersal, Co-op, Bikurei HaSade Darom and Tzafon)
  3. Small supermarket chains (such as Super Sapir and Yochananof)
  4. Green grocers and open markets, found in every city
  5. The IDF

Supermarket chains are taking over more and more of the fresh produce sales. The small supermarket chains receive their produce primarily from private wholesalers, and at times even from the wholesale market.

The major supermarkets have an independent logistics center, where they handle all of the agricultural produce they sell. As needed, they supplement from the wholesale market. Some agricultural produce is first sorted in packaging houses (citrus fruit, avocado, carrots, and potatoes), and terumot and ma'aserot are generally separated onsite. When produce is tithed, this is stamped on the delivery note. If stamped, terumot and ma'aserot are not taken again at the wholesale market or supermarket chains.

All of the wholesale market and major supermarket chains are under kashrut supervision, but the certification is provided by the local rabbinate, not by the Chief Rabbinate. Even so, there are several problems with terumot and ma'aserot that exist throughout all of the public produce sales systems in Israel.

When a private individual wants to separate terumot and ma'aserot from fruit that grew on his tree or that he bought, all of the fruit is before him, and he has full control over this separation.

On the other hand, in any public system: (1) kashrut supervisors and managers do not have full control over everything going on, especially since the produce moves from place to place whenever possible, (2) there is insufficient manpower that can be present every place that the produce moves to at any given moment, (3) in the small supermarkets there is a certain percentage of produce that arrives straight from the farmers, without first passing through logistics centers or the wholesale market (we will provide a detailed explanation of these issues below).

The Wholesale Market

Kashrut practices in the wholesale market is as follows: every kashrut supervisor is responsible for at least four stores. He visits the store at the start of the  work day (usually between 12:30-2:00 AM) and receives the delivery certificate, by which he knows which produce arrived. He then takes terumot and ma'aserot from the produce. Throughout the day he continues to go from store to store and approve the produce that continues to arrive. The mashgiach tithes according to the weight of the produce, which appears on the delivery certificate. For this purpose, farmers generally prepare crates of inferior produce that can be used for tithing. After the mashgiach finishes tithing, he sings off on the delivery certificate, certifying that the produce is tithed.

The market is constantly active, with produce going in and out all the time. This is why it is entirely plausible that produce will reach the store and be sold without the mashgiach taking terumot and ma'aserot. The scope of produce that has not gone by a mashgiach is approximately 4% every day. The mashgiach cannot stop produce from leaving the premises, and the amount he tithes is ultimately tied to the rate of his work {his pace}.

There are even cases, for one reason or another, when the mashgiach does not receive a certificate of delivery note whatsoever, and does not know which produce came in, what its weight is, etc. This is not a common phenomenon, however. Generally the mashgiach knows exactly what produce comes that day to the market, but, again, not all of it necessarily leaves tithed. If produce leaves untithed, there is an attempt made to notify the supermarkets. At the end of each day, a list is compiled of untithed produce that left the premises. In any case, the policy is that produce cannot leave the area with an unsigned delivery note. A significant percentage of the people who buy the merchandise from the wholesale market and sell it to the shops in the open market are Arabs.

Major Supermarket Chains and Private Wholesalers

The major supermarket chains and private wholesalers have independent logistics centers, through which all of the produce comes that will be sold.

Kashrut policy: The mashgiach independently takes down a record of the incoming produce. This list includes: supplier name, type and weight of produce, and whether or not it is tithed. At the end of the work day, he does a comparison between his notes and the computer data received. Each delivery that goes out is supposed to have the stamp of the mashgiach of that specific logistics center. The produce leaves the logistics center with a filled-out delivery note and barcodes on each crate. This policy makes it possible to have a good measure of control over the produce there.

In spite of all of these measures, there are two main sales methods used in major supermarket chains that can give rise to kashrut problems. These methods are: (1) consignment and (2) direct sales.

Consignment is a sales method used generally among the retail supermarket chains. According to this method, produce vendor (farmers) continue to own the produce even when it is displayed for sale, and the payment to the vendor is made only after the produce is sold to the end-consumer. This is the method used for produce with short shelf-life, such as strawberries, and produce that is generally refrigerated (leafy vegetables, organic produce, etc.). The supermarket is not authorized to accept produce in this way without a kashrut certificate from the rabbinate. The problem is, though, that this depends on the mashgiach's extent of control of the situation, which is why the rabbinate approves sales in this method only when produce is tithed onsite in the farm.

Direct sales: At times it is not profitable for wholesalers or supermarkets to concentrate all of their produce in their logistics center and then distribute it from there to distant locations. Sometimes wholesalers or supermarkets prefer that growers send the produce directly to the supermarkets. Either farmers truck their produce independently to supermarkets, or trucks belonging to the supermarket chain distribute the produce to supermarkets on the way to the logistics center. For this reason, when the delivery note comes to the logistics center, there is no way of knowing where all the produce is. What this means is that fruits and vegetables are delivered to the supermarkets before their details are registered with the wholesaler, and it is highly possible that they are sold without the knowledge of the mashgiach working in the logistics center. At times, farmers come to a meeting point and transfer their produce directly to the supermarket's boxes, without passing though the logistics center. This type of sales method is generally linked with the distance to the logistics center, and not necessarily with the type of produce.  While the official policy is that no direct sales are made, the policy is not fully enforced.

Small supermarkets and supermarket branches

Each branch that receives produce has its own mashgiach whose job it is to take care of all kashrut issues in the supermarket (fruits and vegetables, the meat departments, the bakery, imported items, etc.).

This mashgiach, employed by the local rabbinate, inspects the incoming produce at these small supermarkets. If the produce arrives stamped, the mashgiach does not tithe it; but if it comes unstamped the policy is that the mashgiach takes terumot and ma'aserot. At times he contacts the mashgiach in the logistics center or the wholesale market to inquire why the produce is not stamped. This check by the mashgiach in the location receiving the produce is supposed to take care of any produce that arrives untithed or unstamped by the wholesaler or in the logistics center. However, even in these places there can still be problems due to consignment and direct sales.

The open market and green grocers

Some 90% of the produce reaches the open market and green grocers from the wholesale markets, while the remaining 10% comes directly from growers. Green grocers and stores in the open market are allowed to purchase produce directly from growers. Their kashrut policy is that the mashgiach goes to these stores twice a day, looks over the produce that comes, checks the delivery note, and takes terumot and ma'aserot from the produce. In practice, though, the mashgiach might come only once a day. If so, there is no practical way for the mashgiach to be in control of all the produce delivered. This problem exists in all of the open markets.[3]


Kashrut policy: the IDF requires a kashrut certificate from every supplier. There are instances where they take terumot and ma'aserot again, even when the produce comes with a delivery note, but generally they don't tithe a second time. Tithing is done according to the number of crates, and they round up (one percent plus a little bit). In any case, each crate is not weighed. When a crate includes produce from two suppliers, each one is tithed separately, even if they are the same type of produce.

Terumot and ma'aserot are taken after the IDF purchases the produce, and signs off on the delivery note. Before every truck leaves, it must receive verification that its produce is tithed. The mashgiach kashrut or the chaplain on base that receives the produce is in charge of verifying that the produce that arrives is, indeed, tithed. This procedure minimizes any possible mistakes.

There are army bases (primarily the large ones) that independently order produce. There are supposed to follow the IDF's kashrut policy mentioned above. In bases where a third party is responsible for food there is major who is responsible for kashrut.

So that there won't be an issue of taking terumot and ma'aserot from petor al hachiyuv -produce that was tithed (petor)  to cover the tevel produce (chiyuv), a condition is made that if the civilian mashgiach took ma'aser properly, then the ma'aser of the army's mashgiach will not apply; if the ma'aser was not done properly (such as when there is missing produce), then the ma'aser of the army mashgiach will apply.

Ma'aser Ani

The local rabbinates are independent with regard to dealing with ma'aser ani. Every place that separates ma'aser ani works with one or more charities that they transfer the equivalent of the ma'aser ani—either transferring the value each time, or by a one-time lump sum, as a contract using the halachic concept of makarei ani'im (a friend of the poor).

The charity organization is compensated either by money or fruit, and the sum is marginal. What this means is that buyers can receive, along with the produce they buy, fruits and vegetables that really belong to the poor. In 5771, for example, the IDF had a contract with Ezer Mitziyon, to transfer them NIS 20 for every crate.

The role of the Chief Rabbinate

The Chief Rabbinate is a supervisory organization that also determines basic policies, and also helps local rabbis when needed. The mashgiach or manager onsite has the authority to void kashrut certification when there is lack of cooperation on the part of the store, or when they fail to provide important information {hide/obfuscate information}. The rabbinate enforces basic policy. There are also Badatz agencies that cooperate to a certain extent, and in these cases they raise the bar for kashrut on a whole.


Although large strides have been made by the very fact that the wholesale markets and the major supermarket chains are supervised by the local rabbinates, there are still several issues that need to be addressed:

Wholesale market: The mashgichim do not have full control on the kashrut of all of the produce going in and out, due to the nature of the market and lack of manpower.

Major supermarket chains: The level of supervision and control of separating terumot and ma'aserot in the major supermarket chains is reasonably good. Even so, there is still a problem when produce reaches the stores without first going through the logistics center.

Green grocers and the open market: Produce comes directly from farmers, and the mashgiach cannot be present all the time onsite to oversee the produce delivered.

All in all, we can conclude that the kashrut situation is the best in supermarkets with independent logistics centers; after that are the independent wholesalers, and then the wholesale market.

See as well the Halachic guide: "What do we do today with terumot and ma'aserit in Israel: a brief overview", here


[1] Rabbi David Eigner wrote this article after receiving data and conversing at length with Rabbi Mordechai Biderman (Head of the Department for Land-Related Mitzvot, Chief Rabbinate), Rabbi Chaim Dagan (Supermarket Chain Coordinator, Chief Rabbinate), Rabbi Rafi Sheinfeld of the Military Rabbinate. We thank them for their tremendous assistance in gathering the data presented here. This survey was published in Emunat Itecha 92 (5772, 2012), pp.70-75 (Hebrew).

[2] Fresh produce includes fresh fruits and vegetables, while agricultural produce that is not fresh includes grains, legumes, and oil grains, as well as foods produced for animal forage.

[3] This has practical halachic significance for orlah.