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Explanation of olei Mitzrayim

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What does olei Mitzrayim on labels mean? Does it have kedushat shevi'it? Why is it possible to grow crops there during shemitah? Why do the rabbis of Torah VeHa'aretz Institute consider this produce mehadrin?


Rabbi Moshe Bloom

Torah VeHa'aretz Institute rules that the fruits and vegetables that grow in olei Mitzrayim areas – both Aravah and Western Negev (plus heter mechirah lechumra) –do not have kedushat shevi'it and are kosher lamehadrin.

Mishnah (Shevi'it 6:1) defines three areas in the Land of Israel for shemitah-related purposes.

In the most constricted area shemitah laws apply in full. In a more expansive territory shemitah laws apply in part. In the most expansive territory (still part of the Land of Israel), shemitah laws do not apply at all.

The most accepted explanation is as follows:
The constricted area is olei Bavel, the territory where Jews settled during the Second Temple times.
The middle area is olei Mitzrayim, described in parashat Masei (Bamidbar 34), conquered by Yehoshua bin Nun with the Israelites when they entered the Land of Israel.
The most expansive territory is known as gevulot ha'avtachah, the promised boarders, which Hashem promised Avraham Avinu, "from the River of Egypt until the Great River, River Perat (Euphrates), which includes large swaths of territory in Transjordan.

In the middle area (see Shabbat Ha'aretz IV 26, Torah VeHa'aretz ed.): according to all opinions, the sefichin decree does not apply (a rabbinic prohibition to eat or benefit from vegetables that began to sprout during the shemitah year, whether self-seeding or planted in a forbidden manner).

Some are lenient and hold that it is permissible for a Jew to work land owned by a non-Jew, since kedushat shevi'it does not apply to land owned by non-Jews (this is true even according to those who hold that in olei Bavel the produce growing in land owned by a non-Jew has kedushat shevi'it – the Mabit's opinion, relied on by the Chazon Ish.)

There are additional leniencies:

Some maintain that lo techonam does not apply in these areas (so selling land to a non-Jew is not problematic).

Some hold there is no kedushat shevi'it here (Gra, according to Rash).

Some permit working the land (Rabbi Yisraeli).

Some hold that bi'ur does not apply.
Some maintain that ne'evad is not an issue (eating produce for which prohibited activities were performed for).

Torah VeHa'aretz Institute follows the ruling of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, that for produce growing in olei Mitzrayim one may rely lechatchilah on heter mechirah, even if one does not rely on the sale for olei Bavel areas.

From Rabbi S.Z. Auerbach's ruling, it seems that those who do not rely on heter mechirah normally should treat olei Mitzrayim produce as having kedushat shevi'it. The rabbis of Torah VeHa'aretz Institute disagree.

Practically speaking:
For produce sold by Otzar Ha'aretz grown in olei Mitzrayim, biblical prohibitions (sowing, pruning, harvesting) are performed only by non-Jews, while rabbinic prohibitions are performed by Jews. No Kedushat Shevi'it for thhi prduce.

Olei Mitzrayim includes: Area west of the Ashkelon-Nitzana line, including Eshkol strip, where there is much farmland, and former Gush Katif. It also includes the area south of the line from the Dead Sea through Wadi Tzin and Nahal HaLavan—that is, the entire Aravah area.

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