Israeli Fruit on Tu B’Shvat
I know on Tu B'Shvat we have the custom of eating various fruits, especially the seven species Israel is famous for. I specifically try to purchase fruit grown in Israel for the occasion. Is there any kashrut issue with doing so in general? I’m concerned especially about this year (5775 – 2014-15) which is a Shmitta year. Can one be lenient to purchase exported sabbatical year fruits for the sake of fulfilling the Tu B’Shvat custom?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Crops grown in Israel are subject to a number of tithing laws. In general you should only purchase Israeli produce with reliable certification – or tithe the produce yourself. You should not simply buy from an unsupervised store outside of Israel assuming that someone in Israel properly did the tithes. Here is a past response which discusses this: Israeli Produce.
In terms of Shmitta, the laws of the Sabbatical Year are significant and must be properly observed – whereas eating fruit on Tu B’Shvat is only a custom, and a relatively recent one at that. A law almost always outweighs a custom – just as a more serious law trumps a more minor one. (We likewise go so far as refraining from blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah when it falls on Shabbat, out of concern a person may carry a shofar outside on Shabbat.) In fact, Shmitta fruits are considered sacred and are not supposed to be exported outside Israel at all.
In truth, most of the fruit currently on the market (Tu B’Shvat, 2015) does not have the status of Shmitta produce. For the purposes of Jewish law, most fruits are considered to have grown in the year they began growing, rather than the year they were picked. Thus, fruit which is being picked now is considered sixth-year produce. It requires tithing but does not have the sanctity of Shmitta. For next year, however, you should either spend the holiday in Israel or buy fruits grown in California. Of course, we can and should thank God for the fruits He blesses us with everywhere in the world.