Q. May I currently purchase and consume Israeli fruit, such as clementines, without separating Terumah and Maaser?
A. In theory, fruit which grew or blossomed during a shmitah year is exempt from Terumah and Maaser because shmitah fruit is hefker (ownerless). Most Israeli fruit currently available in the market (Spring – Summer 2016) blossomed during the shmitah year, and separating Terumah and Maaser should be unnecessary. However, in practice, Terumah and Maaser must be separated, if the fruit is not properly certified, for the following reason.
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel sells the farms in Israel to non-Jews to remove the shmitah status. This is known as the Heter Mechira. For over 150 years, a strong debate has been waged among poskim about the propriety and efficacy of selling farmland to non-Jews.
If the Mechira is valid, then the fruit does not have a shmitah status, and Terumah and Maaser must be separated. If the Mechira is invalid, separating Terumah and Maaser is not required. Nonetheless, in practice, Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach (Minchas Shlomo 1:44) recommends that everyone should separate Terumah and Maaser. This is because even those who do not rely on the Mechira nevertheless treat it as an uncertainty. Since the Mechira may be effective, Terumah and Maaser must be separated mi’safek (as a possible obligation).
For the procedure to separate Terumah and Maaser, see https://oukosher.org/blog/consumer-kosher/separating-terumah-and-maaser/
This column comes from OU Kosher’s Halacha Yomis dedicated in memory of Rav Chaim Yisroel ben Reb Dov HaLevy Belsky, zt’l, Senior OU Kosher Halachic Consultant (1987-2016). Subscribers can also ask their own questions on Kashrus issues and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. These questions and their answers may be selected to become one of the Q and A’s on OU Kosher Halacha Yomis.