Rabbi Meir Orlean
Menachem was a produce supplier. He wanted to expand his business and become the premier supplier of lettuce for Maror on Pesach.
He contacted a large number of farmers who grew lettuce, some Jewish and some non-Jewish, and entered business contracts with them. The contracts stipulated various kashrus requirements, including those related to bug infestation.
As Pesach approached, Menachem was extremely busy. He traveled around, checking the various farms where the lettuce was grown.
He arrived at a certain farm, owned by a non-Jew. “Look at this lettuce,” the farmer said with pride. “Have you ever seen such a fine crop?”
Menachem examined the lettuce, and saw, indeed, that it was high quality. “The heads are truly beautiful,” he said. “I’d be happy to use one myself on Pesach.”
“If you have time, you can come just before Pesach!” the farmer laughed. “You can even pick a head straight from the ground, fresh for the Seder!”
“I might just take you up on that!” Menachem replied.
A few days later Menachem heard that the farmer was involved in litigation. Upon checking into the matter, he discovered that there was a question about his ownership of the land. A Jew claimed that the land belonged to him, and the farmer had stolen it from him.
“Can I buy the lettuce from this farmer when there is a question about ownership of the land?” he wondered.
He turned to Rabbi Dayan.
“Is there any issue about the lettuce?” Menachem asked. “Does it make a difference who picks it?”
“The Gemara (Sukkos 30a) teaches that a Jew should not cut hadassim from the land of a non-Jew, since the land might be stolen from a Jew,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Stolen land remains in the ownership of its owner even if he despairs of reclaiming it, so that when a Jew cuts the hadassim himself it is considered stealing from the rightful owner, and the hadassim would be disqualified as mitzvah habaah baaveirah. Rather, the non-Jew should cut those hadassim so that they will become detached already in his hands, and then the Jew can acquire the hadassim when he takes possession of them” (O.C. 649:1).
“Would the same apply therefore to lettuce for Maror and wheat for matzah?” asked Menachem.
“Magen Avraham (473:14) cites from Mahari Weil (#193) that Rav Anshel raised this question and remained uncertain,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, Mahari Weil rejects the analogy since, unlike the hadas that stays in the ground and therefore is like the ground, maror does not stay in the ground.”
“Magen Avraham interprets this to mean that therefore the maror is considered detached, even while growing, so that the non-Jew can acquire it, and when the Jew harvests, it is considered a change of hands into his possession,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Magen Avraham rejects this notion, though, since anything attached to the ground is considered like the ground, certainly things rooted in the ground such as maror. He suggests that perhaps Mahari Weil’s intention was that the maror was already fully grown and ready to be picked, and he maintains that produce that is ready to be detached is considered detached and possible to be acquired (see C.M. 95:2, 193:1).”
“Then the problem of mitzvah habaah baaveirah would not apply to maror and wheat,” noted Menachem.
“Chasam Sofer (O.C. 473; Responsa, O.C. 128) suggests further that since the non-Jew plants the lettuce and wheat yearly, and they grow from his efforts,” added Rabbi Dayan, “They are therefore considered his, despite that fact that the land may be stolen, unlike a tree that grows on its own and endures, and may have already been on the ground when the non-Jew stole it (Pischei Choshen, Geneivah 6:16).
“The wheat, in any case, is ground into flour and baked and changes form, so that there is no concern,” added Rabbi Dayan.