Shmita Terms

Shmita Terms
An explanation of basic concepts in anticipation of the upcoming shmita year.
Otzar Beit-Din
The farmer is required to relinquish ownership of his land and is prohibited from selling his produce
during the sabbatical year. This evokes two concerns: that the farmer will lose motivation to maintain
his fields and that an uncontrolled rush on his crops will ensue. Therefore the ‘beit-din’ assumes
responsibility for maintaining and marketing the crops; the farmer and the marketer act as agents of the
‘beit-din’ while the ‘beit-din’ compensates the various workers for their services and expenses.
Do not confuse this term with ‘Otzar Ha-aretz’ that is a marketing body that markets Jewish agricultural
produce without relying on the ‘heter mechira’. (See below).
The Torah states (Lev. 25,7) “Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its
crops to eat.” Chazal learned from this verse that it is permitted to store produce in one’s home as long
as “the animals can eat it in the field”- meaning that the species is available in the land. When the
appropriate time for bi’ur arrives the crops should be removed, declared ownerless, and made available
to anyone who claims them. Following bi’ur they may be reclaimed by the owner.
This is a long-standing farming method (employed mainly at Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim), based on the
halachic premise that it is permissible to sow in unperforated containers that are situated under a roof.
One method involves the cultivation of vegetables on a bed of gravel and water under a temporary roof.
A similar principle was implemented in the Gush Katif hothouses that used detached growing beds.
Poskim are divided as to the blessing – ‘shehakol’ or ‘borei pri ha’adama’ - that should be recited over
hydroponically grown vegetables.
Seeding a lawn (or laying sod) is prohibited during shmita though watering and mowing are permitted.
See the appended halachot regarding quantities and measurements for mowing and watering.
Heter Mechira
In order to enable certain types of agricultural work to continue during shmita it was proposed that the
land be sold provisionally to a non-Jew (as in ‘mechirat chametz’). This ‘heter’ is based on the opinion
that views shmita nowadays as rabbinically binding and thus gentile ownership annuls the sanctity of
the land. The ‘heter’ was instituted in 1889 and has been applied since then despite opposition from the
onset stemming from a variety of halachic considerations. The Chief Rabbinate has once again
authorized the ‘heter mechira’ for the forthcoming shmita year of 5775, after ensuring that biblically
prohibited labor will be performed by non-Jews.
Viduy Ma’asrot
Twice during the shmita cycle- on Passover (on the eve of the first or seventh day, depending on the
posek) of the fourth and seventh year, there is an obligation to remove the tithes and remaining priestly
gifts from the home and to declare that one has fulfilled one’s tithe obligations. Therefore ‘viduy
ma’asrot’ will be performed during the 5775 shmita year at Mincha of the seventh day of Passover
(according to most opinions).
Zmira (pruning)
Pruning is one of the four primary labors (sowing, pruning, reaping and harvesting grapes) that are
prohibited during the sabbatical year by the Torah. Refer to the appended halachot of household
gardens for an explanation of what is permissible and prohibited in terms of pruning.
Calculation of the Shmita Cycle
The calculation of the shmita cycle is a contested issue that is tenanted on several disputes in the
Gemara regarding when exactly the Second Temple was destroyed, whether the Yovel cycle was
observed during the Second Temple period etc. The Rambam (Hilchot Shmita and Yovel ch. 10, Halacha
8) ruled according to the prevailing custom: “ And the year of Shmitah is well known by the Geonim
and the people of Eretz Yisrael…. And this is what we rely on, and according to this calculation we
teach for the matter of Maaser, and Shmitah, and Shmitat Kesafim, for the tradition and the deed are
great pillars for instruction, and upon them it is proper to depend.”
Grinding Fruits of the Sabbatical Year
One of the aspects that reflect the sanctity of the sabbatical year inherent in its fruit is the prohibition
against changing the form of such fruit out of concern for wastage. Therefore it is forbidden to grind or
pulverize fruits of the sabbatical year since this is not the manner in which they are normally consumed.
It is permitted to crush or puree fruit in a manner that allows their original form to be discerned.
Upon the completion of seven shmita cycles the Torah ordains that we observe the Yovel (during which
all the agricultural laws of shmita obtain and which additionally entails the emancipation of slaves and
the reversion of all land that had been sold to its owners) during the fiftieth year. Chazal taught us that
Yovel is observed only when “All its inhabitants are present” – in other words, when all of Israel is in its
land. Therefore, once the tribes of Gad, Reuven and half of the tribe of Menashe were exiled, Yovel was
discontinued until the present day (Rishonim are divided as to whether Yovel was observed during the
Second Temple period). The opinion that views shmita nowadays as not ordained by the Torah derives
from the premise that when Yovel is not observed then the observance of shmita is not biblically
Conquest of Olei Mitzrayim
According to the Rambam (Hilchot Terumot ch.1 inter alia) the sanctity of the Land (regarding ‘mitzvot
ha-tluyot ba’aretz’) commenced with the first conquest by the Israelites who came out of Egypt but was
obviated by the destruction of the First Temple. Regions of the country outside of the boundaries of
‘Olei MItzrayim’ (such as the Southern Arava) are not subject to any shmita restrictions. There are also
leniencies regarding those regions that were included within the boundaries of ‘Olei MIitzayim’ but not
within the borders of ‘Olei Bavel’ (see below).
L’Okmei Ilana – L’Avruyai Ilana
Within the category of labors defined as secondary (toladot) rather than primary labors (see zmira
below), activities designed to prevent the plant from dying (okmei liana=to sustain the tree) are
permitted while activates intended to improve its quality or promote its growth (avruyai liana) are not.
Matza Menutak (detached growing beds)
See “hydroponics”. The mitigating criteria that permit the labors are the plants’ location under a roof
and the fact that they are not sustained from the earth due to a plastic divider separating the crops from
the soil.
Nochrim (non-Jews)
There is a dispute among poskim regarding the sanctity of fruit grown in Israel during the sabbatical year
(‘kedushat shvi’it’) in fields owned by non –Jews. The Shulchan Aruch holds that they do not possess
‘kedushat shvi’it’ and therefore they may be purchased and consumed without restrictions. This is the
prevalent custom in Jerusalem and throughout most of Israel. According to the Radbaz, however, fruits
grown by non-Jews also retain ‘kedushat shevi’it. This is also the halachic opinion of the Chazon Ish that
is followed in Bnei Brak. Regarding the sale of land to a non-Jew see ’heter mechira’.
“All produce that grows from the earth in the Sabbatical year: whether it grew from seeds that fell into
the earth before the Sabbatical year... or grasses and vegetables that grew on their own accord [in the
Sabbatical year], is permitted to be eaten according to Scriptural Law…According to Rabbinic decree, all
the ‘sifichin’ are forbidden to be eaten. Why was a decree established concerning them? Because of the
transgressors”. (Rambam, Hilchot Shmita ve-Yovel, ch. 4 halacha 1-2). The prohibition of ‘sifichin’ applies
to vegetables, legumes and grains whose main period of germination occurred during the shmita year.
However, produce that grew - even partially - during the sixth year does not fall under the prohibited of
Olei Bavel
When the exiled Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael from Babylon after 70 years, the areas of the land
occupied by the returnees regained its sanctity. The Yerushalmi Talmud delineates the boundaries of
‘olei Bavel’ (Shvi’it 86) and in the Baraita in Techumin (in the Sifri). The Gaza region, the Arava, the Beth
She’an Valley (according to most opinions), the Jordan Valley (the area of Tzemach –Ein-Gev), the
Hermon and the northern Golan Heights do not fall within these boundaries.
Another facet of the shmita year is the ‘shmitat ksafim’ – the cancellation of debts resulting from private
loans. When Hillel the Elder saw that people refused to loan money during the latter years of the shmita
cycle, from fear that the debt would be unremitted, he instituted the ‘Prozbul’ - authorization granted
by the lender that transferred the loan to the ‘beit-din’. The ‘Prozbul’ is also based on the premise of the
sabbatical year being rabbinically ordained. Since most poskim hold that debts are forgiven at the end of
the sabbatical year, the writ of ‘Prozbul’ will be signed during the month of Elul 5775.
Wild Plants (see sifichin)
Kedushat Shvi’it (produce invested with the sanctity of the shmita year)
The fruits that are lawfully grown during the shmita year are invested with sanctity that entails: the
obligation to renounce ownership of them; prohibition of their sale, of their wastage, of their
exportation outside of Israel; the commandment of ‘bi’ur’ (see above). According to the Rambam it is a
positive, biblically ordained mitzvah to consume fruits that retain ‘kedushat shvi’it’. According to Tosfot
(Tractate Gitin) however, it is preferable to refrain from consuming fruit that retains this sanctity since it
is difficult to observe the exhaustive details of the relevant halachot. See under “Nochrim” regarding the
‘kedushat shvi’it’ of fruits grown by non-Jews.
The Golan Heights
Rishonim were divided as to whether ‘olei Bavel’ occupied the Transjordan (including the Golan
Heights).Most poskim concluded that the entire northern Transjordan was occupied by the returnees
from Babylon; therefore all the laws of shmita and the other ‘mitzvot ha-teluyot ba’aretz” are binding in
these areas.
The Sabbatical of the Land
Another term for shmita that entails not only that the farmer desists from agricultural labor but also
that the earth itself lies fallow. According to the Abarbanel in his commentary on Pirkei Avot, this attests
to the spiritual loftiness of the Land. Shabbat Ha-aretz is also the name of the monumental work by Rav
Kook z”l on the topic of the laws of shmita and Yovel.
Tosefet Shvi’it
The same principle that mandates that we “add from chol (the profane) to kodesh (the holy)” in respect
to Shabbat and holidays, also obtains in regard to shmita. This addition manifests in a graduated
manner: thirty days preceding shmita it is prohibited – by halacha as conveyed to Moshe at Sinai - to
work the land. The rabbinic prohibitions obtain even earlier: orchards (Sde Ilan) may not be cultivated
from Shavuot, and grains (Sde Halavan) from Passover. These additions were binding in the period
during which the Temple was standing; nowadays none of these additions are binding.
Laws of Shmita
1. The upcoming year, 5775, is a shmita year according to the prevailing tradition in Eretz Yisrael.
Though according to the Rambam’s enumeration this is not the case, he asserts “The reckoning
of the Sabbatical year is well-known and renowned among the Geonim and the people of Eretz
Yisrael...We rely on this tradition and we rule according to it with regard to the tithes, the
Sabbatical year, and the nullification of debts, for the received tradition and deed are great
pillars in establishing Halachic rulings and it is appropriate to rely on them” (Hilchot Shmita
ve’Yovel ch. 10 halacha 6).”
The shmita year begins on the first day of Tishrei (5775) and ends on the 29th of Elul yet as will
be explained herein, certain aspects of the shmita year obtain already in 5774 while others
persist into 5776.
‘Tosefet Shvi’It’: In principle, the law requires us to “add from the profane to the holy”.
According to the Rambam (Hilchot Shmita ve-Yovel, ch. 3, halacha 1) “It is a halacha conveyed to
Moshe at Sinai that it is forbidden to work the land in the last 30 days of the sixth year, just
before the Sabbatical year…Our Sages extended that prohibition, decreeing that one should not
plow an orchard in the year preceding the Sabbatical year in the era of the Temple after
Shavuot, nor a field of grain after Pesach” However, he adds “In the era where the Temple does
not stand, we are permitted to perform agricultural work until Rosh Hashanah, as permitted by
Scriptural Law”. Nowadays, therefore, the laws of ‘tosefet shvi’it’ are unfortunately
fundamentally obsolete. Exceptions to this rule are elaborated below.
Poskim are divided regarding the validity of shmita nowadays: most poskim hold that shmita
nowadays is a rabbinic obligation while others view it as biblically ordained. Still others reject its
rabbinic validity and contend that shmita nowadays is a mere ‘degree of of piety’. The
interpretation of the Rambam’s view is hotly disputed. Rav Kook asserts that the obligation of
shmita is rabbinic (his ‘heter mechira’ is based on this premise). The Chazon Ish concurs with this
approach (Shvi’it siman 3 para. 8) “it seems to me that regarding shmita nowadays, we must
assume that it is a rabbinic obligation since that is the Rambam’s opinion” (he rejects ‘heter
mechira’ on other grounds). In contradistinction, there are achronim who hold that shmita
nowadays is a biblical obligation.
Even when shmita is biblically ordained, the biblical injunction prohibits only the following
labors: sowing, pruning (for the purpose of enhancing growth. According to the Chazon Ish the
biblical prohibition applies only to grapevines), reaping (only for the land owner, it is forbidden
to reap “in the manner of the reapers”) and grape harvesting (as above). Poskim are divided
regarding plowing and planting. The prohibition against other types of agricultural labors is
Practical conclusions: Labors prohibited by the Torah are prohibited in any situation while
rabbinically prohibited labors may be performed in order to conserve the plant (‘okmai ilana’)
but not to improve its quality (‘avruyai ilana’). Those who hold by the ‘heter mechira’ do not
perform biblically prohibited labors themselves but rather depend on non-Jews to perform them
if warranted, in accordance with Rav Kook’s ruling that the Chief Rabbinate has continually
Chazal appended the prohibition against “sifichin” to the biblically prohibited prohibitions,
meaning that it is forbidden to consume grains, vegetables and legumes that grew during the
sabbatical year, regardless of whether they grew on their own accord or whether they were
sowed by a Jew in violation of the commandment. The prohibition excludes fruit since they are
not habitually sown on an annual basis (they are perennials).Poskim disagree on the definition
of the term “grown during the sabbatical year”. The various calendars that are circulated
(regarding ‘sifichin’ and ‘kdushat shvi’it’) are based on the following ruling: Vegetables- if the
vegetable was sown during the sabbatical year or during the sixth year but germinated during
the sabbatical year, the prohibition of ‘sifichin’ is binding. However, if the sowing and the
germination both took place before Rosh Hashanah, the vegetable is attributed to the sixth year,
even if its main growth occurred during shmita. Similarly, a vegetable initially grown in a
hothouse and later transplanted to the field during the sabbatical year (with a block of earth) is
not subject to the prohibition of ‘sifichin’. Grains and Legumes - the prohibition of ‘sifichin’ is
not binding on the condition that a third of the growth cycle, at minimum, occurred during the
sixth year.
8. Fruits and vegetables of the sabbatical year that are exempt from the prohibition of ‘sifichin’ are
nonetheless invested with ‘kedushat shvi’it’. Attribution of a fruit or vegetable to the sabbatical
year (in terms of ‘kedusha’) is determined according to the following criteria: vegetablesaccording to the time of picking (harvest), fruit - according to the time of the initial setting of the
fruit buds (‘hanata’), grains and legumes - according to when a third of their growth took place.
(For example: tomatoes that will be marketed during Cheshvan 5775 will be exempt from the
prohibition of ‘sifichin’ (since they germinated before Rosh Hashanah) yet they will retain
‘kedushat shvi’it’ (since they were picked after Rosh Hashanah). Winter fruit are not subject to
the prohibition of ‘sifichin’ nor do they retain ‘kedushat shvi’it’ (since their buds initially set
before Rosh Hashanah). Summer fruit are also exempt from ‘sifichin’ (as fruit) and retain
‘kedushat shvi’it’. Similar calculations must be conducted during 5776 regarding vegetables that
germinated or were harvested and regarding fruit whose buds initially set (‘hanata’) during the
shmita year. The practical halachot of ‘kedushat shvi’it’ will be elaborated below.
Shmita in the Home and the Household Garden
Preparations for the Shmita Year
1. The Chief Rabbinate has ordained that ‘heter mechira’ should not be utilized for private
household gardens since no real economic exigency is at stake. Therefore, all biblically
prohibited labors are forbidden in the household garden during shmita. Other activities
designed to expedite the growth of plants are also prohibited though they may be permitted
when they are deemed vital for conservation of existing vegetation and as a preventive measure
against future damage.
2. Non-agricultural improvements- such as paving roads and sidewalks, excavating for
construction etc. are permissible during shmita though putting down soil for a garden, even if no
planting or sowing is planned, is prohibited.
3. As aforesaid, some poskim maintain that planting is a biblically prohibited labor that is
unconditionally prohibited during shmita. Therefore, fruit tree saplings with emerged roots
should be planted by the 15th of Av. Potted fruit trees planted within a clod of earth in a
perforated pot (or perforated plastic container) may be planted until the eve of Rosh Hashanah
on condition that the clod of earth will not disintegrate during planting. (This halacha is salient
to the calculation of the years of ‘orlah’: if the tree is planted after the 15th of Av, the first year
for calculating ‘orlah’ is the shmita year and there is concern for ‘marit ayin’.
4. This concern does not apply to non-fruit bearing and ornamental trees and therefore they may
be planted until the eve of Rosh Hashanah (according the Chazon Ish). A stringency that some
follow is to plant non-fruit bearing trees only until the 15th of Elul and flowers and annual plants
until the 26 of Elul and to water them immediately.
5. Seeding a lawn is similar in principle to planting ornamental plants. However it is preferable to
seed a lawn earlier, during the spring of the year preceding shmita so that the grass has a
chance to proliferate and cover the entire area before Rosh Hashanah. This is vital so as to
prevent the mowing of the lawn (that boosts the lateral growth of the grass) from causing it to
spread and cover the bald areas. Sod may be laid until the 15th of Elul so that the initial mowing
can be performed before the start of the shmita year.
6. As a rule, it is preferable to make the necessary preparations in advance, before the onset of
shmita, in terms of pruning, fertilization and weeding, so as to avoid unessential maintenance
during shmita.
Maintenance of the Garden during Shmita
Irrigation is permitted to conserve the health of the vegetation (without enhancing growth)
however care must be taken to irrigate only requisitely.
Comprehensive weeding of the entire garden is prohibited. It is permissible to remove weeds (in
the manner described below) that might harbor harmful insects or weeds growing in proximity
to the plants, which might harm or inflict future damage on the plants.
Order of priority for weeding: 1. spraying herbicides for weed control 2. Cutting with a scythe,
above the ground 3. Uprooting the weeds from the root (manually). The earth should not be
tilled or ‘turned over’ to facilitate weeding.
Trimming for the purpose of enhancing growth is prohibited. Trimming is permitted under the
following circumstances: 1. “sanitary” pruning – to remove diseased branches 2. Trimming trees
in order to retain a certain shape (such as an archway or a round shape) as well as clipping an
established and full hedgerow to retain its neat shape 3. Trimming trees to obtain schach for the
sukkah 4. Pruning branches that constitute an obstacle on the sides of the road etc.
Trimming and burning myrtle for the purpose of growing trifoliate leaf groupings is prohibited.
Mowing grass for the purpose of maintaining its height and not to encourage further growth is
permitted. Young grass whose growth is inevitably stimulated by mowing may be mowed only if
not mowing will cause long-term damage. Mowing should be performed in a timely fashion so
that it doesn’t cause the grass to turn yellow which will engender new growth.
It is permissible to trim the edges of a lawn to preserve its shape but it is preferable to use spray
for this purpose.
Rose bushes are exceptionally sensitive to lack of water; therefore it is permissible to irrigate
them as needed, without waiting for signs of dehydration. Rose bushes should not be fertilized
during shmita. The laws of pruning apply to rose bushes in the same manner as other hedges.
Flowers may be picked during shmita, for decorative purposes, though picking should be
performed with a modification (and not at the usual height). Fragrant roses retain ‘kedushat
shvi’it’. Fruit and dried blossoms should not be picked after flowering has taken place.
Fruit grown in private gardens retain ‘kedushat shvi’it’ and it is permissible, in principle, for
anyone to enjoy them. Nevertheless, chazal prohibited eating fruit without the owner’s
permission. On the other hand, the owner must allow anyone interested to enter and partake of
the fruit in order to uphold the positive commandment “in the seventh year, you shall let it
go and abandon it”.
10. Whoever markets his produce through the ‘otzar beit- din’ can prevent any unauthorized person
from entering and picking fruit.
11. The owner of the garden may pick fruit as per his requirements. He may not pick a quantity that
exceeds his needs and store it in his home. It is preferable to pick the fruit manually and not
with the instrument normally used for this purpose.
12. Whoever has fruit in his garden that are in the ‘Orlah’ phase must make this public knowledge to
prevent anyone who picks the fruit (with his consent) from transgressing the prohibition of
Potted Plants and Planters
1. Three factors govern the maintenance of potted plants during shmita: 1.Whether it receives
nourishment from the soil (if it is in a perforated container or not) 2. The size of the container 3.
The location of the potted plant.
2. Nearly all containers are considered perforated if they are placed on the ground (or suspended
in the air). A potted plant that is placed on sealed flooring such as PVC, marble or other nonporous material is treated as being in a non-perforated container. A surface (such as a sheet of
plastic) can be placed underneath the plant to separate it from the ground so that it will be
treated as a non-perforated container.
3. If the potted plant is exceptionally large it will not be treated as a potted plant. The maximum
volume for a potted plant is 330 litres (thus irrelevant for household plants).
4. Planters that are an integral part of a structure are not treated as potted plants. Suspended
planters are treated as potted plants.
5. The potted plant must be situated inside– defined in this case as any structure with a roof
(including a greenhouse) and with walls higher than 80 cm.
6. When the potted plant meets all the above conditions, all agricultural labors may be performed
on it during shmita (some refrain from sowing and planting).
7. Potted plants should not be brought outside, nor should a potted plant be taken out of the
house and placed on the earth outside, even in a semi-covered area (such as a pergola or a
8. A potted plant may be transferred from one house to another but if the transfer takes place
above exposed earth it is preferable to wrap the plant in plastic while it is being transported.
9. Flowers may be placed in water even if their branches have emergent roots.
‘Correct’ Consumerism (purchasing and using shmita produce)
1. As stated, some produce of the shmita year is prohibited for consumption as ‘sifichin’, some is
invested with ‘kedushat shvi’it’ and is permitted for consumption under certain conditions,
while other produce retains no ‘kedushat shvi’it’ and is exempt from the prohibition of ‘sifichin’.
2. The prohibition of ‘sifichin’ does not include agricultural produce of a non-Jew who is the official
owner of the field. Poskim who hold by the ‘heter mechira’ maintain that the ‘heter’ halachically
establishes the non-Jew as the effective owner of the field. Opponents of the ‘heter’ contend
that from the outset this transaction should not take place; opinions are divided regarding its
status after the fact (if the sale is valid or not).
3. There is a halachic dispute regarding whether fruit grown in the field owned by a non-Jew
retains ‘kedushat shvi’it’ or not. R’ Yosef Karo rules that they do not retain ‘kedusha’ and this is
the prevalent custom throughout most of Israel. The Chazon Ish views these fruits as invested
with ‘kedushat shvi’it’ (this ruling informs the operations of several haredi supermarket chains,
mainly in Bnei Brak).
4. Some poskim prohibit the consumption of fruits that were cultivated through labors prohibited
during shmita (ne’ebad) while others allow their consumption but prohibit their purchase from
‘the transgressor’. A similar dispute obtains regarding fruits of the sabbatical year that were not
declared ownerless (nishmeru).
5. “Kedushat shvi’it’ consists of several components: an obligation to declare the fruits ownerless,
the prohibition against ‘loss’ - ruining or discarding the fruit, the prohibition against commercial
use of the fruit, an obligation to perform ‘bi’ur’, and the prohibition against their export outside
of Israel.
6. Consumers’ main concerns in terms of ‘kedushat shvi’it’ are: Prohibition against ‘loss’ (hefsed) fruit may only be used in the customary manner, otherwise there is a concern over ‘loss’.
Therefore fruit that is not generally mashed should not be mashed (though it may be peeled and
rotten parts sliced away, even if some of the flesh comes off with the peel). Fruits that are
generally eaten as is should not be cooked and vice-versa (keep in mind that customs vary in this
respect and nowadays fruits are consumed differently than in previous years). The same applies
to pickling vegetable. Additionally, peels and other detritus that are still edible should not be
discarded (they should be collected in bags, left to deteriorate and only then discarded).
Prohibition against commercial use – It is forbidden to buy or sell fruits invested with ‘kedushat
shvi’it’. However, it is permissible to buy them “by allusion” (to pay for products free of
‘kedushat shvi’it’ and have them included in the price. One should ensure that the ‘allusion’ be
proportionately reasonable – i.e. not buying expensive fruit while paying for the bag….)
Alternately, payment can be deferred (payment by credit card is considered deferred payment).
Obligation to perform ‘bi’ur’- when the time for ‘bi’ur’ arrives, the remaining produce should be
declared ownerless (in front of three witnesses). The owner can reclaim the produce after they
have been declared ownerless (this topic will be elaborated below).
7. As stated, according to the prevalent custom fruit grown by non-Jews do not retain ‘kedushat
shvi’it’ (though there are those who hold according to the Chazon Ish’s stringency). In
contradistinction, fruit grown by Jews marketed through ‘otzar beit-din’ retain ‘kedushat shvi’it’
though there is no prohibition against paying at the time of purchase since payment is remitted
to the ‘beit-din’ for its expenses and not to the farmer for his produce. (Returning to the
previous example of the tomatoes: the prohibition of ‘sifichin’ begins only on the first day of
Tevet, when the first tomatoes planted during the sabbatical year come on the market. However
‘kedushat shvi’it’ commences immediately after Rosh Hashanah (during the harvest) and
therefore though one can consume them with no concerns until Tevet, there are concerns
regarding their purchase as aforementioned).
8. ‘Terumot’ and ‘Ma’aserot’ on shmita produce – fruit grown on Jewish owned land (that has not
been sold, such as ‘otzar beit-din’ and private gardens), are considered ownerless and are
exempt from tithes (‘teruma’ and ‘ma’aser’). Crops of non-Jews (when the final labor was
performed by a non-Jew), are exempt from tithes. Crops of land that was sold under the ‘heter
mechira’ (when the land belongs to a non-Jew but a Jew performed the final labor) must be
tithed (‘ma’aser ani’ and not ‘ma’aser sheni’) without reciting the blessing. Fruit that falls under
the catergory of ‘neta revai’ (the fourth year of the fruit’s growth) is redeemed without reciting
the blessing.
Bi’ur (removal) - Chazal learned from the verse “Even your cattle and the animals that are in
your land shall have all its crops to eat” that when the crops desist from the field then they must
be removed from the house. Rishonim diverged on two issues relating to this topic: 1. whether
‘bi’ur’ is biblically ordained or a rabbinic prohibition, in which case the verse is merely an
allusion. 2. Whether the fruit must be actually removed (as per the Rambam) or, as the Ramban
argues, it is sufficient to declare them ownerless. The prevalent practice is to declare the fruits
ownerless, after which one may reclaim and consume them. Therefore, when the time for
‘bi’ur’ arrives, one may retain enough for three meals for each member of the family while the
remainder is removed from the home and declared ownerless before three witnesses. It is
permitted to perform this before three friends despite the owner’s fore-knowledge that they
will not claim any of the fruit. ‘Kedushat shvi’it’ of the fruit persists even after ‘bi’ur’ is
performed! The obligation to perform ‘bi’ur’ is a component of the laws of ‘kedushat shvi’it’;
therefore fruits of non-Jews or those grown on land sold under ‘heter mechira’, that are
generally considered to be free of ‘kedushat svhi’it’ , are also exempt from ‘bi’ur’. Each type of
fruit is said to have its own appropriate ‘bi’ur’ time. However, chazal established a set schedule
for ‘bi’ur’ (during the eighth year): Figs – at Chanukkah; dates – at Purim; grapes (and wine) – at
Passover; and olives (and olive oil) at Shavuot.
The borders of the Land of Israel with respect to shmita observance: According to the Mishna
in Tractate Shvi’it (86:1) the Land is divided into three regions: 1. the area occupied by ‘olei
Bavel’ up to Kziv 2. The area occupied by ‘olei Mitzrayim’ from Kziv until the river and until
Amana 3. The area north and west of the river and Amana .
All laws of shmita apply within the boundaries of ‘olei Bavel’ (area 1) (“ne’echal ve’ne’ebad”
according to the Mishna). Within the boundaries of ‘olei Mitzrayim’ (area 2) the laws of shmita
are only partially binding (“ne’echal aval lo ne’ebad” according to the Mishna). Poskim are
divided regarding what is permitted and what is prohibited. The Gemara inTractate Chulin (7a)
states: “Many cities which were conquered by the Israelites who came up from Egypt were not
re-conquered by those who came up from Babylon… They therefore did not annex these cities
in order that the poor might have sustenance there from in the Seventh Year”. Rashi comments:
“many cities were conquered by ‘olei Mitzrayim’ and were sanctified (the first time) but were
not conquered by ‘olei Bavel’ and thus not re-sanctified (in the post-exilic period). Since they
were not re-sanctified, the original sanctity was nullified… and they did not desire to restore its
sanctity so as to permit plowing and sowing during the sabbatical year that is not binding in
territories outside of the Land of Israel and the poor would rely on these regions to take
advantage of the tithes for the poor”. According to this school of thought, in the regions that
were not occupied by ‘olei Bavel’ (in broad strokes - south of Ashkelon and north of
Achziv/Acco) agricultural labor is permitted during shmita (the Chazon Ish argues that this
applies only to a number of places and not overall). However, most poskim contest this opinion
and prohibit agricultural labor though they do permit ‘sifichin’.
Within the areas outside the boundaries of ‘olei Mitzrayim’ (area 3 – mainly extensive areas of
the Arava and the southern Negev) the laws of shmita are not binding. According to the above,
it is permissible to grow and market fruits and vegetables cultivated by Jewish farmers in the
Land of Israel (all agree regarding area 3 and some would apply this to area 2 as well) with no
fear of violating shmita!
11. Summary: When purchasing vegetables, grains and legumes (many grains and legumes are
imported from abroad and therefore are free of restrictions) one should be careful to avoid
transgressing the prohibition of ‘sifichin’. One can steer clear of this prohibition by purchasing
produce from regions that are restriction-free, produce grown hydroponically in detached
growing beds (treated as potted plants), produce from fields sold to non-Jews in accordance
with the ‘heter mechira’ or produce cultivated by non-Jews. One should verify the source of the
produce before purchasing! (‘Otzar Ha-aretz’ will be marketing vegetables from the sixth year or
from detached growing beds or from outside the boundaries of ‘olei Mitzrayim’. In certain cases
they will be marketing vegetables from areas whose inclusion within the boundaries of ‘olei
Mitzrayim’ is disputed). When purchasing fruit – the situation is less complicated because the
prohibition of ‘sifichin’ is not binding and, as aforementioned, there are poskim who permit
‘shamur’ and ‘ne’ebad’. On the other hand, fruit might retain ‘kedushat shvi’it’ (not fruit grown
by non-Jews!) and therefore one should also verify the source of the fruit. Similarly, one should
ensure that the fruit does not fall under the category of ‘Orlah’.
12. The laws of ‘shmitat ksafim’ will be forthcoming.
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