The Laws of Shevi'is
by Degel Yerushalayim and Yated Ne'eman Staff
Editor's Introduction: One can safely assume that it is not news to readers of Yated that the year 5761 is a shmitta year. However the special laws that apply this year are not as familiar as other laws that apply all the time or at least every year. (This year there are also some additional unusual situations with erev Pesach coming out on Shabbos, as well as Purim -- but that is a later story.) All of Torah needs to be reviewed, and especially the laws of shmitta. Most laws apply only in Eretz Yisroel, but some apply directly worldwide, and others have consequences for those in chutz la'aretz. For example, the agricultural laws are not as relevant to our readers as those applying to the produce of shmitta (though they apply to flowers and plants in pots).
Last shmitta the Degel Yerushalayim Cultural Fund published a very popular sefer summarizing the laws of shmitta. The work was originally edited and compiled by HaRav Yosef Efrati and HaRav Meir Heisler, in consultation with the poskei hador, and is as clear and well- organized as it is authoritative. In some cases we made titles, but the text all comes from that sefer. We have generally left the spelling and style followed in the sefer. The page references are to the edition of Tishrei, 5754.
With the kind permission of Degel Yerushalayim, we herewith present excerpts from that work. We have tried to select the most important issues, but these excerpts should not be viewed as an authoritative halachic source, but merely as a springboard for questions and research. The sefer of Degel Yerushalayim has extensive citations of the sources of the halacha, and the guidance of a competent posek is essential as always.
The Mitzvos of Shmitta
(Page 55) The mitzvos of shmitta are divided into two parts: shmitta of land and shmitta of money.
Shmitta of land is a mitzvah dependent on the Land, which only applies in Eretz Yisroel, whereas shmitta of money is a personal obligation which is not dependent on the land and applies throughout the whole world. In the words of Rav Yehuda: Every mitzvah that is a personal obligation applies both in Eretz Yisroel and outside, whereas that which is dependent on land applies exclusively to Eretz Yisroel.
Summary of Prohibited Agriculture on Shevi'is
Torah Prohibited Work
(Page 83) The Torah forbids two kinds of work with regard to crops that are planted every year afresh (such as vegetables, grain and legumes): sowing and harvesting.
Two types of work are forbidden with tree fruits: pruning and picking.
Plowing is also forbidden by the Torah, but there are no Torah ordained lashes because the punishment of lashes applies only to a lo sa'ase (and the prohibition of plowing is not written in the form of a lo sa'ase.)
Planting is also forbidden by the Torah but nevertheless there are no lashes because it is not written explicitly in the Torah, but derived by a kal vachomer: mainly if pruning is included in sowing, all the more so planting.
Types of DeRabanan Banned Work
In addition to the types of work forbidden by the Torah, the Sages also forbade other field and orchard work such as watering, natural manure, chemical fertilizer, removing stones and smoking (spraying) etc.
Difference between Torah Ban and DeRabanan
The difference between work prohibited by the Torah and that prohibited by the Sages; that prohibited by the Torah is forbidden even to preserve the life of a tree.
Work prohibited by the Sages is forbidden only if their purpose is to enhance the growth. But if the intention is preservation it is permitted.
Ruin of the Field
Similarly, Rabbinically prohibited work is permitted if it is meant to prevent ruin of the field or the tree, such as watering the field, where failure to water would make the ground dry and all the trees in it would die.
Ruin of Fruits
The Chazon Ish ruled that Rabbinically prohibited work is permitted where, were it not done, the fruits would not ripen this year and there would be noticeable damage both in quantity and quality.
Prohibition Because of a False Impression
There are additional types of work that the Sages also prohibited, which might give a false impression only. For example, if one wished to build a stone wall in his courtyard. He is forbidden to gather stones from his field for building the wall, as people seeing this might say that he intends to prepare the land for sowing and that is why he is clearing his field.
Shmitta Fruit And Its Laws
(Page 165) Fruits which possess shmitta sanctity are subject to six laws: four from the Torah, two from the Sages.
1. There is an obligation to declare fruits hefker (ownerless) as it says, "... during the seventh year you must leave it alone and withdraw from it" (Shemos 23:11) (Sefer Hamitzvos LeHarambam 134, Rambam 24-25. Chinuch 84).
2. It is forbidden to destroy fruit of shmitta as it says "[What grows while] the land is resting may be eaten by you." The Sages learned from this verse that it may be eaten but it may not be destroyed (Pesachim 52b).
3. It is forbidden to do business with shmitta fruit as it says (ibid.) "...may be eaten by you." The Sages learned from this verse that it may be eaten but not used for business (Avoda Zara 62a).
4. There is an obligation of biur (removing it from one's possession) at the appropriate time, as it says, "....by the domestic animals and wild animals that are in your land" (Vayikra 25:7). The Sages (Pesachim 51b) interpreted this to mean as long as it is available for the wild animals in the fields, the domestic animals in the house may eat it, but when it is not available for the wild animals in the field then the domestic animals in the house are not allowed to eat it.
1. Crops that grew of themselves may not be eaten or used (Mishna 9:1, Chazon Ish Shevi'is 13:16).
2. It is forbidden to export fruit of shmitta outside of Eretz Yisroel (Mishna 6:5).
(Tosafos (Sukkah 39a s.v. she 'ein) wrote that there is no limit to the laws and prohibitions of the fruits of shmitta which must be treated with the sanctity of shmitta.)
Which fruits bear the sanctity of the shmitta year?
In order to determine whether fruit bears the sanctity of shmitta, four matters must be clarified.
1. The type of fruit or growth.
2. The time -- meaning, when did the fruit grow.
3. The ownership of land on which the fruit grew.
4. The place of growth.
Which type of crops have sanctity and which do not?
1. Sanctity of shmitta applies to crops that are specifically for human or animal food, anointing, kindling a light, make- up and coloring. It also applies to scent-bearing flowers.
2. The sanctity of shmitta does not apply to crops whose benefit is derived after the material is consumed, such as firewood from which a person benefits from the heat after the wood has been burned.
3. The sanctity of shmitta does not apply to decorative flowers that have no scent.
The determining stage of growth
4. Although the shmitta runs from Rosh Hashana 5754 (5761) until Rosh Hashana 5755 (5762) nevertheless the sanctity of shmitta applies to the fruit and the crops according to the stages in their growth as listed below.
5. The determining stage for vegetables is the picking, and all that were picked in shmitta have the sanctity of shmitta, even though most of their growth was in the sixth year. A strict practice should be applied to vegetables which were fully ripe in the shmitta year and were picked in the eighth year.
Olives, Grapes, Grain and Legumes
6. The determining stage of olives, grapes, grain, legumes (such as beans, peas etc.) is the first third of their growth. Whatever reached a third of its growth in shmitta, even though sown in the sixth year, has the sanctity of shmitta.
7. The determining stage for fruit is the formation of the fruit. Some are of the opinion that it is formed when it reaches a third of its growth, its growth is regarded as indicative of "formation." Others are of the opinion that it is formed when the fruit is recognizable after its blossom has fallen off.
Whatever was formed in the sixth year, even if its major growth was in shmitta, does not bear sanctity. Whatever was formed in the shmitta even if its major growth is in the eighth year does bear the sanctity of shmitta.
8. Though the esrog grows on a tree there is a dispute in Rosh Hashana 14b, as to the stage which determines its sanctity of shmitta. Is it the formation of the fruit-like fruits of the tree, or the moment of picking? For like vegetables the esrog requires artificial watering and cannot do with rainwater only.
Esrog in the sixth year
In the opinion of the Rambam, an esrog that was formed in the sixth year and was picked in the seventh, has the sanctity of shmitta because we are not certain about the stage of formation. Others disagree, saying it does not have such sanctity.
Practically speaking, an esrog picked after Rosh Hashana of shmitta, should be considered as having the sanctity of shmitta even though the fruit was formed in the sixth year. Those who are meticulous in observing the mitzvah, buy an esrog that was picked in the sixth year which does not have the sanctity of shmitta according to all opinions.
9. An esrog that was formed in shmitta and was picked in the eighth year has the sanctity of shmitta. Therefore on Succos 5755 (5762) an esrog will have the sanctity of shmitta.
10. Though all citrus fruits are watered in the same manner as an esrog, nevertheless if they formed in the sixth year, even if picked in the shmitta bear the sanctity of shmitta. One can rely on the opinion of the poskim that the determining stage for an esrog is its formation and one does not have to treat it with the sanctity of shmitta. However citrus fruits that formed in the shmitta and were picked in the eighth year (5755-5762) have the sanctity of shmitta because the formation was occurred in the shmitta.
Fruits grown on land of a non-Jew
11. According to the Beis Yosef, shmitta fruits that grew in a field belonging to a non-Jew do not bear the sanctity of shmitta. This is the accepted practice of Jerusalem. The Mabit is of the opinion that even fruit from a field belonging to a non-Jew has the sanctity of shmitta and there is an obligation of biur ("removal" at the proper time). This is also the opinion of the Chazon Ish.
12. Whoever does not consider fruits grown by a non- Jew as bearing the sanctity of shmitta (as is the practice of Jerusalem), and has someone who does treat them as bearing the sanctity as his guest, should inform his guest of his practice if he offers him non-Jewish fruit. Whoever hosts a person who does treat them with the sanctity of shmitta must inform him if he offers him fruit of a non- Jew.
Places shmitta applies
13. According to Torah law shmitta only applies to Eretz Yisroel as it says "When you come into the land..." (Vayikra 25:2).
All the laws of shmitta apply throughout Eretz Yisroel. However, there are places within Eretz Yisroel that were not captured at the time of the Second Temple, and therefore one can be lenient regarding some of the laws of shmitta. There are places that the Sages exempted from observing the laws of shmitta, even though they were captured in the time of the Second Temple, in order to enable the poor people to sustain themselves.
Nowadays these places cannot be identified, therefore, all the laws of shmitta, including Rabbinical prohibitions of sefichin, apply throughout Eretz Yisroel.
14. Shmitta applies to Trans Jordan except for the prohibition of sefichin.
15. Shmitta applies to Jewish fields in Syria according to Rabbinical law, in order to prevent emigration from Eretz Yisroel to Syria; but there is no prohibition of sefichin. According to all opinions the sanctity of shmitta does not apply to the fruit of a non-Jew in Syria.
The word sefichin.
(Page 189) The word sefiach (the singular of sefichin) is of the same root as the expression sfocheini (attach me) (Shmuel 1, 2:36), attached to the previous harvest. That means: grain that grew and sprouted by itself from the seeds that fell to the ground during the harvest of the previous year.
The reason for the prohibition
According to Torah law such produce may be eaten, as may all fruits of shmitta. However, the Sages saw an increase in the number of transgressors who secretly sowed their fields in shmitta and said "these grew by themselves!" Therefore the Sages forbade the use of such produce.
Included in this prohibition is all produce that grew by itself in shmitta, and it goes without saying that ground produce that was sown during the shmitta, when it is forbidden to do so is also included in the prohibition.
However, produce that the Sages did not suspect a person might sow during shmitta such as fruit of trees, for there are no grounds to suspect that a person would plant a tree specifically in shmitta. are not subject to the prohibition of sefichin.
Unproductive field or a vineyard
Similarly the Sages did not place the decree of sefichin on those fields where there is no suspicion that a person would sow them because they are not suitable (such as an unproductive field) or because of other reasons (such as a vineyard, where a person does not want seeds to grow since they could prohibit use of his vineyard because of Kilei Hakerem (sowing a vineyard with grain for example).
The field of a non-Jew
The prohibition of sefichin also does not apply to the field of a non-Jew even according to those who rule that his fruits have the sanctity of shmitta, because a non-Jew is not commanded to refrain from working in his field.
To What Does the Prohibition of Sefichin Apply?
1. Included in the prohibition of sefichin are: all ground produce whether for human or animal consumption (excluding fruit trees ) that grow in shmitta in a field belonging to a Jew, or a field worked by a non Jew.
2. The prohibition of sefichin also applies to an ownerless field.
3. Grain and legumes are subject to the prohibition of sefichin if they reached a third of their growth in shmitta, even if sown in the sixth year. However, as with vegetables, the Chazon Ish ruled in accordance with the opinion of the Rash that there is a prohibition of sefichin only if they began growing in shmitta. If the vegetables, however, were sown and began to grow before shmitta, even if they have the sanctity of shmitta, they are not subject to the prohibition of sefichin; others disagree with this and maintain that as long as the vegetable was picked in shmitta there is a prohibition of sefichin.
4. Sefichin that were picked in shmitta are forbidden forever.
The law of sefichin
5. It is forbidden to use produce of sefichin in their designated manner, that means food meant for human consumption cannot be eaten, food meant for an animal must not be given to an animal, scent- bearing flowers must not be smelled.
6. There is a mitzvah to uproot crops that are prohibited as sefichin so as not to be suspected of planning to eat them. He should leave them to rot.
When does the prohibition of sefichin not apply?
7. Produce that grew by itself in such fields that are not normally sown, such as an unproductive field, which is a field that is not fit for sowing because of difficult conditions, is not subject to the prohibitions of sefichin. Similarly there is no prohibition of sefichin for unimportant vegetables, that most people do not sow.
8. Similarly there is no prohibition of sefichin for crops that grew in the field of a non-Jew even according to those who hold that the sanctity of shmitta applies to the field of a non- Jew. For the Sages prohibited sefichin lest one sow on shmitta and a non-Jew is not commanded to refrain from sowing his field.
Whatever grew inside a house or a flower pot without a hole is not subject to the prohibition of sefichin. Regarding a flower pot with a hole (see above chapter 12: "Potted Plants and House").
Fruits of trees
9. Fruit of a tree is not subject to the prohibition of sefichin.
Regarding sefichin in the eighth year, see below Chapter 25: "Post-Shmitta."
The time of prohibition of sefichin is not the same for all the plants. Concerning details of the dates when one should be concerned that bought goods are prohibited because of sefichin -- see the table compiled by the Institute for Agricultural Research According to the Torah at the end of the work.
Proper Use Of Shmitta Fruit And The Prohibition Against Destructive Use
(Page 199) We have been commanded by the Torah (in Vayikra 25:6) "[What grows while] the land is resting may be eaten by you." The Sages of blessed memory interpreted this as: "by you" -- for your needs (Bava Kama 102a). "For eating" -- but not destroyed (Pesachim 52b). And we have learned from this that shmitta fruit may be used for eating, drinking, anointing, lamp lighting and dyeing. However it must be used in the way in which it is usually used in the other years. Whatever is usually eaten should be eaten, and whatever is usually drunk should be drunk; it should not be used in an unusual way.
Whoever destroys shmitta fruit disobeys the Torah commandment of "For eating" -- but not for destruction.
The Sages of blessed memory have defined what is regarded as destruction of shmitta fruit and what is not regarded as destruction, what is the permitted manner of using shmitta fruit and what is not so.
Eating shmitta fruit
1. Some are of the opinion that by eating shmitta fruit we fulfill a mitzvah, because it says, "May be eaten."
The Chazon Ish ruled that there is no obligation in the form of a mitzvas asei to eat fruits of shmitta, rather the implication is that there is a prohibition to spoil them.
2. Fruits and vegetables that have the sanctity of shmitta should be used in the usual manner. Therefore it is forbidden to eat such fruit and vegetables, that are not usually eaten raw but cooked, such as quince and squash (marrows) etc. and the like.
3. The converse is also true: it is forbidden to cook fruits and vegetables that are not usually cooked but eaten raw, such as oranges, cucumbers and the like.
4. Fruits and vegetables that are eaten either cooked or raw such as apples, can be used in the usual manner.
It is permitted to mix wine with cooked dishes and pastries. It can also be diluted with water because it is also used in such a way.
5. Shmitta fruits may not be eaten excessively.
6. All acts of preserving fruits and vegetables, such as pickling vegetables, the making of jam, spreads and the like are treated like cooking and therefore must be done in the usual manner.
7. If shmitta fruit was prepared in an improper manner, for example, if fruit that is normally not cooked was cooked, it may be eaten.
Making ice cream
8. Changing liquid to solid, for instance making ice cream and the like, is permitted even though it changes its form, others forbid it.
Flavor of shmitta fruit
9. Even if only the flavor of shmitta fruit is present it is treated like the fruit itself. For example: if shmitta fruit was cooked in food or soup and gave them flavor even though the fruit was removed, the soup or food should be considered as having the sanctity of shmitta since the food has the flavor of fruit of shmitta.
Similarly, the fruit or vegetable should be treated with the sanctity of shmitta because they are still fit for consumption.
10. The sanctity of shmitta does not apply to spices that had the sanctity of shmitta but have been used and lost their flavor and are no longer fit for consumption. The reason for this is since they imparted all their flavor in the dish they are considered a piece of wood.
Liquids of pickled produce or cooking water
11. The sanctity of shmitta does not apply to liquids used for pickling shmitta fruits or cooking water not normally used such as water used for cooking shmitta potatoes. The liquids may be disposed of.
The sanctity of shmitta applies to water in which shmitta beetroots were cooked, even if he did not want the water because the water is drunk as borsht soup.
Extraction of juice
12. It is forbidden to squeeze juice out of fruit and vegetables which do not usually have juice extracts; for example: figs, pears, onions, cucumbers and the like. But it is permitted to squeeze juice from fruits that are normally squeezed such as grapes, lemons, oranges and grapefruit.
13. Juice from fruits and vegetables of shmitta have the sanctity of shmitta.
If one erred and made juice from fruits and vegetables that are not normally squeezed, even though he has committed a forbidden act, the juice has the sanctity of shmitta.
14. It is forbidden to make puree from fruits and vegetables that are not normally used for this purpose.
One may make fruit or vegetable puree for minors; this is normally done for minors even though not for adults.
Peeling and leaving over
15. It is permitted to peel fruit and vegetables such as apples and cucumbers in the normal manner even though they can be eaten with their peels.
16. It is forbidden to peel fruit and vegetables that are not normally peeled, such as apricots and tomatoes.
17. It is permitted to remove parts that are moldy or dirty and the like from fruits and vegetables such as lettuce, even though when peeling it is possible that edible parts might be removed as well.
18. Peels of apples, cucumbers, melons and the like which have some of the meat of the fruit, moldy lettuce leaves and parsley and the like which have edible parts; and also fruit pits that have small bits of fruit attached (such as the pits of plums, peaches and the like) are treated as leftovers of food (see below).
19. Watermelon pits that are left over after eating should be treated with the sanctity of shmitta.
20. Peels that are left over after squeezing or making puree, for example pureed tomatoes or apples should be considered as leftovers of food (see below).
21. As to orange peels, some rule stringently that they have the sanctity of shmitta because they are used for animal food, and because there are some who eat them when fried or cooked in sugar or honey.
22. It is forbidden to anoint one's body with wine, vinegar, lemon juice and the like since these are not usually used for anointing.
23. It is forbidden to use fruit of shmitta for cleaning. Therefore use of vinegar and lemon juice and such like for removing stains is forbidden. Similarly dipping lettuce in vinegar of shmitta to remove insects is forbidden.
24. Tobacco has the sanctity of shmitta, nevertheless it is permitted to use it for smoking and smelling since that is its normal use. However, one has to be careful that it should not be of sefichin.
The sanctity of shmitta applies to various types of fragrances. Therefore those who use them for a berachah on motzei Shabbos should be careful not to throw them away as long as they are fit for smelling. Similarly where the prohibition of sefichin applies one should not smell them.
This applies especially to those who use "na'ana" leaves (mint) which is also used in cooking (even though the prohibition of sefichin does not apply to these leaves).
Spoiling and destroying
25. It is forbidden to spoil fruit and vegetables of shmitta or food that has the flavor of fruits of shmitta whether they are fit for human consumption or whether they are only fit for animal food.
Picking too early
26. It is forbidden to pick fruit of shmitta (before they reached the stage when they are normally subject to ma'aser) for they are not yet fit for consumption. Doing so destroys the fruit.
If one picked the fruit or they fell from the tree one may eat them even though he does not do this usually, because if not they would spoil even more.
27. It is also forbidden to spoil food fit for human consumption even if it is not spoiled completely but remains fit for animal food.
Changing the purpose of growth
28. It is forbidden to give shmitta fruit that is fit for human consumption to animals.
One does not have to prevent animals from eating crops attached to the ground because it says "and the produce will be food for your animals to eat." However, one must prevent animals eating crops picked and acquired by people.
29. It is forbidden for humans to eat food which is set aside for animal food since this is not included in what is termed 'usual manner of eating of the fruit' for human beings do not eat animal food, and he is in a sense destroying animal food.
30 Food that has been spoiled for human consumption but is still fit for animals has the sanctity of shmitta, but may be given to animals.
31. It is forbidden to make chains, pictures and the like from fruits of shmitta (as is often done from beans) because by doing this it becomes spoiled for eating.
Giving a baby food
32. It is permitted to give fruits of shmitta to infants who are accustomed to eat by themselves, even though they crumble the food, because this is the way they eat.
33. One may hang up an esrog in a Succah for decorative purposes because it is still fit for consumption.
34. If there is no saucer underneath it, it is forbidden to fill a Kiddush cup or any other cup of wine used when making a beracha to overflowing, with wine of shmitta. For in so doing he "destroys" the wine.
(This also applies to other liquids that have the sanctity of shmitta).
It is forbidden to extinguish the havdalah candle with the remnants of the wine because by doing so he spoils the wine.
He should not drip drops of wine from the cup during the Pesach seder (when we mention the ten plagues") and the like, for in so doing he "destroys" the wine.
Oil of shmitta
35. It is forbidden to use oil of shmitta for lighting the Chanukah lights since it is forbidden to benefit from Chanukah lights (and shmitta fruit can be used only when the user has benefit from them).
36. It is permitted to use oil of shmitta for lighting Shabbos lights because one benefits from the light. However it is prohibited to use oil for lights where no benefit is derived (such as a yahrzeit light which is usually even during the day), and it is also forbidden to use oil of shmitta for the Lag Ba'omer bonfire.
37. It is forbidden to smear a pan or frying pan with oil of shmitta if the smearing is only in order that the contents should not stick to the pan. However if the smearing is also meant to flavor the food it is permitted.
Serving to a non-Jew
38. It is forbidden to give fruits of shmitta to a non-Jew but it is permitted to serve them to a non- Jew who is a guest in the house of a Jew.
39. It is forbidden to sow fruits of shmitta because by doing so he "destroys" them.
Use as medicine
40. It is forbidden to use fruit of shmitta for a medicinal purpose, such as rubbing the body with drinking alcohol or with cognac of the shmitta year, because this is considered as spoiling it.
However, one is permitted to drink vinegar of shmitta if he intends to relieve a toothache; as long as he does not gargle and spit it out, because that "destroys" the vinegar. Rather one must swallow it.
41. It is permitted to make a plaster (poultice) for a human being from fruits of shmitta that are specifically animal food and this is not considered as unusual use. For since animal food is also meant to serve man's needs (except as food) no "destruction" is caused by making the plaster, on the contrary this use elevates its status (from animal to human status).
42. It is forbidden to throw leftovers fit to be eaten by human beings to the garbage. They should be left in the house until they become moldy and spoiled; then they are no longer regarded as fruit of shmitta.
43. In extenuating circumstances one should put the leftovers into a plastic bag, tie it up and place it in the garbage bin, and then the leftovers will spoil on their own. The correct way is to place the bag on top of the garbage in the can so that they should not spoil immediately when placed in the garbage can.
44. In places where the garbage disposal trucks compress the garbage, one should place the bags in the can only after the leftovers have begun to spoil, in order not to cause Jewish garbage collectors to commit the sin of destroying fruits of shmitta.
45. One should not put fresh leftovers with leftovers that have already begun to spoil because this hastens the spoiling of the fresh ones.
46. It is permitted to rinse plates and pots that have shmitta food sticking to them if the amount is such that one does not usually bother to clean. However if he collected the remnants of the food, it bears the sanctity of shmitta and it is forbidden to throw it away.
47. It is forbidden to export agricultural produce that has the sanctity of shmitta. Therefore when traveling abroad one should not take provisions that have the sanctity of shmitta but should prepare fruit and vegetables that do not have the sanctity of shmitta.
In extenuating circumstances one can take provisions for the journey only.
Regarding the export of esrogim -- see below chapter 27: "Laws of Shmitta for One who Lives Outside of Eretz Yisroel."
End of Part I. The second part deals with buying and selling shmitta produce, special applications for those living outside of Eretz Yisroel (those will typically not be relevant for several months), Otzar Beis Din, loans and more.
See Part II for more Laws of Sheviis.