- March 25, 2023
Introduction to the Halachos of Shemitah
Shemitah Is Near
- We are now in the days approaching Rosh Hashanah 5782. As the shemitah year approaches, we look forward with great joy and anticipation to the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of shemitah down to its every last detail, and to the feeling of extra closeness to Hashem characterized by Shabbos, not just one day each week, but for a whole entire year.
- But to keep shemitah properly, every individual must learn the basic halachos to know what is assur and what is mutar. This way, we can also experience shemitah properly instead of feeling intimidated by this infrequent and holy mitzvah. Just as Moshe Rabbeinu decreed that Klal Yisroel learn the halachos of each Yom Tov as they come up, one should also learn all the halachos of shemitah for the shemitah year to know how to keep it properly (כפי אהרן ח”ב, הל’ שביעית סי’ י”א).
- Chutz la’aretz. The mitzvah of shemitah only applies in Eretz Yisroel, not chutz la’aretz. Still, there are many halachos that are relevant to those in chutz la’aretz. For example, produce with kedushas shevi’is often ends up in chutz la’aretz, and one must know how to treat it. Besides, through learning these halachos, one fulfills the mitzvah to learn and know Torah.
- Inspiration for the geulah. Chazal revealed to us that the aveirah of neglecting shemitah and yovel brings galus to the world (גמ’ שבת דף ל”ג ע”א). The flip side of this is that learning these halachos will inspire us to yearn for the future days, when the yoke of the non-Jews will be broken off our necks, and Hashem will swiftly take us upright to our land, to lovingly keep, perform, and fulfill all His mitzvos.
- B’ezras Hashem, throughout the coming year we will devote multiple issues to explaining a number of principles of the halachos of shemitah, especially those concerning the more commonly encountered halachos, to the best of our ability, in a clear manner that everyone can gain from. It is our tefillah that this will provide benefit to the general public without causing any pitfalls.
- In this issue, we will cite several principles and concepts surrounding shemitah and the kedushah of shemitah produce as an introduction to the halachos of shemitah. In coming issues, we will go into more detail, b’ezras Hashem.
The Mitzvos of Shemitah
- The mitzvah of shemitah comprises multiple mitzvos and issurim. In the Torah, there are two mitzvos asei and four mitzvos lo sa’aseh.
- Hefker. We are commanded to make hefker everything the land gives forth in the shemitah year, allowing anyone to acquire the produce, as the posuk says (שמות כ”ג י”א), “In the seventh year, leave [the land] alone and forsake it, and the poor of your nation will eat” (החינוך מצוה פד).
- Resting. We are commanded to rest from working the land in the shemitah year, as the posuk says (כי תשא ל”ד כ”א), “From plowing and harvesting you shall rest.” The Torah also says (פ’ בהר כ”ה ה’), “A year of rest it will be for the land,” and (שם ב’), “The land shall rest a Shabbos for Hashem” (ספר החינוך מצוה קי”ב).
Mitzvos Lo Sa’aseh
- Issur to work the land. We are commanded not to work the land in the shemitah year, as the posuk says (פ’ בהר כ”ה, ד’), “In the seventh year … your field, do not plant” (חינוך מצוה שכ”ו). However, some activities are assur deoraisa, while others are assur derabanan.
- Issur to work on trees. We are also commanded not to do work on trees, as the posuk says (שם), “And your vineyard, do not prune” (חינוך מצוה שכ”ז).
- Issur to reap. We are also commanded not to reap “sefichim,” i.e., we may not harvest what the land produces on its own in the seventh year in the same manner that we harvest produce in other years. It must be done with a shinui, i.e., from hefker, as the posuk says (שם ה’), “The sefiach of your harvest, do not reap” (חינוך מצ’ שכ”ח).
- Issur to pick fruit. We are also commanded not to harvest fruit from trees in the same manner we do in other years, but rather to do it with a shinui to show that everything is hefker this year, as the posuk says (שם), “And the grapes you set aside, do not harvest” (חינוך מצוה שכ”ט).
Principles about the Kedushah of Shemitah Produce
Kedushas Shevi’is in Produce
- As a result of the kedushah that takes effect in shemitah produce, there are halachos and issurim involved in treatment of the produce. We will now list the halachos that apply to shemitah produce which are the basis of kedushas shevi’is.
- Issur to close off the field. A field owner may not close off his field while there is hefker produce inside.
- Issur to waste. One may not waste produce with kedushas shevi’is, as Chazal derive from the posuk, “The produce of the Shabbos of the land will be yours to eat” – but not to waste.
- Issur to do business. One may not do business with shemitah produce, as Chazal derive (רש”י קידושין כ.), “The produce of the Shabbos of the land will be yours to eat” – but not for business.
- Takes hold on money. If one sells shemitah produce, kedushas shevi’is takes hold on the money he receives. Any food he buys with that money must also be eaten with kedushas shevi’is (רמב”ם פ”ו ה”ו).
- Chiyuv biur. One must perform biur on shemitah produce at the time of biur. If he did not do so at that time, the produce becomes forbidden. [We will discuss biur in greater detail in the future, be”H.]
- Guarded, worked. If a person closed off his field to guard his produce, according to several poskim (ר”ת תוס’ ר”ה דף ט’ ע”א, סוכה דף ל”ט ע”ב) the produce may not be eaten. Similarly, if one performed forbidden activities in the field, several poskim hold the produce may not be eaten (ערוך, ערך עזק, הובא בתוס’ מנחות דף פ”ד ע”א).
When Do Fruits, Vegetables Get Kedushah?
Fruit from a Tree
- Not all produce receives kedushas shevi’is at the same time. There are different groups of foods for this purpose, as will be explained.
- Chanatah before shemitah. Tree fruits are classified by their chanatah, which is when the flower falls off and the fruit begins to develop (תוס’ ר”ה דף י”ב ע”ב) or when they are one-third grown (רמב”ם פ”ד הל”ט). Accordingly, tree fruits that underwent chanatah in the sixth year – i.e., before Rosh Hashanah (חזו”א סי’ ז’ סקי”ג) – do not have kedushas shevi’is even when picked in the beginning of shemitah, and thus the above halachos (15 and on) do not apply.
- Chanatah in shemitah. If they underwent chanatah during shemitah, i.e., after Rosh Hashanah, kedushas shevi’is takes effect on them. Even if a fruit is picked in the eighth year, if it underwent chanatah during shemitah, it has kedushas shevi’is.
Fruits on the Market
- Thus, tree fruits available in stores in the early months of shemitah are not subject to the halachos of shemitah since they underwent chanatah in the sixth year. One may buy, eat, and dispose of them as usual.
- Summer fruit. Summer fruits, e.g., apricots, peaches, and nectarines, whose market season begins around Adar time, undergo chanatah during shemitah. When that happens, the halachos of shemitah take effect and remain until Adar of the eighth year, at which point the fruits that are on the market underwent chanatah in the eighth year.
- Citrus fruit. Like all tree fruits, citrus fruits, e.g., oranges, clementines, pomelos, etc., are also classified by their chanatah (חזו”א סי’ כ”א סקט”ז). Thus, since citrus fruits which are picked and sold in the winter and Pesach of shemitah year underwent chanatah in the sixth year, they do not have kedushas shevi’is. In contrast, citrus fruits picked and sold in the winter and Pesach of the eighth year are shemitah fruits.
- Lemons. Yellow lemons sold after Pesach may have undergone chanatah before Rosh Hashanah or after Rosh Hashanah. Thus, they have the status of safek kedushas shevi’is. However, green lemons sold in the summer underwent chanatah in the winter. Thus, in the summer of shemitah they have kedushas shevi’is, and in the summer of the eighth year they do not (בית דוד פ”ב אות ט’ ובהערה).
- Although with respect to terumos and maasros (גמ’ ר”ה דף ט”ו ע”א), esrogim, like vegetables, are classified by their harvest time (see below, 32) [before or after Tu b’Shevat], with respect to shemitah most Rishonim hold they are classified based on whether their chanatah was before or after Rosh Hashanah, like all other tree fruits (ראב”ד פ”א מע”ש ה”ה, הגר”א יו”ד סי’ של”א ס”ק קצ”א).
- Some say they are also classified by their harvest time, as a chumra (רמב”ם פ”א ה”ה ו’, פ”ד שמיטה ויובל הי”ב, שו”ע של”א סקכ”ו). Accordingly, an esrog picked after Rosh Hashanah of shemitah is a safek shemitah fruit.
- This year. Therefore, the minhag is to pick before Rosh Hashanah all the esrogim that will be sold this Sukkos so that they will not have kedushas shevi’is (חזו”א סי’ ז’ סק”י סוד”ה ומרן). If one is in a pressing situation and has no other esrog, he may buy an esrog that was picked after Rosh Hashanah (דרך אמונה פ”ד צהה”ל ס”ק קנ”ה). Also, an esrog orchard owner must make his orchard hefker after Rosh Hashanah, but people may not take esrogim (חזו”א סי’ ז’ סקי”ד).
- Next year. Next year’s esrogim, which will have undergone chanatah during shemitah, will have kedushas shevi’is. Thus, an orchard owner may not close off his orchard, and anyone can take esrogim (חזו”א שם סק”י).
- Vegetables are classified by their time of harvest. Thus, any vegetable picked between Rosh Hashanah of shemitah and Rosh Hashanah of the eighth year is considered shemitah produce. These vegetables usually may not be eaten because of the gezeiras sefichim (see below, 38), but in cases that they are not subject to the issur of sefichim, they have kedushas shevi’is.
- Right after Rosh Hashanah. Since the vast majority of vegetables on the market after Rosh Hashanah of shemitah were picked during shemitah, they are subject to the halachos of shemitah. Some examples: tomato, pepper, eggplant, zucchini, watermelon, other melons, sweet potato, turnip, kohlrabi, horseradish, fennel, radish, strawberry, banana, etc.
- Therefore, immediately after Rosh Hashanah, one must already be careful to either only buy these vegetables from stores with excellent hashgachos that import their vegetables from chutz la’aretz, use produce grown by non-Jews, or use produce that is definitely from the sixth year.
- Some time later. However, other vegetables are not picked at the beginning of the year; in the beginning of shemitah, the ones on the market are still from the sixth-year crop and do not have kedushas shevi’is. For example, potatoes of shemitah only get to the market around Kislev-Teves time. Onions of shemitah only start around Teves, which is when harvesting begins in the Aravah; at the end of Adar, harvesting begins in the center of the country (בית דוד פ”ב אות ב’ ובהערה).
- Carrots. Most years, the carrot harvest starts in the middle of Tishrei. Thus, until Sukkos, carrots are from the sixth-year crop. From that point on, one needs to assume they are already shemitah produce. There are two types of garlic in Eretz Yisroel: purple and white. Purple garlic is from Eretz Yisroel and is not on the market until the end of the winter of shemitah. White garlic is from chutz la’aretz and has no shemitah concerns (בית דוד שם).
- Mushrooms. Mushrooms have no kedushas shevi’is whatsoever since they do not grow from the ground (תוס’ שבת דף צ’ ע”א, ע”ז דף י”ד ע”א ומאירי שם, שו”ת מנחת יצחק ח”ח סי’ צ”ט, דרך אמונה פ”ד ביאה”ל ס”א).
Vegetables that Grew in Shemitah
- Mideoraisa, vegetables, grains, and legumes that grew during shemitah may be eaten. However, Chazal forbade these foods even if they grew on their own out of concern that sinners will plant in secret and claim the produce grew on its own. Chazal call these plants “sefichim” (תורת כהנים פ’ בהר פ”ב ה”ג, רמב”ם ריש פ’ ד’).
- Tree fruit. There is no issur sefichim for fruit from trees and perennial bushes (רמב”ם פ”ד ה”ג) since they are not planted each year.
Four Fields that Are Exceptions to the Gezeirah
- There are four types of fields in which produce that grows on its own (חזו”א סי’ י’ סק”א) is not subject to Chazal’s decree against sefichim (רמב”ם פ”ד ה”ד). However, these fields are not very commonly found.
- A “s’dei bur” is a field whose owner, for whatever reason, does not plan to plant since people do not go there (רמב”ם שם).
- A “s’dei nir” is a field that, based on its yearly planting schedule, needs to lie fallow in shemitah for its upkeep (רמב”ם שם).
- A “s’dei kerem” is a vineyard. Since vegetables planted in a vineyard are assur as kilayim, Chazal did not include vineyards in their gezeirah as there is no concern a person will actively make his vineyard forbidden by planting something else.
- Different type. If there is a field planted with one type of produce and another type of produce grows on its own, Chazal did not apply the issur sefichim since planting one type forbids the other type.
Vegetables that Began Growing in the Sixth Year
- The Rishonim argue whether vegetables that began growing in the sixth year but finished growing and were picked in shemitah are subject to the issur sefichim. Some say that even though they grew in the sixth year, since they were picked in shemitah, they may not be eaten (רמב”ם פ”ד הי”ד, שם הי”ח, מבי”ט ח”ג סי’ מ”ה). The Sephardi minhag follows this opinion (אור לציון ח”א יו”ד סי’ כ”ז סק”ד).
- Others hold that anything that began growing in the sixth year [i.e., its stalk became visible over the ground (חזו”א הובא בבית דוד ח”ב הע’ 6), the vegetable itself began to grow (מנחת שלמה ח”א סי’ מ”ט), or most of the vegetable’s growth happened in the sixth year (שמיטה כהלכתה פ”ב הע’ ב’)] is not subject to the issur sefichim even if it was picked in shemitah. Such produce is considered sefichim of the sixth year, not of shemitah (הר”ש פ”ט שביעית מ”א, ר”י ור”ת בתוס’ פסחים דף נ”א ע”ב, רמב”ן ב’ בהר כ”ה, ה’). Most Ashkenazim follow this opinion and permit the consumption of vegetables that began to grow in the sixth year since the issur is derabanan (פאת השלחן סי’ כ”ב ס”ג, חזו”א סי’ ט’ סקי”ז ד”ה ירק). Still, vegetables picked in shemitah have kedushas shevi’is (above 32).
Non-Jewish Owned Produce
- There is no issur sefichim in a non-Jew’s field since the gezeirah was made because of sinners who would plant in secret; since non-Jews are not forbidden to plant in shemitah, this gezeirah does not apply in their fields (רמב”ם פ”ד הכ”ט). The kedushah status of non-Jewish owned produce is subject to a dispute among the poskim and varying minhagim. We will, iy”H, discuss this in a future issue.
- Based on all the above, one must be extremely careful to buy produce exclusively from stores under excellent hashgachos. Otherwise, one can easily transgress issurim of shemitah. It is also very important to read the notices in the store detailing the origins of the produce and treat it accordingly. For example, if the produce is from chutz la’aretz, it is not subject to any of the halachos or restrictions of shemitah; the same is true of sixth-year produce. If it is from a non-Jew, it is subject to one’s minhag regarding non-Jewish owned produce, as will be explained, b’ezras Hashem, in the future.