Shemittah - Oregon Kosher

Oregon Kosher
Everything you need to know
about the Sabbatical Year
© 2014 Oregon Kosher
Let’s Start With a Definition:
Shemittah/‫ שמיטה‬is translated as the “Sabbatical year” and
comes from the word ‫שמט‬, meaning to release. Just as we
have a 7 day week with the 7th day being a day of rest, so to
the Torah prescribes a 7 year agricultural cycle with the 7th
year being a year of rest for the land in the Holy land of
Israel, during which the land is not worked and the produce
of the land is sanctified. Additionally, the Shemittah year
waives all outstanding debts between Jewish debtors and
creditors. It is important to mention from the outset that
most halachic authorities hold that nowadays the laws of
Shemittah are Rabbinic in nature. The laws of agricultural
Shemittah begin on Rosh Hashanah of the 7th year, with
some exceptions. The cancelation of debts occurs at sunset
on Erev Rosh Hashanah of the 8th year.
The Verses of the Torah that discuss the general mitzvah of Shemittah
1. Shemos 23:10-12: Six years you may sow your land and gather in its produce.
But in the seventh [year] you shall release it and abandon it; the poor of your
people shall eat [it], and what they leave over, the beasts of the field shall eat. So
shall you do to your vineyard [and] to your olive tree[s]. Six days you may do
your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, in order that your ox and your
donkey shall rest, and your maidservant's son and the stranger shall be
2. Va’Yikra 25:1-7:And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai, saying, Speak to the
children of Israel and you shall say to them: When you come to the land that I am
giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath for Hashem. You may sow your field for
six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its
produce, But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath
to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard. You
shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest, and you shall not pick the grapes
you had set aside [for yourself], [for] it shall be a year of rest for the land. And
[the produce of] the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat for you, for your
male and female slaves, and for your hired worker and resident who live with
you, And all of its produce may be eaten [also] by your domestic animals and by
the beasts that are in your land.
3. Va’Yikra 25:20-22: And if you should say, "What will we eat in the seventh year?
We will not sow, and we will not gather in our produce!"[Know then, that] I will
command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for
three years. And you will sow in the eighth year, while [still] eating from the old
crops until the ninth year; until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old [crop].
4. Devarim 15:1-: At the end of seven years you will make a Shemittah release. And
this is the manner of the release; to release the hand of every creditor from what
he lent his friend; he shall not exact from his friend or his brother, because time
of the release for the Lord has arrived.
Rationale for the Mitzvos
As with all mitzvos, we ultimately do them because they are the will of the
creator as laid out in His Torah, nevertheless, there are many important reasons
that can be pointed out for the laws of Shemittah:
1. It builds our faith in the fact that Hashem runs the world and provides our
sustenance. He commanded us in the laws and he will provide for us, just as
he sent us man in the dessert.
2. It gives Jews a year to collectively take a breather and focus on higher, more
spiritual pursuits—as the people packed the synagogues and study halls.
3. As mentioned above the cycle of 7 mimics that of Shabbos. Just as Shabbos
reminds that the universe did not come into existence on its own, but was
created by Hashem in 6 days, and on the 7th He rested, so too Shemittah
reminds us that Hashem created the world and sustains it.
4. To feed the poor and the animals, and provide for the needy by canceling
their debts.
5. The Rambam suggests that letting the land lie
fallow is agriculturally beneficial, for it results in the
Land rejuvenating itself.
The Age Old Question
With all of the agricultural restrictions, how will farmers survive the year?
First, the Torah answers this Question: “And if you should say, "What will we eat in
the seventh year? We will not sow, and we will not gather in our produce!"[Know
then, that] I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield
produce for three years. And you will sow in the eighth year, while [still] eating from
the old crops until the ninth year; until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old
Of course, a Jew realizes that Hashem provides parnasah (sustenance) and that
observing a mitzvah will never hurt anyone. An observant farmer obeys the Torah
dictates, knowing that Hashem attends to all his needs. Indeed, recent shmittos have
each had numerous miracles rewarding observant farmers in this world for their
halachic diligence. Who can possibly imagine what reward awaits them in Olam Haba!
In addition: The Otzar Beis Din (Jewish Court Storehouses), which we will describe at
length later, employ the farmers to help distribute produce during the Shemittah year. In
short, the fruit of the land have to be treated as ownerless during Shemittah. They must
be available for all to come and pick. Many people do not live right next to the fields;
therefore, Beis Din collects the fruit on the behalf of the people for distribution. When
paying for such fruit, one is not paying for the fruit itself, but for the labor that went in
to gathering them. The Beis Din usually hires shemittah observant farmers to do the
gathering, thereby supporting them during shemmittah.
Types of Shemittah
‫שמיטת קרקעות‬
‫עבודת הקרקע‬
Working the
‫שמיטת כספים‬
Loan Amnesty
‫קדושת הפירות‬
Sanctity of the
Differences between types
of Shemittah
-There is a big difference between agricultural laws of Shemittah and the laws of
canceling debts. The agricultural laws, i.e. the laws of working the land apply only in
the land of Israel, whereas the laws of debt cancelation exist outside of the land of
Israel as well.
-Within the agricultural laws, although the laws of working the land apply only in the
land of Israel, the laws relating to the sanctity of the fruit can follow it out of the land
of Israel.
-Therefore, the most important laws for a person living outside of Israel to be
knowledgeable in would be the laws of debt cancelation and the sanctity of the fruit.
A quick note on where the agricultural laws apply:
We mentioned that they only apply in the land of Israel, but that statement is very
vague. What counts as the land of Israel? This topic is one of much debate, but here
is some info: There are some portions of modern-day Israel which, since they were
not under Jewish control in the days of Ezra are not considered part of the Land for
the purposes of Shemittah. These areas include the southern Negev (ex. Eilat) and
northeast Galil (around Kiryat Shmonah and Metullah). Produce grown in these
areas would be permitted and not subject to Shemittah laws.
‫ דרבנן‬or ‫דאורייתא‬
Torah based or Rabbinic
The Talmud in tractate Gittin page 36a-b brings a discussion about whether the
laws of Shemittah in our modern times, after the destruction of the Beis Ha’Mikdash,
are to be treated as Torah laws or Rabbinic laws. Most halachic athorities side with
the opinion of Rebbi- that the laws are currently Rabbinic in nature. Rebbi held that
the existence of a Torah level shemittah is tied to the existence of the Yovel Jubilee
year (which occurs every 50 years), and we can no longer observe the Jubilee year.
Tosefos (36a) and Rambam (Shemittah and Yovel 9:2) state the reason for this is: one
cannot have a Jubilee year without all of the Jewish people dwelling in the land of
Israel. The Rabanan decreed that we should continue to observe the laws of
Shemittah but did not institute the laws of Yovel, as they felt it would be to difficult
for the people to handle (the Yovel year is a sabbatical year that follows a sabbatical
year). Although we do not follow his opinion, it is noteworthy that the Beis Ha’Levi
held that the mitzvos of shemittah are on a Torah level even now, not based upon the
laws themselves, but based upon a verse in Nechemiah in which the Jewish people
vowed to keep them. He states that they are obligatory on a Torah level based on
the laws of oaths and vows rather than the laws of shemittah themselves.
Taking a break from the farm: During the Shemittah year, the residents of the Land
of Israel must completely desist from cultivating their fields. It is even prohibited to
have a gentile work a Jew’s land (Avodah Zarah 15b), just as one may not hire a
gentile to do work on Shabbos that a Jew may not do. They also relinquish personal
ownership of their fields; whatever produce grows on its own is considered
communal property, free for anyone to take, without charge, as much as their
families can use.
This aspect of the Shemittah year is known as shemittas karka, “release of the land.”
The bulk of the agricultural laws of Shemittah apply only within the Land of Israel.
Only in the Land of Israel is it a mitzvah to allow the land to lie fallow during this
year, and only the produce which grows in Israel during the Shemittah year is
considered holy, subject to special rules.
The following is a summary of some of the basic laws that apply
in the Land of Israel. The practical applications are complex,
especially with today’s modern agricultural and distribution
methods, and one who lives in Israel and has a farm or a garden,
or even a houseplant, should consult a rabbi there to find out the
details. Even buying a bouquet of flowers demands extra
knowledge this year. (While all of this may seem overwhelming,
the practical applications of these laws are often easier to carry
out than one might think.)
Forbidden Activities
The Following Activities were originally forbidden by the Torah and are treated
with stringency even according to those who hold Shemittah is only rabbinic in
nature nowadays (Verses in Va’Yikra 25):
1. Planting Seeds and Plants (Zoreia and Noteia)-‫ ָׂש ְדָך ֹלא ִתזְ ָׂרע‬-you shall not sow your
2. Pruning (Zomer)-‫וְ כַ ְר ְמָך ֹלא ִתזְ מֹר‬-nor shall you prune your vineyard.
3. Harvetsing (Botzeir and Kotzeir)-‫אֵ ת ְספִ יחַ ְק ִצ ְירָך ֹלא ִת ְקצוֹר‬-You shall not reap the
aftergrowth of your harvest,‫ירָך ֹלא ִתבְ צֹר‬
ֶ ִ‫ אֶ ת עִ נְ בֵ י נְז‬-and you shall not pick the
grapes you had set aside [for yourself].
4. Plowing (Choreish)- The Chazon Ish lists it among the Torah based mitzvos of
Shemittah, as a positive commandment as opposed to a negative commandment.
Other Forbidden Activities
The List of Rabbinic agricultural prohibitions is long, among them are:
1. Watering
2. Fertilizing
3. Weeding
4. Spraying
5. Digging
6. Removing stones
7. Applying pesticides
All of which are forbidden by rabbinic decree unless the work must be done in order
to prevent permanent damage to the field or temporary damage that would involve a
large expenditure.
During shemittah, the Torah prohibits sowing, planting, plowing and pruning as
well as harvesting in the traditional manner. The Sages additionally prohibited
fertilizing, irrigating, digging, weeding, pruning of all plants and most other
activities intended to prepare for or to promote growth. However, the Sages
permitted this latter set of activities when necessary to preserve the health and
fitness of grain, trees and plants.
Thus, one may tend one’s garden in order to perform “preventative maintenance.”
One should consult with an experienced religious gardener for determining what
is defined as such in each situation.
While one who owns a garden or greenery on an open porch is forbidden from
doing the activities listed earlier when not preventative in nature, indoor
gardening is usually permitted. As long as plants are in a place that has a roof and
a floor, one may generally care for his plants without restriction (see exceptions in
the following slide). Some people go out of their way to have a garden leading up
to shemittah in order to be able to fulfill the appropriate mitzvos of shemittah.
Flower Pots
Flower pots are a very interesting topic of discussion. If a flower pot is outdoors,
the laws of Shemittah apply fully. Whereas, if a flower pot is indoors and is not
perforated, the laws of Shemittah do not apply, though one should still refrain
from planting new seeds.
There is a concept called ‫ עציץ נקוב‬which is very relevant to the laws of Shemittah
as well as the laws of Shabbos. An ‫ עציץ נקוב‬is a perforated flower pot, and is
viewed as if it is attached to the ground. Halacha states that such a flower pot is
capable of absorbing some of its nutrients from the ground beneath it. A
perforated flower pot can become classified as an ‫ עציץ נקוב‬even inside based on
a) the story of the building the pot is on, b) the material the pot is made of, c)
whether part of the plant extends beyond the walls of the pot, d) whether the pot
has a liner and what material it is made of, e) If there is another object between
the floor and the pot.
Greenhouses- Matza Menutak ‫מצע מנותק‬
Planting seeds indoors during Shemittah is forbidden. Planting seeds outside, in
pots that are completely disconnected from the ground, is also forbidden.
However, the Chazon Ish, a prominent Torah scholar who lived in Israel from
1933 until his passing in 1953, wrote that when both of these situations are
combined—the planting is taking place indoors, in a pot disconnected from the
earth—planting is permitted. This is referred to as ‫מצע מנותק‬- “disconnected
bed” from ‫“ חממות‬greenhouses.” Though this concept was not accepted by all
poskim, it was accepted by Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l ( See Halichos Sadeh
5752, page 23, section 4, and page 24, point 4).
Based on this idea, farmers in Israel have adopted the technology of
hydroponics, a method of growing plants in a mineral-nutrient solution
contained in vessels rather than in soil. Using this technology, these farmers
grow certain types of vegetables inside greenhouses in pots that are completely
disconnected from the ground. Most contemporary halachic authorities consider
this an excellent way of growing vegetables that do not come under the
prohibition of sefichim (to be defined later). By buying these vegetables rather
than imported or Arab produce, one can have the privilege of supporting a
Jewish farmer who is keeping Shemittah. These vegetables do not have “the
holiness of the seventh year.”
The Great B’nei Brak/Yerushalayim Debate
Although it is agreed upon that non-Jewish produce cannot become forbidden as
sefichim, which we will discuss later at length, there is a great debate amongst poskim
over whether produce grown on non-Jewish owned land in Israel becomes sanctified
with Kedushas Shvi’is and must be treated appropriately. This is one of the most
controversial issues in the laws of Shemittah, dating back to a disagreement between
two outstanding Rabbis in Tzefas in the sixteenth century. Rabb Yosef Kairo (the
Shulchan Aruch) ruled that such produce has no sanctity, while Rav Moshe Trani (the
Mabit) ruled that it has sanctity. Today, customs vary in different cities, with
Yerushalayim following the more lenient opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, and B’nei
Brak following the stricter view of the Mabit, as this was the conclusion of the Chazon
More on Non-Jews and Shemittah
1. It is usually forbidden to give or sell shemittah produce to a gentile, as it is
sanctified produce, and they would not know the laws that pertain to it.
However, if a gentile is invited to a meal or lodges with a Jewish family, one
may give him/her shemittah produce.
2. As mentioned earlier, one cannot hire non-Jews to perform forbidden actions
on a Jewish owned field.
3. Gentile produce does not become forbidden as sefichim (to be explained).
4. Since a gentile is not obligated in the laws of shemittah, the produce of his field
is not to be treated as ownerless, and he does not need to open his fields to the
poor. He may continue to work the land as usual.
5. Trading with produce from gentile land: If one holds by the stricter opinion
mentioned in the previous slide, that the fruit of gentile land has sanctity,
then one cannot trade normally with such produce. According to the lenient
opinion, that it is free from sanctity, one may trade with it freely.
6. We will spend time later discussing a concept called biur- declaring shemittah
produce in one’s possession as ownerless. The status of gentile produce
regarding biur will also be based on the above mentioned argument.
According to the more stringent opinion, one would need to do biur, and to
the lenient opinion, one would not be obligated to.
Heter Mechirah ‫היתר מכירה‬
The heter mechirah, or “sale dispensation,” is a legal loophole devised by several
prominent rabbis in response to the life-threatening situation in Israel in the late 1800s.
Jewish farmers were struggling to stay afloat, and 1889 was a Shemittah year. Farmers
were afraid that if they would allow the land to lie fallow for an entire year, not only
would they become entirely destitute, but everything they had built up to that point
would be lost. The rabbis therefore came up with this loophole. The way it works is
that the land is sold to non-Jews (similar to the sale of chametz before Passover) for the
duration of Shemittah. This “non-Jewish” land is then permitted to be worked, and its
produce sold. (The loophole does not completely nullify all the Shemittah restrictions,
only those of rabbinic origin. The biblically prohibited labors of sowing, pruning and
reaping must be done by non-Jews.) From its inception, the heter mechirah has been
controversial, with halachic authorities on both sides of the debate. The most
important factor in allowing a lenient stance is the fact that nowadays the Sabbatical
year is not biblically required. Since it is only rabbinically ordained, more leniency can
be applied.
Some of the reasons of those opposed to the heter mechirah: a) It is prohibited to sell
land in the Land of Israel to a non-Jew, and any such sale is invalid. b) According to
certain halachic opinions, Shemittah observance today remains a biblical obligation.
c) According to yet other opinions, non-Jewish produce is holy too, so the heter
mechirah doesn’t accomplish anything. d) Originally, the provision was only
intended as a temporary response to a state of emergency, and was not intended to
be used once the state of emergency was over. The Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rav
were among the poskim who were opposed to the practice of continuing to use heter
According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook,this dispensation is similar to the
permission—and obligation—to desecrate the Shabbat in life-threatening situations,
as it is written: “The Torah teaches us that we should desecrate a single Shabbat for
one whose life is in danger, so that he will be able to keep many future
Shabbats.”As the economy in Israel becomes more established and there is no
longer a state of emergency, the original basis for the loophole is gone.
The growing trend in Israel is to avoid relying on the heter mechirah. During
the Shmittah year, the Orthodox Union (OU) certifies only produce grown by
gentiles or packaged from sixth-year inventory. Products under OU supervision do
not rely on heter mechirah.
The Biggest Issue for Us
Those who dwell outside the Land of Israel are impacted by the agricultural laws of
Shemittah in two ways:
a) Produce which is exported from Israel may be forbidden or have kedusha. If one finds
such produce in a store, it can be eaten only if it bears reliable rabbinical certification,
attesting that it was grown in compliance with the rules of Shemittah. This is what we
are about to focus on.
b) It is the privilege and duty of Diaspora Jewry to financially support the courageous
Israeli Shemittah-observant farmers, “those mighty in strength, who perform His
word,” by contributing to the special funds set up for this purpose. You can send
your donations to any of the many organizations that support such farmers.
A Quick Note on Loan Amnesty
As we saw before, the Torah tells us (Devarim 15:1) “At the end of seven years you
will make a Shemittah release. And this is the manner of the release; to release the
hand of every creditor from what he lent his friend; he shall not exact from his
friend or his brother, because time of the release for the Lord has arrived.”
Some brief notes on the applicable halachos- Only loans between Jews are canceled.
This takes affect upon sunset on erev Rosh Hashanah following the Shemittah year.
One can sign a document called a pruzbul, which will enable him to collect his debts
after this time by empowering a beis din to collect the loan, as loans between
individuals are canceled, but loans owed to a beis din are upheld. I will be giving
out a useable copy of a pruzbul in my handout.
Please turn to your
source sheets for the
next section. Thank you

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