The year of Shmitta has ended. Farmers are back on their fields, sowing seeds and plowing the earth. Can the field or garden be tended as usual? Which prohibitions remain although Shmitta has ended? What is the status of produce harvested from now on and to the produce in the warehouses? Are fruits different from vegetables, and how? Where can esrogim be procured this year for Succos? Of this and more, in the coming article.
Laws of Shmitta
To get a clear picture of the relevant halachos we will first briefly review of the halachos of Shmitta:
Eating or otherwise benefitting from produce that is planted annually and grew in Jewish-owned fields during Shmitta is forbidden. However, fruit (or, according to some opinions, any produce that grows on perennial plants), as well as produce from a non-Jew’s field can be used (although according to the Chazon Ish it must be regarded with the same sanctity as any Shmitta products).
Owned and Cultivated
All activities intended to protect and promote the plant’s growth is forbidden during the Shmitta year. Additionally, every field and orchard must be made ownerless. What happens if the owner didn’t abandon his field, or did work in his orchard – is the produce forbidden? Or, perhaps, while his action was forbidden, the produce is not?
The Rishonim are divided on this issue, and contemporary poskim are split in their ruling. According to the Eida Hacharedis the produce cannot be used, but according to the Chazon Ish it may be used though it is not recommended.
Fruit that grew on its own during Shmitta and is not prohibited under the law of s’fichin carries sanctity commonly referred to as kedushas Shviis. Several halachos pertain to this produce, such as the prohibition to waste or profit from it, and the requirement to use it only in the customary manner. Fruits from land owned by non-Jews: according to the Jerusalem rabbis, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and the Or LeZion they have no sanctity. However, the Chazon Ish sees them as sanctified.
One of the special requirements for fruits that have kedushas Shevi’is is the mitzvah of biur. This mitzvah is accomplished at the end of the harvest season for each variety of fruit. At this point, only an amount of produce sufficient for three meals in one’s household may be retained. According to the Rambam the rest must undergo biur through burning, which many Sfaradi communities actually do. The Rash and Ramban understand that biur is done by physically removing any remaining fruit of that variety (including products produced from it such as grape juice) from your possession and publicly declaring it ownerless in front of three people. Afterwards, anyone (including the original owner) may reacquire the fruit. If biur was not done on the appropriate date, the fruit becomes forbidden to eat. Therefore, it is important to know the date for biur. The following link leads to the (Hebrew) chart of the dates one must do biur for various fruits:
Now, since the shmitta year is over, toiling the earth is once again permitted. But what are the halachos for the fruit that remains on the trees? Does it still have kedushas Shviis? For how long?
During Shmitta, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting, is forbidden. As soon as the year is over these actions are again permitted, and may even be done to protect the kedushas Shviis produce still on the trees.
Which produce is considered sanctified? What is the turning point? Some change status when the fruit appears (as soon as the flower bud falls off and the fruit begins peeping through); others – when the fruit has grown 1/3 of the way; yet others depend upon the actual harvesting. Each fruit category has a separate set of halachos.
As a first step in understanding these halachos, we will define the different points.
There are three opinions on the definition of the appearance of fruit:
1) As soon as the flower bud falls off, even if the fruit has not yet grown.
2) Immediately when the fruit becomes visible. Some maintain that the fruit must be somewhat edible, while others maintain it need not be edible.
3) When the fruit is one-third grown.
The definition of a fruit after one-third of its growth is disputed. Some understand it must reach one third of its final physical size (if the ideal fruit would be 100cc, the fruit will have reached this stage when it is 33 cc). Others understand it must reach one third of its ripeness – it must be ripe enough to be slightly edible. The Chazon Ish rules that both stages are very close to each other. (Rabbenu Chananel, Rosh Hashana 12b, Rashi, Chiddushei Haran; Rambam Trumos 1:12; Chazon Ish, Shviis 19:23).
The majority opinion is that harvesting means the precise moment the produce is harvested from the tree, while the minority opinion is that it’s the point in which the fruit no longer grows anymore, and the connection to the tree only helps maintain freshness. The majority opinion is authoritative (Rambam 4:12-13; Ramban Vayikra 25; Chazon Ish Shviis 27:7).
Fruit of 5783
All fruit that appeared during Shmitta (excluding olives and grapes) has kedushas Shviis, and retains that status forever, regardless of the harvesting time.
According to the Shela (Gilyon Harambam, Shmitta 4:9) the cutoff point for appearing is only Tu Bishvat of 5783. However, according to the Pe’at Hashulchan, Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Chazon Ish it is Rosh Hashana 5783. The latter’s opinions is the accepted halacha. Practically, there is no real difference on the ground since only rarely does fruit appear in Eretz Yisroel only after Rosh Hashana (according to the aforementioned chart, the only tree for which it may be possible is the pecan tree as well as some privately owned citrus trees.) This Shmitta, since 5782 was a leap year, the likelihood of fruit appearing only after Rosh Hashana is even less.
All grapes and olives, have kedushas Shviis because by now (Rosh Hashana) they have all passed a third of their growth. Only towards the end of the coming winter will new grapes become available which will not have kedushas Shviis.
All Israeli fruit presently has kedushas Shviis. Therefore, using the fruits of trees from owners who didn’t keep the halachos of shmitta is a dispute as we mentioned. In any case all fruit cannot be used inappropriately, discarded, traded for financial gain or exported. Additionally, as mentioned above the fruit can only be eaten and stored until the harvest is over.
Grain and Legumes
Grain and legumes that have grown to one third of their full growth before Rosh Hashana 5783 will forever have kedushas Shviis, regardless of the harvesting date. Since it is impossible for the average consumer to keep track of this, in addition to the long shelf life of these products, it is important to purchase grain, beans, and seeds with reputable kashrus supervision.
The determine factor for vegetables is the harvesting time. Therefore, according to the Torah vegetables harvested after Rosh Hashana 5783 is permitted may be used without sanctity. However, Chazal, in order to ascertain that Jews would not plant their fields before Shmitta is over in order to sell their produce after Shmitta, prohibited all vegetables that are harvested before new produce that could have been planted and harvested after Rosh Hashana is available, or until the first night of Chanukah, the earlier of the two. Therefore, those who maintain that non-Jewish produce has kedushas Shviis cannot use vegetables from Israel, even those grown by non-Jews, until Chanukah. This rabbinic prohibition though has a caveat – if the same product is imported and available on the market, the locally grown products can be used immediately.
The Chazon Ish explains (Shviis 9:13) why Chanukah was chosen as the cutoff point: by Chanukah most people will have forgotten about Shmitta products, and new vegetables will already have grown.
The esorg’s status is disputed. While some see it as a vegetable whose status is determined by the harvesting date, others see it as a fruit whose status is determined by the fruit’s appearance (Ra’avad Shmita 4:12; Rashi and Tosefos Rosh Hashana 14b; and others). The Rambam rules (Shmitta 4:12) that both opinions must be regarded, while the Chazon Ish (7:10-16) follows the opinion that the determing date is when the fruit appeared, but rabbinically we must also be scrupulous and follow the harvesting date. Therefore, for Succos this year esrogim can be acquired only from outside of Israel (Morocco or California) or from untended orchards that were harvested privately or through an Otzar Beis Din.
Until the new produce is harvested (towards the end of the winter) all fruits available have kedushas Shviiis. Since Israeli produce is exported all over the world, consumers outside of Israel must remain vigilant and note the land of origin on produce, ensuring there is a reputable hechsher if the produce is exported from Israel.
The same is true for beans, seeds, and grains.
Vegetables: If the same product is available in Israel from import, using locally grown produce in Israel is permitted. In addition, once the new produce is picked, and in any event – all produce will be permitted by the first night of Chanukah.
Vegetables known to have been harvested during Shmitta are prohibited.