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Torah Years


In this week’s article we’ll learn how to count the years of orlah, and years in general. Is a year considered a full calendar year? And what are the ramifications of each method? How can a Jewish king in Tanach be listed as having ruled for two years, while in reality his reign lasted all of two days? How are the orlah years counted? How can a tree only two years and six weeks old not be orlah, while another 3 years old tree is still orlah? Why should fruit trees be planted before the 15th or 16th of Av? Does the year of orlah change on Rosh Hashana or on Tu B’Shvat? What are the orlah concerns in countries in the Southern Hemisphere? Why are wild pomegranates, lemons, and loquat particularly susceptible to orlah? Can orlah apply twice in a tree’s lifespan? Of this and more, in the coming article.

Counting the Years of Orlah

In this week’s parasha we read about counting the Omer and the holiday of Shavous when we received the Torah. The Zohar (Bereshis 25a) writes that on Shavous the world is judged for two issues: adherence to the laws of orlah, and treating Shmitta fruit as if it is ownerless. Orlah can be quite common, and even a tiny cumquat tree in a window box might be subject to its laws, so familiarizing ourselves with the halachos of orlah will help us prepare for Shavous.

How is the age of a tree determined? The Torah has several methods for determining age: the zero year; a 12-month calendar year, and a universal year.

Age in the Torah

The three methods for determining age are used in the Torah for different purposes:

  • The zero year: the first year of life is not counted as zero, but rather the first year. Therefore, when the Torah instructs us to bring a “one year old” lamb as a sacrifice, it refers to a lamb in the first year of its life (Rosh Hashana 10a; Erchin 18b).
  • A full calendar year: Sometimes, the Torah requires completing of the year to be considered that age. A boy becomes bar mitzva once he has lived a full 13 years, and he has begun his 14th A bar mitzva boy is called 13 years and 1 day old, but while his 13 years must be full years, the 1st day can be any part of the day. therefore, as soon as the sun sets (or the stars appear) on the evening of his 13th birthday, the boy is already bar mitzva (Niddah 45b).
  • There are cases, though, in which the Torah refers to years of the world. The beginning of Maseches Rosh Hashana lists what is subject to universal years, one of which is a king’s reign. Therefore, when the prophets list the Kings of Israel and the years they reigned, they use this method. As soon as a king was coronated, that year becomes the first year of his reign. Then, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan (Rosh Hashana for kings), the year changes and the second year of the king’s reign begins. A king might be coronated on the 29th of Adar and deposed on the 1st of Nissan, but will be listed as having ruled for 2 years.

Since all three methods are legitimate, Chazal usually indicate which method is applied in each case. For orlah, the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 9b) uses several psukim to prove that the years of orlah are subject to universal years which depend upon Rosh Hashana, not full calendar years. Therefore, every tree that was planted in the ground by Rosh Chodesh Elul is considered 1 year old after Rosh Hashana.

But when is a tree considered planted? There is another halacha stating that a tree is not considered planted until it takes root in the ground — the roots strike the soil, and the shoot becomes connected and anchored in the earth. Chazal estimated that anchoring takes approximately two weeks. Therefore, every tree that has been planted by the 15th of Av, is anchored in the earth by Rosh Chodesh Elul, and by Rosh Hashana it is considered having lived 1 full year, and it turns 2 years old.

For example, in this year: 5784, trees planted before the 15th of Elul 5784, will turn 2 years old on Rosh Hashana 5785. On Rosh Hashana 5786 they will turn 3 years old, and as of Rosh Hashana 5787 the fruit will no longer be orlah but rather neta revaii (and subject to the halachos of neta revaii as detailed in last week’s article). From Rosh Hashana 5788 they will be 5 years old, and unrestricted in any way.

While most opinions point at the cutoff date of the 15th of Elul, some maintain it is the 16th of Elul before sunset. In some cases, professionals might determine the shoot was anchored even earlier. One who missed the cutoff date might, in extenuating circumstances, present a question to a competent rabbi for a decision.

Fruit Age

Fruit that sprouted during the orlah period retains its orlah status, regardless of when it ripened or was harvested. Defining the moment of sprouting is a matter of debate, with many opting for the opinion that considers a fruit as having sprouted once the flower falls off and the tiny fruit emerges, even though the fruit is still inedible at that stage.

Another halacha stipulates that the third year continues until Tu Bishvat of the following year (Rosh Hashana 1:1). However, there is a disagreement among the Rishonim regarding practical application. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 294:5) outlines two approaches to implementing this halacha, generally favoring the shortest route:

1) Each new sapling must be firmly rooted in the ground for one month initially, followed by three Rosh Hashanahs. By the Tu Bishvat after its third Rosh Hashana, the fruit produced by this tree is no longer classified as orlah.

2) The period of three complete calendar years determines the cessation of orlah status. For example, if a tree was planted on the first day of Elul, 5784, it will no longer be considered orlah as of the first day of Elul, 5787.

The Rosh (Orlah 9) asserts that fruit trees typically do not bear fruit between Rosh Hashanah and Tu Bishvat, thus rendering the dispute a moot issue. According to the Maadanei Yom Tov (ibid 1), the Rosh’s statement actually implies that fruit trees cease to sprout fruit after the 15th of Av.

However, nowadays the dispute is very relevant due to several factors:

1) There are sizable Jewish communities located south of the equator where the bulk of fruit trees sprout their fruit during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Tu Bishvat, which coincides with the summer months in those regions.

2) Technological advancements have facilitated sprouting fruit before Tu Bishvat. Additionally, certain species such as lemons, loquats, and almonds are known to sprout before Tu Bishvat, particularly when Tu Bishvat falls towards the latter part of winter.


Trees planted up to Tu B’Av 5784 will retain their orlah status until the last day of 5786. Fruit that began sprouting before Tu Bishvat of 5787 will be orlah, while those that sprouted thereafter will fall under the category of neta revaii until Tu Bishvat 5788. Any fruit that began sprouting after Tu Bishvat 5788 will no longer carry holy status.

Planting a tree just one day later will shift the entire schedule forward by a full year, meaning the fruit will lose its holy status only after Tu Bishvat of 5789.

Uninvited New Trees

Adventitious buds are new trees that sprout from an existing tree. When a shoot emerges higher than a tefach from the ground it is considered a branch; a shoot that starts within the first tefach of the ground — and certainly one that starts from the roots — is considered a new tree, necessitating counting anew of orlah years for the fruit that grows from these buds.

Certain species, such as pomegranate and esrog trees, are particularly prone to this type of sprouting. These new offshoots often grow rapidly and yield high-quality fruit relatively quickly. Therefore, those cultivating these species must remain vigilant of new buds and mark them to ensure that their fruit is not mistakenly consumed or sold, especially in Israel.

Frequently, trimming the new offshoot low enough will prevent it from producing fruit. Then, once the orlah years are over, the shoot is left uncut, and it quickly begins producing sweet, high-quality fruit.

In Israel, all produce of fruit orchards marketed under mahadrin supervision undergoes monitoring for this issue. However, fruit bearing a lower level of supervision is prone to this problem.

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