Some terms relevant to this article:
מצות התלויות בארץ Mitzvos HaTeluyos Ba’aretz-Agricultural mitzvos specifically pertaining to the Land of Israel.
קדושת שביעית Kedushas Shevi’is – Any produce grown during the shmitta year has the status of kedushah which it retains until the produce is deemed inedible by natural means.
ספיחים Sefichim – After growth of a harvest of legumes, vegetables, or grain that grew from seeds which were not intentionally planted during the sixth year.
ביעור שביעית Biur Shevi’is – The process of physically removing leftover peiros shevi’is shmitta fruits’ from one’s possession at the end of the fruit’s specific harvest season in the eighth year, and declaring it ownerless.
שמיטת קרקעות Shmittas Karkaos – The cycle in which it is forbidden for Jewish people to work the land in Israel during each seventh year.
חנטה Chanatah – The beginning phase of the fruit’s growth.
As we begin the Hakhel year, following a year of shmitta, one may ask why we are visiting this topic now that the shmitta year is over. It may be a surprise to many, but the shmitta cycle doesn’t end just because the seventh year has concluded. Several of the halachos of shmitta can apply in the eighth year as well (and sometimes even sometimes beyond that). For example, certain produce grows in the seventh year but only reaches the marketplace in the eighth year. Also, some of the halachos of shmitta are only applicable in the eighth year (i.e., biur shevi’is). Therefore, the eighth year in the cycle continues requiring our close attention to the halachos of shmitta as they can still apply.
The Torah commands two shmittos in the seventh year, Shmittas Kesafim and Shmittas Karkaos.
Shmittas Karkaos is one of the Mitzvos HaTeluyos Ba’aretz and by definition does not apply to anything grown outside of Eretz Yisroel. While in the past, those living outside of Israel had little to worry about in terms of Hilchos Shmitta, the increased export of Israeli-grown produce in the recent years has changed that dynamic. Now, consumers living outside
of Israel can purchase fresh as well as processed Israeli-grown produce. In Israel, kosher consumers are typically more aware of these laws, and when they purchase produce, they verify that the merchant is supervised by a reliable kosher agency for all Mitzvos HaTeluyos Ba’aretz, including shmitta. Outside of Israel some consumer are less aware of these laws and therefore not as familiar with the myriad of halachos pertaining to shmitta. Additionally, grocery and produce stores outside of Israel rarely have kosher supervision to verify the origin of the produce and whether or not shmitta halachos are relevant for that item.
Before we dive into this, it is important to note that there are many detailed halachos of shmitta with a lot of varying rabbinic opinions which are beyond the scope of this article. The purpose of our article is to bring you the basic rules and thus increase your general awareness. We will highlight general halachos and hopefully draw attention to a number of practical points that need to be considered.
Relevant Halachic Concepts
Shmittas Karkaos (during shmitta) includes numerous halachos:
a. Most agricultural work (i.e. plowing, planting, etc.) is not allowed.
b. The owner of the field must make the land hefker (ownerless), leave it unlocked, and allow unhindered use of the produce.
c. The fruits of shmitta are allowed to be eaten but must be treated b’kedushah. This means eating them in the typical manner of consumption
and only disposing the produce, peels and leftovers after they rot of their own accord and are deemed inedible.
d. It is also prohibited to derive commercial benefit from shmitta produce or to purchase shmitta produce. Therefore, consumers can only purchase shmitta produce via a reliable Otzar Beis Din. (The Beis Din appoints laborers to harvest the shevi’is fruits, store them and distribute them for consumption. They are only allowed to charge money to cover the wages of the workers and other direct expenses involved in bringing them to the consumer, but not for the actual product.)
e. In the eighth year, after the produce from the seventh year is no longer available in the field, we must also remove leftover produce of that variety that is in our possession (both at home and business).
Fruits – The determining factor of whether a fruit has kedushas shevi’is is the חנטה (chanatah). Chanatah is also the time when the fruit becomes chayav b’maasros. Therefore, if the chanatah was in the sixth year and the harvest was during shmitta, the fruits do not have kedushas shevi’is. However, if the chanatah was during the seventh year, even if the harvest was in the eighth year, the fruits would have kedushas shevi’is.
Olives and grapes – These fruits attain the status of kedushas shevi’is when the fruit reaches the point of one third of its total growth during the shmitta year.
- M’d’oraisa, sefichim have kedushas shevi’is and are allowed to be eaten. However, after the Chachamim saw people secretly planting vegetables, grains, and legumes and later claiming that the crops sprouted and grew by themselves, they prohibited the consumption of sefichim crops. This is known as issur sefichim.
- This prohibition refers only to field crops, including grains, legumes, and vegetables, which need to be replanted each year.
- In order to be considered sefichim the produce has to grow during the shmitta year. The amount of growth differs between grains and legumes (grains – the five types of grain, legumes – crops whose seed is eaten, but not the vegetable / plant itself such as: beans, peas, sunflower seeds, etc.) and vegetables. Grains and legumes that reached a third of their growth during shmitta are considered sefichim. However, if they reached a third of their growth before shmitta, even though they were harvested during shmitta, or if they reached one third of their growth after shmitta, even though they started growing during shmitta, there is no prohibition of sefichim.
Vegetables are considered sefichim as soon as they start to grow during shmitta. However, if they started growing before shmitta, even though most of their growth was during shmitta, and they were harvested during shmitta, there is no issur of sefichim. (Chazon Ish)
- Grains, legumes, and vegetables included in the issur of sefichim are prohibited for eating and other uses forever.
- The prohibition of sefichim applies to both human and animal food.
- Fruits are not considered sefichim, since even if a tree is planted during shevi’is, one will not be able to derive any benefit from it during shmitta. Therefore, “shema yavo adam l’zroah b’shevi’is atzma” does not apply to these crops. Perennial crops, such as bananas, are also considered fruits for the purpose of these halachos.
Sefichim After Shmitta:
Vegetables that started growing during the shmitta year, continued growing into the eighth year and were then harvested, are prohibited b’issur sefichim in the eighth year for the amount of time that it would take to grow that variety of vegetable, or until Chanukah of the eighth year. (Even if the vegetables were harvested before those times in the eighth year, they become permissible for consumption once the above-mentioned times for the prohibition of sefichim has passed.)
This only applies to vegetables. Regarding grains and legumes, once they have reached a third of their growth during shmitta, they are prohibited forever even if they continued growing on the eighth year. As mentioned earlier, the gezeirah of sefichim refers to produce that grew by itself and was not intentionally planted. However, vegetables or grains that were grown in a forbidden manner during shmitta are also included in the gezeirah of sefichim.
In summation, vegetables that were planted, grown, and harvested during the seventh year, whether they were planted and grown in a forbidden manner or they took root and grew by themselves, will be forbidden to eat forever! It is, therefore, also important during the eighth year to verify the origin of vegetables and when they grew in order to ascertain if there is any concern of sefichim. However, if fruits were grown in a forbidden manner, they retain their status of Kedushas Shevi’is and, l’halacha, are allowed to be eaten.
1. Chazal learned from the pesukim that there is an obligation of biur for peiros shevi’is at the end of the harvest season of each variety of fruit. When the time of biur arrives, if a person has more than three meals worth of produce for each member of the household for one week, he must remove any excess peiros shevi’is from his home (even if the fruits were taken from hefker or Otzar Beis Din) and make them hefker.
2. Peiros shevi’is that have not yet completed their growth cycle in the seventh year but overlap with the beginning of the growth of the new crop in the eighth year (such as pecans) are exempt from biur.
3. The time for biur varies for each species according to its growing times and the time at which the harvest in the fields is complete. There are species that have more than one growth cycle per year and there are species that include several varieties that each have a different harvest time. Therefore, it is important to verify the times of biur for each variety of produce according to information provided by a reputable kosher certification agency.
4. Peiros shevi’is are not actually burned as we do when burning chametz before Pesach. Rather, the fruits are made ownerless in front of three people by stating that they are hefker. After the biur the owner can retake ownership of the fruits. The biur can be made in front of friends even though the owner knows that they will not take it from him. Even after biur the fruits remain kedoshim b’kedushas shevi’is.
- If the time for biur has passed and the fruits were not made ownerless the fruits are forbidden to eat.
- Shmitta produce is generally not permitted to be removed from Eretz Yisroel (some are lenient for items that are used for a mitzvah, like esrogim). If it was removed, biur must be observed outside of Israel for produce with the status of kedushas shevi’is when the time for biur arrives in Israel. It is generally forbidden to move the produce requiring biur from one place to another but it is permissible to bring it back to Israel in order to perform biur there.
- A pot used to cook peiros shevi’is does not require kashering after z’man habiur.
- It is important to be aware of the time of biur for any produce of Israel that has is particularly long shelf life (i.e., preserved food in cans, spices, wine, olive oil, etc.).
In conclusion: Even in the eighth year the source of the fruits and vegetables must be verified and halachos of shmitta must be taken into account regarding both consumption and biur.
1. Fruits that sprouted during shmitta and were harvested during the eighth year have kedushas shevi’is. This is commonly found with citrus fruits and avocados that are harvested in Israel in the winter of the eighth year.
2. Olives and grapes that reached one third of their growth during shmitta and were harvested in the eighth year have kedushas shevi’is. In fact, all the olive products and wine that are produced in Israel during the eighth year are actually from harvests of shmitta fruit.
3. Legumes of any kind such as sunflower seeds, peas, etc. that have reached one-third of their growth during shmitta are prohibited forever as sefichim.
4. Vegetables that began to grow and were picked during shmitta remain prohibited as sefichim forever. Therefore, preserved, frozen, or pickled vegetables, etc. from shmitta are forbidden forever.
5. One should pay special attention to vegetables that are kept refrigerated and marketed as fresh to ensure that they are not prohibited as sefichim.
6. Vegetables that began to grow in the seventh year and were harvested in the eighth year are only allowed to be used at the time when there is a similar harvest for it from produce that grew in the eighth year. All sefichim are permitted after Chanukah of the eighth year.
7. One should pay special attention to canned fruits and vegetables, spices, wine, and all types of nuts whose shelf life are particularly long. Wines that are affected by shmitta will not bear OK certification, so consumers should be extra-vigilant to check each bottle for a kosher symbol.
8. If there are fruits and vegetables in one’s house that have kedushas shevi’is, it is important to find out the z’man habiur and perform biur accordingly. Some people outside of Israel are makpid to eat kedushas shevi’is fruits before the z’man habiur due to the opinion that biur must take place in Israel.
9. After the z’man habiur, if it is impossible to verify that biur took place or that the fruit was under the auspices of Beis Din at the time of biur, the fruit should not be purchased.