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The Sanctity of Shevi’it

In the previous Halacha we have explained the basic laws ofShemitta which apply this year, 5775, including some agricultural prohibitions, such as ploughing and pruning.

All of the detailed laws applying to the tending of gardens or fields during Shevi’it do not apply to many people who do not have a field or garden. Thus, let us first discuss the laws ofShemitta which apply to everyone, i.e. the laws of fruits and vegetables grown during the Shemitta year.

The Sanctity of Shevi’it
Fruits frown during Shevi’it and vegetables picked during Shevi’itretain the sanctity of Shevi’it, for the Torah states (Vayikra 25) regarding the Shemitta year, “For it is a jubilee, it shall be holy for you.” Our Sages expounded (Yerushalmi, Shevi’it, Chapter 4) that just as it is holy, so are its fruits holy. This means that all fruits and vegetables grown or picked during Shevi’it (each fruit or vegetable with its respective law as we shall explain) retain sanctity and they cannot be treated the same way they are on other years.

Manifestation of the Sanctity of Shevi’it
The sanctity of Shevi’it manifests itself in several laws, as follows: The proper way to eat these fruits, the permissible method of selling them, and guarding them from loss or destruction, as we shall soon explain.

The Fruits of Israel vs. the Fruits of other Countries
The sanctity of Shevi’it only applies to the Land of Israel. Thus, all fruits and vegetables grown outside of Israel, including those grown in Eilat (southern Israeli city which is biblically outside the borders of the Land of Israel), do not retain the sanctity ofShevi’it. All fruits and vegetables grown outside of Israel retain no sanctity even if they were later brought into Israel. Similarly, fruits and vegetables grown in Israel and later exported to other countries do retain the sanctity of Shevi’it, for the law depends on where the produce was grown.

Fruits of Syria
Our Sages decreed that most of the laws of Shevi’it apply to fruits and vegetables grown in Syria so that the Jewish people would not desert their fields in Israel and relocate to Syria in order to work the land there (in those times, Israel and Syria enjoyed good relations).

Fruits Sold Nowadays
Nowadays when the market for fruits and vegetables is very large, it is customary in many places where there is a large Torah-observant population to import fruits and vegetables grown outside of Israel in order to avoid any halachic limitations ofShevi’it produce (which we shall try to discuss in a following Halacha, G-d-willing). When the fruits are from Israel, there is usually a sign or sticker next to every fruit and vegetable marking its origin. Nevertheless, in places where no Kashrut organization is responsible for the fruits and vegetables, purchasing produce during Shevi’it can cause serious halachic concerns to arise, as we shall explain.

Mushrooms
The sanctity of Shevi’it only rests on things which grow from the ground. However, mushrooms, which do not grow from the ground and require the “Shehakol” blessing, do not retain the sanctity of Shevi’it at all.

Non-Fruit-Bearing Trees
The sanctity of Shevi’it rests only on fruits, vegetables, legumes, and the like; on the other hand, the sanctity of Shevi’it does not apply to non-fruit-bearing trees at all. Nevertheless, it is still forbidden to plant or perform any of the works forbidden duringShevi’it on a non-fruit-bearing tree exactly as it is forbidden to do so regarding a fruit tree.

A Non-Jew’s Field 
The laws of the sanctity of Shevi’it apply only to land belonging to a Jew in the Land of Israel; however, land belonging to a non-Jew in Israel does not retain the sanctity of Shevi’it. Indeed, Maran Ha’Bet Yosef and his rabbinical court decreed excommunication upon anyone who treated fruits grown on such land with the sanctity of Shevi’it (since this stringency caused a tremendous uproar and confusion in those times; there are those who rule stringently on this matter even nowadays).

In the next Halacha we shall, G-d-willing, discuss the issue of “Heter Mechira” (permissible sale of land in Israel to a non-Jew ahead of Shemitta), those who supported it, those who opposed it, and if there is room to rely on this leniency in our times.