Rabbi Moshe Spetter
Former Rosh Kollel in Greater Washington


“And the resting of the land shall be yours to eat for you and for your slave and for your maidservant, and for your hired worker and for your resident who lives with you. And for your animal and for the beast that is in your land shall be all the produce to eat.” (Vayikra 25:6-7)

Recently, stores have started to carry the first fruits which ripened (chanatu) during the shmitah year: loquats, cherries, grapes, peaches, figs and apples. Fruit of the shmitah year – which were not sold using the heter mechirah – have kedushat shviit. These fruit must be used “to eat” – by all the members of our nation. Their kedushah (literally, sanctity) is manifested in several ways:

  1. The obligation to repudiate ownership of (lihafkir) the fruit. During the shmitah year, anyone may come and eat the fruit, and the tree’s owner does not own the fruit.
  2. The prohibition of sechorah (commerce). One may not buy and sell peyrot shviit (shmitah produce). Thus, today, people use otzar beit din (literally, the court’s storehouse) as a practical solution to this issue. The beit din represents the public and is responsible for distribution. The beit din pays the farmer for his expenses only, and the consumers incur the cost of these expenses. In theory – and, occasionally, in practice as well – the otzar beit din prices should be lower than market prices, because the prices are supposed to reflect the farmer’s expenses only. Peyrot shviit must be sold by “assessment” (omad) rather than by size, weight, or counting. In other words, the fruit is not weighed; the weight is estimated.
  3. The prohibition of hefsed (loosely, wasting or discarding) peyrot shviit. One may not discard those parts of the fruit which are fit to be consumed. Leftovers which are fit to be consumed may not be thrown away. Rather, one must either designate a special receptacle for leftover peyrot shviit or place them in a bag until they spoil. However, if the leftovers are not fit for human consumption, they may be fed to animals.
  4. Biur (literally, eliminating) peyrot shviit. Our chachamim interpreted the abovementioned pasuk, “And for your animal and for the beast that is in your land,” as follows:

“As long as a beast eats from the field, feed it to your animal that is in your house. [The produce] for the beast in the field has been used up, remove [the produce] for your animal from the house.” (BT Pesachim 52b)

In other words, when there is no more fruit left on the trees, one must eliminate (liva’er) any fruit which remains in one’s house.

This year, the Chief Rabbinate’s shmitah commission has limited heter mechirah’s scope in the groves and orchards and has expanded the scope of otzar beit din. As a result, this year we will be privileged to enjoy fruit which havekedushat shviit, and therefore, we must ensure that we are familiar with all the laws of peyrot shviit.

Even those living in chu”l should study these laws, in order that the merit of their learning hilchot mitzvot hat’luyot ba’aretz (the laws of Eretz Yisrael-dependent mitzvot) will prepare them and bring them closer to Eretz Yisrael.