Otzar Beis Din or Heter Otzar Beis Din?

An Otzar Beis Din is literally “a storehouse operated by Beis Din.” Why would Beis Din operate a warehouse? Before explaining more fully the true purpose of an Otzar Beis Din, which is a halachically approved method of distributing shemittah produce, we must first review the halachos of shemittah. These rules fall under two general categories:

(1)   Laws of the Land

The Torah teaches that every seventh year is shemittah, and we are prohibited from working the land of Eretz Yisrael. One may not plow, plant, prune, or harvest one’s grapevines as an owner, or perform most other agricultural work. Furthermore, one may not allow one’s land to be worked during shemittah, even by a non-Jew.[1] One may perform activities whose purpose is to prevent loss, such as watering plants and trees so that they do not die.[2]

The landowner may not treat what grows during shemittah as his own; rather, he must allow others to enter his field or orchard and help themselves. They may take only as much as their family will eat, and the landowner himself may also take this amount.[3] One may not sell shemittah produce in a business manner.[4]

(2) Laws of the Fruit

Shemittah produce is imbued with special sanctity called kedushas shevi’is. The Torah provides specific rules that govern how one treats such produce. These laws fall under the following categories:

a.       Commerce with Shemittah Produce

One must be careful not to sell shemittah produce in a way that implies that one is its true owner. For this reason, shemittah produce may not be sold by weight or measure[5] nor sold in a regular store.[6] Instead it should be distributed in a way that implies that this is a division of produce rather than a sale.

One may not export shemittah produce to chutz la’aretz.[7] The later poskim even dispute whether one may ship esrogim to chutz la’aretz for people to fulfill the mitzvah of Arba Minim.[8]b.      Sefichin

The Torah permits eating produce that grew by itself, without the farmer working the field during shemittah. However, Chazal felt it necessary to prohibit grains and most vegetables that happened to grow on their own during shemittah year or were planted in violation of the laws of shemittah. This was because even in the days of Chazal it was unfortunately common to find Jews who deceitfully ignored shemittah laws. One practice of enterprising, unscrupulous farmers was to plant grain or vegetables and market them as produce that grew on its own.

To discourage this illegal business, Chazal forbade even grains and vegetables that grew on their own, a prohibition referred to as sefichin (literally, “plants that sprouted”). Several exceptions were made, including produce grown in the field of a non-Jew, who has no obligation to observe shemittah.[9]

c.       Hefker – Ownerless

Since all shemittah produce is halachically ownerless, every consumer has the halachic right to “help oneself” to whatever his family might eat. The poskim dispute whether one has the right to do this even if the owner is not halachically compliant and does not give others permission to enter his field.

The Otzar Beis Din

With this introduction, we can now discuss an Otzar Beis Din.

The owner of a vineyard is not required to produce wine for me, only to allow me to harvest the grapes for myself. If I do not have the equipment or expertise to press and process grapes into wine or olives into oil, I will be unable to utilize my rights to these fruits. Similarly, although I have a right to travel from Yerushalayim to pick citrus, mangos and bananas grown along the coast or in the northern part of the country, it is not that convenient for me to go. How then can I possibly utilize the benefit of shemittah?

Enter the Otzar Beis Din. The Beis Din represents the consumer and hires people to gather the fruit, crush the grapes and olives into juice and oil, ferment the juice into wine, package the product, and then distribute it to the consumer. The Otzar Beis Din acts as the consumer’s agent and hires pickers, truckers, and other laborers; rents wine production equipment; purchases the bottles; produces shemittah fruits, wines and oils; and delivers them to a convenient distribution center near my house.

Obviously, the Otzar Beis Din cannot expect the pickers, truckers, and other laborers to work as unpaid volunteers, nor can they use the production equipment without paying rent. Similarly, the managers who coordinate this project are also entitled to a wage for their efforts. The Otzar Beis Din divides these costs among the consumers. However, no charge is made whatsoever for the fruit, since they are hefker; the charges are only for the labor and other costs involved. Thus, Otzar Beis Din products should cost less than regular retail prices for the same items.

Similarly, the farmer is required to allow anyone to enter his field and help himself to his crops. However, since it is inconvenient for a resident of Yerushalayim to travel to an orchard in the northern part of Israel or along its coast to pick oranges and bananas, the Otzar Beis Din picks and transports the fruit to the consumer. All the other halachos of shemittah apply to this produce.

The Development of a ‘Modern’ Otzar Beis Din

The rabbonim and Beis Din of Yerushalayim organized the first “modern” Otzar Beis Din over 110 years ago. In 5670 (1910), Rav Tzvi Hirsch Cohen, a talmid chacham from Rechovot who owned vineyards and orchards, came to the rabbonim of Yerushalayim requesting that they function as his Beis Din to distribute the wine and fruit from his orchards for the coming shemittah. The written contract, signed by Rav Chayim Berlin, Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav Yisrael Yaakov Yaavetz and Rav Moshe Nachum Wallenstein, enabled Yerushalayim residents to receive wine and fruit from Rav Cohen’s orchards.

Someone had to arrange to harvest the fruit, process the grapes into wine, and transport the products to Yerushalayim. Since Rav Cohen was the most qualified person to take care of these arrangements, the Beis Din appointed him to be their representative on behalf of the general public. As an agent, he was entitled to a wage for his work, as were the other employees who harvested, crushed, packaged, and transported the crop, but no one was entitled to any profits on the produce.

The Beis Din established several rules to maintain that the laws of shemittah were scrupulously kept in this arrangement, and to guarantee that Rav Cohen was paid as a manager and not as an owner of the product. For one thing, they predetermined the price that the consumer would pay for the wine, guaranteeing that it was significantly lower than its usual market price.[10]

Because of the laws governing the harvest and use of shemittah products, the Beis Din also insisted on the following rules:

  • The wine and fruits could be distributed only to people who would observe the shemittah sanctity of the products.[11]
  • The vineyards and orchards had to be available for any shemittah-observant person to enter and harvest for his own needs.[12]
  • The products were not distributed through stores, but were divided as a communal division of bulk product.
  • The products were not weighed or measured. Each individual who participated in dividing the shemittah produce paid Rav Cohen as Beis Din’s agent, for which the consumer was entitled to ‘shares’ of wine and produce, which were delivered in bulk containers without an exact weight.
  • The actual harvest of the product was performed by non-Jews and in an atypical way.[13]

In his analysis of the procedure of an Otzar Beis Din, the Chazon Ish follows a more lenient approach than that of the above-mentioned Beis Din of Yerushalayim.[14] He ruled that representatives of an Otzar Beis Din may harvest in the normal way and use Jewish labor. Thus, the Otzar Beis Din of a modern farm that follows the Chazon Ish’s ruling allows Jewish staff to use tractors and other equipment to harvest and process the shemittah produce.[15]

In addition, the Chazon Ish permitted weighing and measuring produce sold through Otzar Beis Din. In his opinion, the prohibition against weighing and measuring shemittah produce is only because this indicates that I am the owner of the produce. However, weighing and measuring Otzar Beis Din produce is to determine a fair division of costs involved in supplying the produce, and not to demonstrate ownership.

In today’s Otzar Beis Din, the grower plants everything before shemittah and is given extremely detailed instructions regarding what he may and may not do during shemittah. The grower must allow any shemittah-observant person to enter the field or orchard and help himself to the produce.[16]

The Heter Otzar Beis Din Controversy

The modern term, heter Otzar Beis Din, is used pejoratively. The purpose of an Otzar Beis Din is to service the consumer, not the producer, as explained above.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals sometimes manipulate the rubric of Otzar Beis Din to allow a “business as usual” attitude and violate both the spirit and halacha of shemittah. I know of farms that call themselves Otzar Beis Din but, in reality, bar free entry of their fields during shemittah, or the field owner treats the produce as completely his own and charges accordingly.

Since this contradicts the meaning of Otzar Beis Din, these cases are called heter Otzar Beis Din, meaning permitting something based on an abuse of the concept of Otzar Beis Din. Because of these concerns, some hechsheirim discourage the use of Otzar Beis Din. Thus, in practice, Otzar Beis Din becomes a michshol when it degenerates into a heter Otzar Beis Din. Indeed, as with every “treasure,” one must make every effort to ensure its principle stays intact. How much more so with the principles of the Otzar Beis Din!

Conclusion

Just as observing the seventh day, Shabbos, demonstrates our beliefs in the Creator, so too, observing every seventh year as shemittah demonstrates this faith. For someone living in Eretz Yisrael, observing shemittah properly involves assuming much halachic responsibility and education. For the modern farmer, observing shemittah can indeed be true mesiras nefesh, since among the many other concerns that he has, he also risks losing customers who have been purchasing his products for years. For example, a farmer may be selling his crop somewhere in Europe. If he informs his buyer that he cannot produce during shemittah, he risks losing the customer in the future.

Of course, a Jew realizes that Hashem provides parnasah and that observing a mitzvah will never hurt anyone. An observant farmer obeys the Torah dictates knowing that Hashem attends to all his needs. Indeed, recent shemittos have each had numerous miracles rewarding observant farmers in this world for their halachic diligence. Who can possibly imagine what reward awaits them in Olam Haba!


[1] Avodah Zarah 15b.

[2] Moed Katan 3b; Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 1:10; Cf. Chazon Ish, Shevi’is 16:4, 21:14, who is more lenient.

[3] Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 4:1.

[4] Ibid., 6:1.

[5] Mishnah Shevi’is 8:3.

[6] Yerushalmi Shevi’is 7:1.

[7] Mishnah Shevi’is 6:5.

[8] Beis Ridbaz 5:18; Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186.

[9] Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 4:29.

[10] Sefer Minchas Yerushalayim, page 161.

[11] Ibid., 163; see also Tosefta Shevi’is 6:11.

[12] Sefer Minchas Yerushalayim, page 181.

[13] Katif Shevi’is, page 125.

[14] Shevi’is 11:7 s.v. bemashekasavti

[15] Sefer Hashemittah, 21.

[16] Mishpetei Aretz, page 103.

Separating Terumah and Maaser

Shampooed Tevel

“I have been looking for a specialty shampoo that contains oat bran. Someone found it in a very expensive store, and it does exactly what I want. One day, after showering, I noticed the label says that it is made in Israel! Does this mean that it is prohibited as tevel (produce that did not have terumah or maaser separated)?”

Introduction

The end of parshas Korach contains many references to various mitzvos that the Torah calls “terumah.” In Modern Hebrew, any charitable donation is called a “terumah,” but, in the Torah, this word means an “elevated portion” and can refer to numerous sanctified foods, including korbanos, challah, bikkurim, maaser, and what we usually call terumah and terumas maaser. The fact that the term “terumah” may refer to so many different things is one reason why a superficial reading of the end of parshas Korach can be confusing, unless you study it with Rashi or a different commentary (such as that of Rav Hirsch) that explains the parsha according to the Torah she’be’al peh.

The pesukim in parshas Korach that discuss what we call terumah read as follows: “And Hashem spoke to Aharon: Behold, I have hereby given you the guarding of my terumah… Of the best of the oil, of the best of the wine (tirosh) and grain, the first of what is given to Hashem I have given to you (Bamidbar 18, 1,12).”

Note that the Torah mentions terumah of oil, referring to the olive crop, of tirosh, usually understood to mean as yet unfermented wine (also known as unpasteurized grape juice), and of grain. This implies that the mitzvah min haTorah of separating terumah applies only to olive oil, wine and grain. Indeed, most authorities understand that, min haTorah, the requirement to separate terumos and maasros applies only to the five species of grain (wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats), grapes, olives, grape juice, wine and olive oil (see Sifra). The requirement to separate terumos and maasros on other fruits and vegetables is rabbinic.

In Chazal’s terminology, the various gifts provided to the kohein and others are called matanos, gifts. These matanos have varying levels of sanctity:

A. Very holy, that may be eaten only by male kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash and only when someone is completely tahor;

B. Somewhat less holy, that min haTorah may be eaten anywhere by a kohein’s immediate household, provided that they are completely tahor;

C. Lesser sanctity that may be eaten by anyone, but only in Yerushalayim and when tahor;

D. No sanctity at all, and, although required to be donated, may be eaten by anyone.

Seven of these “gift” agricultural mitzvos or matanos can be organized in the following way:

1. Bikkurim (sanctity level: B)

The first fruits of the seven species for which Eretz Yisrael is lauded, which are brought to the Beis Hamikdash. These are treated with the same level of sanctity as terumah¸ which we will explain shortly.

2. Terumah gedolah, usually called just “terumah(sanctity level: B)

The separation from produce grown in Eretz Yisrael that the Torah requires we give to the kohein. There is a requirement miderabbanan to separate terumah and maasros also outside Eretz Yisrael, but, according to most authorities, only in lands that are adjacent to Eretz Yisrael. (Because of space considerations, we will not be discussing the vast halachic literature that debates whether there is a requirement to separate terumos and maasros today in countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, which border on Eretz Yisrael. For the same reason, we will not discuss where the borders of Eretz Yisrael are, germane to these mitzvos.We will also not discuss the question as to whether there is a mitzvah to separate terumos and maasros on produce grown by a non-Jew on a non-Jew’s land, because the accepted practice, going back hundreds of years, is to be lenient.)

How much terumah?

Min haTorah, there is no minimal requirement how much terumah one must give to a kohein; to quote Chazal, one wheat kernel given as terumah exempts an entire silo. In the days when the kohein could become completely tahor and then eat the terumah, Chazal instituted a minimal percentage of the crop that should be designated as terumah (one part in sixty, or 1.67%), but preferred that an individual give more. They allowed the individual latitude to decide how much he wants to donate as terumah: one part in forty (2.5%), one part in fifty (2%), or the minimum I mentioned above, one part in sixty (1.67%).

Produce that has not yet had terumos and maasros separated is called tevel, and may not be eaten or used.

We should also note that, according to accepted halacha, the obligation of separating terumos and maasros today is only miderabbanan, even on grain, grapes, and olives, until such time that most Jews, again, live in Eretz Yisrael.

3. Maaser rishon (sanctity level: D, but only after the terumas maaser is separated)

The first tithe (one tenth), given to the levi.

4. Terumas maaser (sanctity level: B)

A tithe separated by the levi from the maaser rishon that he receives, which the levi then gives to a kohein. Since the levi receives ten percent of the crop after terumah has been separated, and he, in turn, is separating ten percent of what he receives, terumas maaser adds up to one hundredth, 1%, of the crop.

Terumah and terumas maaser have the same sanctity, which means that, min haTorah, both of them may be eaten anywhere, but only by a kohein and most of his family and household members and only when both they and the terumah are completely tahor.

The accepted halacha is that the remaining maaser rishon has no sanctity, and may be eaten by anyone, notwithstanding the fact that there is a dispute among tana’im concerning this issue. If the levi chooses to, he may sell the maaser or give it away to whomever he chooses. Furthermore, none of the restrictions we will discuss shortly regarding redemption or use applies to maaser rishon.

A kohein or levi who has his own produce must separate terumos and maasros, although he may then keep what he is entitled to as a kohein or levi (Rambam, Hilchos Maasros 1:13; for details of this law, see Mishpetei Aretz, Terumos Umaasros 13:9).

5. Maaser sheini (sanctity level: C)

A second tithe, separated in the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the seven-year shemittah cycle, that the owner keeps with plans to eat in Yerushalayim when he is tahor. Alternatively, the owner may redeem the maaser sheini’s kedusha onto coins. The coins are brought to Yerushalayim and used to purchase food that is eaten in Yerushalayim. Maaser sheini that is tahor may be eaten by anyone who is tahor and maaser sheini that is redeemed may be eaten by anyone and does not need to be kept tahor.

6. Maaser ani (sanctity level: D)

A different form of “second tithe,” given in years when there is no maaser sheini (i.e., the third and sixth years of the shemittah cycle), that is given to the poor. Once separated, this maaser has no special sanctity and may be eaten by anyone, even by someone who is tamei, but it is property of the poor. The owner of the field decides to which poor person he gives the maaser ani.

Since shemittah produce is ownerless, there are, usually, no terumah and maasros separations that year. In the unusual instances where there are, which is a topic for a different time, there is extensive halachic discussion whether one separates maaser sheini or maaser ani.

7. Challah (sanctity level: B)

A portion given to the kohein separated from dough. This “gift” has the level of sanctity of terumah.

Separating and giving

In general, most of these matanos require two stages to fulfill the mitzvah. The first stage is the proper separation, usually preceded by a brocha, and the second stage is giving the matanah to the appropriate party. As I mentioned above, in the case of maaser sheini, the owner keeps or redeems the produce (rather than giving it to someone). After redeeming maaser sheini, the fruit has no more sanctity.

There are several situations in which there is a mitzvah to separate terumos and maasros, but there is no mitzvah to give the matanah to a kohein, levi or poor person. The most common situation is when it is uncertain, a safek, whether there is a requirement to separate terumos and maasros. We will discuss shortly one such example. In these instances, you are not required to give away the terumos and maasros. They are yours to sell, or even to eat, if there is no sanctity involved, such as maaser rishon or maaser ani (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 371:1).

There is another practical halachic difference when it is uncertain if there is a requirement to separate terumos and maasros: no brocha is recited prior to separating the terumos and maasros.

Using terumah

In today’s world, terumah has relatively little market value. Terumah tehorah may be eaten only by a kohein or his family members who are tehorim. Since we have no parah adumah, we cannot become fully tehorim today and therefore, no one can eat terumah tehorah.

Although terumah may not be eaten today, there are still two potential uses that may be made of terumah. Terumah olive oil may be kindled, but the light must be used by a kohein. If the terumah olive oil is tehorah,care must be taken not to make it tamei. Terumah temei’ah may be used by a kohein for kindling without this concern.

There is also the possibility of using terumah for feeding animals owned by a kohein, a topic that I will leave for a different time, because of space considerations.

The question now becomes what to do with terumah tehorah that has no practical use.

At the beginning of this article, I quoted the pasuk that Aharon was instructed regarding the guarding of my terumah. The term guarding, mishmeres, means that one is required to make sure the terumah is not actively destroyed or made tamei.

Since no one is tahor today, terumah may not be eaten. If the terumah is itself tamei, it is destroyed, preferably by burning it. If the terumah is tehorah, we are neither permitted to eat it nor to destroy it because of the law of mishmeres. What does one do with it?

This is a dispute among halachic authorities, and one of the unusual situations in which Rav Moshe Feinstein disagreed with the opinion of rishonim, without finding a source in rishonim that agreed with him. According to the Sefer Haterumah and the Tur (Yoreh Deah, 331), the halacha requires that terumah tehorah be buried, so that no one mistakenly eats it. Rav Moshe rules that this is considered destroying terumah, since this causes the terumah to rot, which is prohibited. Instead, he requires placing the terumah tehorah in a place where it will be left undisturbed until it decays (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:129). A bin or box set aside for this purpose is called a pach terumah, where the terumah tehorah remains until inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of the produce in the regular garbage.

Why is this true?

Once terumah or tevel can no longer be eaten,  it loses its sanctity. Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with the mitzvos where this principle applies. Other mitzvos where this concept exists are shevi’is, terumah, challah, bikkurim, maaser sheini and reva’ie (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11; Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). We burn the special challah portion after separating it only because it has become tamei. If the challah did not become tamei, one may not destroy it but must place it somewhere, until it decays on its own.

Shampooed tevel

At this point, we can discuss our opening question:

“I have been looking for a specialty shampoo that contains oat bran. Someone found it in a very expensive store, and it does exactly what I want. One day, after showering, I happened to look at the label and noticed that it says that it is made in Israel! Does this mean that it is prohibited as tevel?”

Indeed, our questioner may have surmised correctly that the oat bran mighthave once had the status of tevel. If the oats were grown for food, one would be required to separate from them terumos and maasros, and the oats would have a status of tevel until these are separated. However, if the oats were grown for animal feed, there would be no requirement terumos and maasros and no status of tevel. because oats are commonly grown as forage.

More germane to our discussion is that, even if the oats were grown for food, once mixed into the shampoo as an ingredient, they become inedible and lose their status as tevel. Whether they naturally decayed to a stage where they became inedible or were processed or mixed until that point, the kedusha of tevel, terumos and maasros is lost. So, our consumer may continue using the shampoo without any halachic concerns.

Other terumah rules

Cultivated food items, other than grain, grapes and olives, that grew in Eretz Yisrael are obligated in terumos and maasros miderabbanan. There are a few interesting exceptions: for example, there is no obligation to separate terumos and maasros from mushrooms; since they are fungi, they are not considered as growing from the ground. This also affects their brocha, which is shehakol and not ha’adamah.

If I might digress, here is an interesting nifla’os haborei experiment that you can perform yourself. Take some raw vegetables and microwave them for two minutes, and then do the same with some raw mushrooms. When you microwave the mushrooms there will be a considerable amount of water, which does not happen when you microwave the veggies. The reason is that vegetables draw water from the earth through their root, and therefore have no need to store a lot of water in the plant itself. However, mushrooms have no means to draw nutrients, including water, from the soil, and therefore store the water that they need in their cells. When you microwave them, this water is now released.

Ownerless produce

There is no requirement to separate terumos or maasros from produce that is ownerless, such as wild-growing wheat. Similarly, that which grows during shemittah year and is treated as hefker is exempt from terumos and maasros.

Plants grown as fodder, borders, cloth, seed, dyes or anything other than food are exempt from terumos and maasros. If part of the plant is eaten, but the seeds are usually not, the seeds are exempt from terumos and maasros. Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach ruled that produce such as barley, oats and corn (maize), which are predominantly grown as fodder, are exempt from terumos and maasros, unless they were originally planted for human consumption. In his opinion, if they were planted for food, and the farmer subsequently changed his mind and decided to use them as fodder, they are still obligated in terumos and maasros, since they were originally planted for food (Maadanei Aretz, Terumos 2:7:2).

Herbs and spices

As a general rule, plants grown for use only as herbs, spices or tea are exempt from terumos and maasros. It is disputed whether plants whose product is sometimes eaten as a dip is exempt from terumos and maasros. Therefore, accepted practice is to separate terumos and maasros from them without reciting a brocha first, and the owner may then keep the terumos and maasros, as explained above.

What does this mean in practice? Plants such as aloe vera (usually not eaten, but even when consumed, only as an herb), cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are all exempt from terumos and maasros. However, mustard, ginger and fenugreek should have terumos and maasros separated without a brocha. Although all three of these are used as spices, they also are made into dips or other foods, such as prepared mustard, candied ginger, or chilba, a popular Yemenite dip whose main ingredient is fenugreek.

Peels and shells of fruit that was not maasered are exempt from terumos and maasros if the peels and shells are usually not eaten. However, the peels of apples, pears and plums must be maasered, either as part of the entire fruit, or by themselves. In places where watermelon seeds are considered a snack food, as in Eretz Yisrael today, they are obligated in terumos and maasros. The Chazon Ish ruled that candied orange peel is exempt from terumos and maasros because oranges are not grown for the peel; it is a by-product that someone figured out how to make useful.

Many years ago, when I was involved in kashrus supervision in North America, a similar shaylah was raised. A company that I was overseeing produced, predominantly, various citrus and mint flavors and products, many of them extracted or distilled. Among the many raw materials that were used were oils extracted from the peels of various citrus fruits, which were then processed and used as flavors. Some of the oils were extracted from Israeli produce, and the question was whether there was a requirement to separate terumos and maasros from these peels. The poskim of the kashrus organization ruled that there was no requirement to do so, since peels of citrus fruits are not usually eaten.

Conclusion

Many generations had to be content with reading about Eretz Yisroel and imagining what it might be like to visit. We are fortunate to live in a time when visiting and living in Eretz Yisroel is a reality, and we should be filled with hakoras hatov that we can traverse the land that was promised to our forefathers. Inhabiting our native land includes many special laws that apply within its borders, and we should all be familiar with these special laws. Eretz Yisroel and its special mitzvos provide us with a direct relationship with Hashem, for which we should all strive.

A Shmittah Glossary

This Shabbos is parshas Ki Savo, 10 days before Rosh Hashanah of shmittah year.

We are at the end of the sixth year of the shmittah cycle. Most chutz la’aretz residents are not that familiar with the laws of shmittah that will affect those who live in Eretz Yisroel every day next year. Actually, the laws can and do affect people living in chutz la’aretz also. This article will focus on explaining a basic glossary of shmittah-related terms.

Among the terms that we will learn are the following:

Biur

Havla’ah

Heter mechirah

Heter otzar beis din

Issur sechorah

Kedushas shvi’is

Ne’evad

Otzar beis din

Pach shvi’is

Sefichin

Shamur

Tefisas damim

First, let us discuss the basics:

Basic laws of the land

In Parshah Behar, the Torah (Vayikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shmittah. We are prohibited from plowing, planting or working the land of Eretz Yisroel in any way and must leave our land fallow. It is even prohibited to have a gentile work a Jew’s land (Avodah Zarah 15b), just as one may not hire a gentile to do work on Shabbos that a Jew may not do. The owner of a field or orchard must treat whatever grows on his land as ownerless, allowing others to enter his field or orchard to pick, without charge, as much as their families can use. The landowner himself also may pick as much as his family will eat (see Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 4:1).

The landowner should make sure that others know that they may help themselves to the produce. One may not sell, in a business manner, the produce that grows on its own.

Kedushas shvi’is

The Torah declared vehoysah shabbas ha’aretz lochem le’ochlah, “the produce of the shmittah should be used only for food” (Vayikra 25:6), thereby imbuing the fruits and vegetables that grow in shmittah year with special sanctity, called kedushas shvi’is. There are many ramifications of this status, such as, the produce that grows during shmittah year should be used only for consumption and should be eaten (or drunk) only in the usual way. For example, one may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat raw produce that is usually cooked (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 8:2; Rambam, Hilchos Shvi’is 5:3). One may not eat raw shmittah potatoes, nor may one cook shmittah cucumbers or oranges. It would certainly be prohibited to use shmittah corn for gasohol or any other form of biofuel.

Contemporary authorities dispute whether one may add shmittah oranges or apricots to a recipe for roast or cake. Even though the fruit adds taste to the roast or cake, many poskim prohibit this cooking or baking, since these types of fruit are usually eaten raw (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85). Others permit this if it is a usual way of eating these fruits (Mishpetei Aretz page 172, footnote 10).

Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is considered “ruining” the shmittah produce and is prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice and oil of these fruits are considered superior to the fruit itself. Many contemporary authorities permit pressing oranges and grapefruits, provided one treats the remaining pulp with kedushas shvi’is. Even these authorities prohibit juicing most other fruit, such as apples and pears (Minchas Shlomoh, Shvi’is pg. 185).

Food and not feed

One may feed shmittah produce to animals only when it is not fit for human consumption, such as peels and seeds that people do not usually eat (Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 5:5). Last shmittah, a neighbor of mine, or perhaps his turtle, had a problem: The turtle is fond of lettuce, and won’t eat grass. One may feed animals grass that grew in Eretz Yisroel during shmittah, but one may not feed them lettuce that grew during shmittah.

Jewish consumption

Shmittah produce is meant for Jewish consumption; one may not give or sell kedushas shvi’is produce to a gentile, although one may invite a gentile to join your meal that includes shmittah food (Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 5:13 as explained by Mahari Korkos).

Although some authorities rule that there is a mitzvah to eat shmittah produce, most contend that there is no obligation to eat shmittah food – rather, the Torah permits us to eat it (Chazon Ish, Hilchos Shvi’is 14:10).

Don’t destroy edibles

One may not actively destroy shmittah produce suitable for human consumption. Therefore, one who has excess shvi’is produce may not trash it in the usual way.

Peels that are commonly eaten, such as apple peels, still have kedushas shvi’is and may not simply be disposed. Instead, we place these peels in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called a pach shvi’is, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of the shmittah produce in the regular garbage.

Why is this true?

Once the shmittah produce can no longer be eaten, it loses its kedushas shvi’is. Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with the many mitzvos where this principle applies. There are several other mitzvos where, in theory, this rule applies – meaning that the items have kedushah that governs how they may be consumed, but once they are no longer edible, this kedushah disappears. The mitzvos that this rule applies to are terumah, challah, bikkurim, revai’i and maaser sheini. However, although this rule applies to these mitzvos, in practice we cannot observe it since produce that has kedusha cannot be consumed by someone who is tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11). This explains why most people are unfamiliar with the rules of kedushas shvi’is.

When eating shmittah food, one need not be concerned about the remaining bits stuck to a pot or an adult’s plate that one usually just washes off; one may wash these pots and plates without concern that one is destroying shmittah produce. However, the larger amounts left behind by children, or leftovers that people might save should not be disposed in the garbage. Instead, they can be scraped into the pach shvi’is.

Issur sechorah – commercial use

One may not harvest the produce of one’s field or tree in order to sell it in commercial quantities or in a business manner (Tosefta, Shvi’is 5:7; Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 6:1). For example, shmittah produce may not be sold by weight or measure (Mishnah, Shvi’is 8:3), nor sold in a regular store (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 7:1).

Tefisas damim

If one trades or sells shmittah produce, the food or money received in exchange becomes imbued with kedushas shvi’is. This means that the money should be used only to purchase food that will itself now have the laws of shmittah produce. The original produce also maintains its kedushas shvi’is (Sukkah 40b).

Havla’ah

At this point, we must discuss a very misunderstood concept called havla’ah, which means that one includes the price of one item with another. The Gemara (Sukkah 39a) describes using havla’ah to “purchase” an esrog that has shmittah sanctity, without the money received becoming sanctified with kedushas shvi’is. For example, Reuven wants to buy an esrog from Shimon; however, Shimon does not want the money he receives to have kedushas shvi’is. Can he avoid this occurring?

Yes, he may. If Shimon sells Reuven two items at the same time, one that has kedushas shvi’is and the other does not, he should sell him the item that does not have kedushas shvi’is at a high price, and the item that has kedushas shvi’is accompanies it as a gift. This method works, even though everyone realizes that this is a means of avoiding imbuing the sales money with kedushas shvi’is.

Shamur and ne’evad

According to many (and perhaps most) rishonim, if a farmer did not allow people to pick from his fields, the shmittah produce that grew there becomes prohibited (see Ra’avad and Ba’al Ha’maor to Sukkah 39a). This produce is called shamur. Similarly, many authorities prohibit consuming produce that was tended in a way that violated the agricultural laws of shmittah (Ramban, Yevamos 122a). This produce is called ne’evad.

Shmittah exports

The Mishnah (Shvi’is 6:5) prohibits exporting shmittah produce outside Eretz Yisroel. Some recognized authorities specifically permit exporting shmittah wine and esrogim, although the rationales permitting this are beyond the scope of this article (Beis Ridbaz 5:18; Tzitz Hakodesh, Volume 1 #15:4). This approach is the basic halachic reason to permit the export of esrogim that grow during shmittah next year for Sukkos, 5783. (The esrogim for this coming year will all be from the pre-shmittah crop and not involve any shmittah concerns.)

Sefichin

As explained in last week’s article, the prohibition of sefichin does not refer to perennials that do not require planting every year. Although trees and other perennials definitely thrive when pruned and cared for, most will produce even if left unattended for a year and the farmer has less incentive to violate shmittah by tending his trees.

Thus, tree fruits, nuts, strawberries and bananas do not involve the prohibition of sefichin. (If they grew in a field whose owner was not observing shmittah, they might involve the prohibition of shamur.)

Biur shevi’is

At this point in our discussion, we need to explain the concept of biur shvi’is. The word biur literally means elimination, as in biur chometz, which refers to the eradication of chometz performed each year before Pesach. One of the laws that applies to shmittah produce is that once a specific species is no longer available in the field, one can no longer keep shmittah produce from that species in one’s possession. At this point, one must perform a procedure called biur shvi’is. Although there is a dispute among the rishonim as to the exact definition and requirements of biur shvi’is, we rule that it means declaring ownerless (hefker) any shmittah produce in one’s possession (Ramban, Vayikra 25:7; cf. Rashi, Pesachim 52b s.v. mishum and Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 7:3 for alternative approaches.) For example, let us say that I picked shmittah apricots and canned them as jam. When no more apricots are available in the field, I must take the remaining jam and declare it hefker in the presence of three people (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 9:5). I may do this in front of three close friends who will probably not take the jam after my declaration; it is sufficient that they have the right to take possession. If someone fails to perform biur, the shmittah produce becomes prohibited.

Otzar beis din

What is an otzar beis din? Literally, the words means “a storehouse operated by beis din.” Why would a beis din be operating a storehouse? Did they need to impound so much merchandise while doing litigation? No, let me explain.

As mentioned above, the owner of an orchard may not harvest his produce for sale, and he must allow individuals to help themselves to what their family may use. But what about people who live far from the orchard? How will they utilize their right to pick shmittah fruit?

Enter the otzar beis din to help! The beis din represents the public interest by hiring people to pick and transport the produce to a distribution center near the consumer. Obviously, no one expects the pickers, sorters, truckers, and other laborers to work as unpaid volunteers; they are also entitled to earn a living. Similarly, the managers who coordinate this project are also entitled to an appropriate wage for their efforts. Furthermore, there is no reason why beis din cannot hire the owner of the orchard to supervise this massive project, paying him a wage appropriate to his significant skills and experience in knowing how to manage this operation. This is all legitimate use of an otzar beis din.

Who pays for otzar beis din services? The otzar beis din divides its costs among the consumers. The charges to the user should reflect the actual expenses incurred in bringing the products to the consumers, and may not include any profit for the finished product (Minchas Shlomoh, Shvi’is 9:8 pg. 250). Thus, otzar beis din products should cost less than regular retail prices for the same items, since there should be no profit margin. (See Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 8:3 that shvi’is produce should be less expensive than regular produce.)

Please note that all the halachos of kedushas shevi’is apply to otzar beis din produce. Also note that acquiring from an otzar beis din is not really “purchasing” since you are not buying the fruit, but receiving a distribution – your payment is exclusively to defray operating costs. Therefore, the money paid for otzar beis din produce does not have kedushas shvi’is, because it is compensation for expenses and not in exchange for the shmittah fruit (Minchas Shlomoh, Shvi’is 9:8 pg. 250).

Produce still in the possession of an otzar beis din at the time of biur is exempt from biur. The reason is that this product is still without an owner – the otzar beis din is a distribution center, not an owner. However, produce originally distributed through an otzar beis din and now in private possession must be declared hefker.

Heter otzar beis din

The modern term “Heter otzar beis din” is used pejoratively. The purpose of an otzar beis din is to service the consumer, not the producer, as I explained above. Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals sometimes manipulate the rubric of otzar beis din to allow a “business as usual” attitude and violate both the spirit and the halacha of shmittah. If the farmer is operating with a true otzar beis din, he will allow people to enter his field and help themselves to the produce. If he bars people, then he is violating the basic laws of shmittah and his produce distribution is not according to otzar beis din principles. Similarly, if the field owner treats the produce as completely his own and charges accordingly, this contradicts the meaning of otzar beis din. These cases are disparagingly referred to as heter otzar beis din; meaning they reflect abuse of the concept of otzar beis din.

Conclusion

Those living in chutz la’aretz should be aware of the halachos of shvi’is and identify with this demonstration that the Ribbono Shel Olam created His world in six days, thereby making the seventh day and the seventh year holy.

The Heter Mechirah Controversy

In a few short weeks, we will begin shmittah year. In preparation, I present this article.

Photo by Rodolfo Belloli from FreeImagesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Several shmittah cycles ago, I was working as a mashgiach for a properly run American hechsher. One factory that I supervised manufactured breading and muffin mixes. This company was extremely careful about checking its incoming ingredients: George, the receiving clerk who also managed the warehouse, kept a careful list of what products he was to allow into the plant and what kosher symbols were acceptable.

On one visit to the plant, I noticed a problem, due to no fault of the company. For years, the company had been purchasing Israeli-produced, freeze-dried carrots with a reliable hechsher. The carrots always arrived in bulk boxes, with the Israeli hechsher prominently stamped in Hebrew and the word KOSHER prominently displayed, in English. George, who always supervised incoming raw materials, proudly showed me through “his warehouse” and noted how he carefully marked the arrival date of each new shipment. I saw crates of the newest shipment of Israeli carrots, from the same manufacturer, and the same prominently displayed English word KOSHER on the box. However, the Hebrew stamp on the box was from a different supervisory agency, one without the same sterling reputation. The reason for the sudden change in supervisory agency was rather obvious, when I noted that the Hebrew label stated very clearly “Heter Mechirah.”

Let me explain the halachic issues that this product entails.

The Torah (Vayikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shmittah and prohibits working the land of Eretz Yisroel. During that year, one may not plough, plant or work the field in any way. Furthermore, the farmer must treat whatever grows on his land as ownerless, allowing others to pick and keep his fruit. Many laws apply to the produce that grows during shmittah, including, for example, that one may not sell the produce in a business manner, nor may one export it outside Eretz Yisroel.

For the modern farmer, observing shmittah is indeed true mesiras nefesh, since, among the many other concerns that he has, he also risks losing customers who have been purchasing his products for years. For example, a farmer may be selling his citrus or avocado crop to a distributor in Europe who sells his produce throughout the European Community. If he informs his customer that he cannot export his produce during shmittah year, he risks losing the customer in the future.

Of course, a Jew realizes that Hashem provides parnasah and that observing a mitzvah will never hurt anyone. Therefore, a sincerely observant farmer obeys the Torah dictates, knowing that Hashem attends to all his needs. Indeed, recent shmittos have each had numerous miracles by which observant farmers were rewarded in this world for their halachic diligence. Who can possibly imagine what reward awaits them in Olam Haba!

Unfortunately, the carrot farmer here was not committed to this level of bitachon and, instead, explored other options, deciding to rely on heter mechirah. He soon discovered that his regular, top-of-the line hechsher would not allow this, so he found an alternative hechsher that allowed him to be lenient, albeit by clearly forewarning customers who may consider this product non-kosher. Although he realized that sales would suffer without his regular hechsher, he figured that selling some product is better than selling none.

WHAT IS HETER MECHIRAH?

The basic concept of heter mechirah is that the farmer sells his land to a gentile, who is not required to observe shmittah. Since a gentile now owns the land, the gentile may farm the land, sell its produce and make a profit. The poskim dispute whether a Jew may work land owned by a gentile during shmittah (Tosafos, Gittin 62a s.v. ein odrin, prohibits; Rashi, Sanhedrin 26a s.v. agiston, permits).

IS THIS ANY DIFFERENT FROM SELLING ONE’S CHOMETZ FOR PESACH?

Although some poskim make this comparison (Shu’t Yeshuos Malko, Yoreh Deah #53), many point out differences between selling chometz to a gentile and selling him land in Eretz Yisroel. Indeed, although the Mishnah (Pesachim 21a) and other early halachic sources (Tosefta, Pesachim 2:6) mention selling chometz to a non-Jew before Pesach, no early source mentions selling land in Eretz Yisroel to avoid shmittah (Sefer Hashmittah pg. 71). The earliest source I found discussing this possibility was an eighteenth-century responsum penned by Rav Mordechai Rubyou, the Rosh Yeshivah in Hebron at the time, who discusses the tribulations of a Jew owning a vineyard in Eretz Yisroel in that era (Shu’t Shemen Hamor, Yoreh Deah #4; this sefer was published posthumously in 1793).

HISTORY OF MODERN HETER MECHIRAH

Before explaining the halachic background to the heter mechirah question, I think it is important to understand the historical context of the shaylah.

Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinski, one of the great twentieth-century poskim of Eretz Yisroel, describes the history and development of the use of heter mechirah. (My source for most of the forthcoming historical material is his work, Sefer Hashmittah.)

The first modern shmittah was in the year 5642 (1882), when there was a mere handful of Jewish farmers in Israel, located in Petach Tikvah, Motza and Mikveh Yisroel. The highly observant farmers in these communities were uncompromising in their commitment to keep shmittah in full halachic detail. [Apparently, at the same time, there were some Sefardi farmers in Israel whose rabbonim did allow them to sell their fields to a gentile for the duration of shmittah (see Shu’t Yeshuos Malko, Yoreh Deah #53; Shu’t Yabia Omer 3:Yoreh Deah #19:7).]

By the next shmittah, 5649 (1889), there was already a much larger Jewish agricultural presence in Eretz Yisroel. Prior to that shmittah year, representatives of the developing Israeli agricultural communities approached several prominent Eastern European gedolim, claiming that the new yishuv could not survive financially if shmittah was observed fully, and that mass starvation would result. Could they sell their land to a gentile for the duration of shmittah and then plant the land and sell its produce?

THE BEGINNINGS OF A CONTROVERSY

Rav Naftali Hertz, the rav of Yaffo, who also served as the rav of most of the agricultural communities involved, directed the shaylah to the gedolei haposkim of the time, both in Israel and in Europe. The rabbonim in Europe were divided, with many prominent poskim, including Rav Yehoshua Kutno, Rav Yosef Engel and Rav Shmuel Mahliver, approving the sale of the land to non-Jews as a hora’as sha’ah, a ruling necessitated by the emergency circumstances prevailing, but not necessarily permitted in the future. They permitted the heter mechirah, but only with many provisos, including that only non-Jews perform most agricultural work. On the other hand, many great European poskim prohibited this heter mechirah, including such luminaries as the Netziv (Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, the Rosh Yeshivah of the preeminent yeshiva of the era in Volozhin, Lithuania), the Beis Halevi (3:1; Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveichek), the Aruch HaShulchan (Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein) and Rav Dovid Karliner.

Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, the rav of Kovno, Lithuania, whom many viewed as the posek hador, ruled that Rav Hertz could perform the sale and instructed him to have the great poskim of Yerushalayim actuate the sale.

This complicated matters, since the Ashkenazi rabbonei Yerushalayim universally opposed the heter mechirah and published a letter decrying it stridently. This letter, signed by the two rabbonim of Yerushalayim, Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin and Rav Shmuel Salant, and over twenty other gedolim and talmidei chachamim, implored the farmers in the new yishuv to keep shmittah steadfastly and expounded on the Divine blessings guaranteed them for observing shmittah. The letter also noted that Klal Yisroel was punished severely in earlier eras for abrogating shmittah (see Avos Chapter 5). As Rashi (Vayikra 26:35) points out, the seventy years of Jewish exile between the two batei hamikdash correspond to the exact number of shmittos that were not observed from when the Jews entered Eretz Yisroel until the exile. The great leaders of Yerushalayim hoped that if Klal Yisroel observed shmittah correctly, this would constitute a collective teshuvah for the sins of Klal Yisroel and would usher in the geulah.

Rav Hertz, who had originally asked the shaylah, was torn as to what to do. Although he had received letters from some of the greatest poskim of Europe permitting the mechirah, the poskei Yerushalayim adamantly opposed it. He decided not to sell the land himself, but arranged mechirah for those who wanted it through the Sefardi rabbonim in Yerushalayim, who had apparently performed this mechirah in previous years.

What happened? Did the Jewish farmers observe the shmittah as instructed by the rabbonei Yerushalayim, or did they rely on heter mechirah? Although the very committed farmers observed shmittah according to the dictates of the gedolei Yerushalayim, many of the more marginally observant farmers acceded to the pressure and relied on heter mechirah. Apparently, many farmers were subjected to considerable financial and social pressure to evade observance of shmittah.

Prior to shmittah year 5656 (1896), Rav Hertz again considered what to do in the coming shmittah and approached the rabbonei Yerushalayim. This time, both Rav Shmuel Salant and Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin approved the mechirah and even suggested to Rav Hertz how to arrange this mechirah in a halachically approved fashion.

WHAT CHANGED?

Why were the very same rabbonim who vehemently opposed the mechirah seven years earlier not opposed to it this time? Initially, these rabbonim felt that since we had now merited returning to Eretz Yisroel, we should make sure to observe all the mitzvos of Eretz Yisroel without compromise, and evading shmittah with heter mechirah runs totally counter to this spirit. However, upon realizing that few farmers had observed the previous shmittah properly, the feeling of these great gedolim was that without the option of heter mechirah, most farmers would simply conduct business as usual and ignore shmittah completely. Therefore, it was better to permit heter mechirah, while at the same time encourage farmers not to rely on it.

Prior to the next shmittah, in 5663 (1903), Rav Hertz re-asked his shaylah from the rabbonim of Yerushalayim, Rav Shmuel Salant and the Aderes, Rav Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz Teumim (Rav Diskin had passed on in the meantime), since the original approval stipulated only that shmittah. These rabbonim felt that there was still a need for heter mechirah in 5663. Rav Hertz, himself, passed away before the heter mechirah was finalized, and his son-in-law, Rav Yosef Halevi, a talmid chacham of note, finalized the mechirah in his stead, following the instructions of the rabbonei Yerushalayim.

Seven years later (5670/1910), Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook was the rav of Yaffo and continued the practice of the mechirah, while at the same time encouraging those who would observe shmittah correctly to do so. He continued this practice of performing the heter mechirah for the several subsequent shmittos of his life.

In addition, Rav Kook instituted a new aspect to heter mechirah. Prior to his time, the heter mechirah involved that the owner of the farm appointed a rav as his agent to sell the land, similar to what we usually do to arrange selling the chometz. Rav Kook added that a farmer who was not going to observe shmittah but did not appoint a rav to sell his land was included in the mechirah, since it is in his best interest to have some heter when he works his field, rather than totally desecrating the Holy Land in the holy year. Although there is merit in protecting the farmer from his sin, now, a practical question results that affects a consumer purchasing this farmer’s produce. If the farmer did not authorize the sale, perhaps the produce indeed has the sanctity of shmittah. For this latter reason, many individuals who might otherwise accept heter mechirah produce do not rely on this heter.

By the way, although the original heter mechirah specified that gentiles must perform all plowing, planting and harvesting, this provision is no longer observed by some farmers who rely on heter mechirah. Many farmers who rely on heter mechirah follow a “business as usual” attitude once they have dutifully signed the paperwork authorizing the sale. Indeed, who keeps the profits from the shmittah produce, the Jew or the non-Jew to whom he sold his land? One can ask — is this considered a sale?

Another point raised is that, although Chazal also contended with much laxity in observing the laws of shmittah, they did not mention selling the land to evade the mitzvah. This is underscored by the fact that there are indeed precedents where Chazal mention ways to avoid observing mitzvos. For example, the Gemara mentions methods whereby one could avoid separating maaser, for those who want to evade this mitzvah, although Chazal did not approve doing so. Furthermore, when Hillel realized that people were violating the halachos of shmittas kesafim, he instituted the pruzbul. Yet, no hint of avoiding shmittah by selling land to a gentile is ever mentioned, thus implying that there is halachic or hashkafic difficulty with this approach (Sefer Hashmittah pg. 82).

SELLING ERETZ YISROEL

In addition to the question of whether one should evade performing a mitzvah of the Torah, the issue of heter mechirah involves another tremendous halachic difficulty. How can one sell any land of Eretz Yisroel, when the Torah prohibits selling it to a non-Jew (Avodah Zarah 20a), and Chazal prohibit even renting the land (Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 20b)?

Different poskim have suggested various approaches to avoid this prohibition. Some contend that selling land temporarily, with an expressed condition that it return to the owner, preempts the violation (Shu’t Shemen Hamor, Yoreh Deah #4), while others permit the sale since its purpose is to assist the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisroel (Shu’t Yeshuos Malko, Yoreh Deah #55; Yalkut Yosef pg. 666, quoting Rav Reuven Katz, the late rav of Petach Tikvah). Others contend that the prohibition extends only to selling land to an idol-worshipper, but not to a gentile who does not worship idols (Sefer Hashmittah, pg. 74; Yalkut Yosef pg. 665, quoting Mizbei’ach Adamah), whereas still others maintain that one may sell land to a gentile who already owns land in Israel (Shabbas Ha’aretz, Mavo 12). The original contracts approved by the rabbonei Yerushalayim designed that sale to incorporate many aspects to avoid this concern (Sefer Hashemittah, pg. 75). However, each of these approaches is halachically controversial. In fact, the problem of selling the land to a gentile is so controversial that many poskim consider such a sale invalid because of the principle of ein shaliach lidvar aveirah, that transacting property through agency in a halachically unacceptable manner is invalid (Chazon Ish, Shvi’is 24:4).

Among contemporary poskim there is wide disagreement whether one may eat produce on the basis of heter mechirah. Some contend that one may, whereas others rule that both the produce and the pots used to cook this produce become non-kosher. Others follow a compromise position, accepting that the pots should not be considered non-kosher, although one should carefully avoid eating heter mechirah produce. Because of the halachic controversies involved, none of the major hechsherim in North America approve heter mechirah produce. Someone visiting Eretz Yisroel during shmittah who wants to maintain this standard should clarify his circumstances in advance.

FRUITS VERSUS VEGETABLES

Some rabbonim ruled that the fruits produced under heter mechirah may be treated as kosher, but not the vegetables. The reason for this distinction is as follows:

SEFICHIM

The Torah permitted the use of any produce that grew on its own in a field that was not worked during shmittah. Unfortunately, though, even in the days of Chazal, it was common to find Jews who deceitfully ignored shmittah laws. One practice of unscrupulous farmers was to plant grain or vegetables and market them as produce that grew on its own. To make certain that these farmers did not benefit from their misdeeds, Chazal forbade all grains and vegetables, even those that grew on their own, a prohibition called sefichim, or plants that sprouted.

Several exceptions were made, including that produce of a non-Jew’s field is not prohibited as sefichim. Thus, if the heter mechirah is considered a charade and not a valid sale, the grain and vegetables growing in a heter mechirah field are prohibited as sefichim.

WHY NOT FRUIT?

Chazal did not extend the prohibition of sefichim to fruit, because there was less incentive for a cheating farmer. Although trees definitely thrive when pruned and attended to, they will produce even if left unattended for a year. Thus, the farmer has less incentive to tend his trees.

PERENNIALS

Similarly, perennials that do not require planting every year are not included in the prohibition of sefichin. Although perennials benefit when pruned and cared for, most will produce, even if left unattended for a year, and the farmer has less incentive to violate shmittah by caring for such plants.

Thus, tree fruits, nuts, strawberries and bananas do not involve the prohibition of sefichin. If they grew in a field whose owner was not observing shmittah, they might involve the prohibition of shamur, as explained below.)

“GUARDED PRODUCE”

I mentioned above that a farmer must allow others to help themselves to the produce that grows on his trees and fields during shmittah. What is the halacha if a farmer refused to allow others access to his produce during shmittah?

The rishonim dispute whether this fruit is forbidden. Some contemporary poskim prohibit the use of heter mechirah fruit on the basis that since heter mechirah is invalid, this fruit is now considered shamur, “guarded,” and therefore forbidden. Other poskim permit the fruit, because they rule that working an orchard or treating it as private property does not prohibit its fruit (see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186).

BACK TO OUR CARROT MUFFINS

What about our carrot muffins? If we remember our original story, the company had unwittingly purchased heter mechirah carrots. The hechsher required the company to return all unopened boxes of carrots to the supplier and to find an alternative source. However, by the time I discovered the problem, muffin mix using these carrots had been produced bearing the hechsher’s kashrus symbol and had already been distributed. The hechsher referred the shaylah to its posek, askingwhether they were required to recall the product from the stores as non-kosher, or whether it was sufficient to advertise that an error occurred and allow the customer to ask his individual rav for halachic guidance.

What would you advise?

What Is a Tree?

Question #1:

Eggplants grow on a woody stem. Does this make the eggplant a tree and prohibit the fruit that grows during its first three years as orlah or not? Although this idea may seem strange to most people, at least one prominent posek held that eggplant is prohibited as orlah.

Question #2:

What is the correct beracha to recite when smelling carnations, lilies, or mint?

Question #3:

What is the correct beracha to recite before eating papaya, cane sugar, or raspberries?

Question #4:

May someone plant tomatoes in his vineyard in Eretz Yisroel?

Although these questions seem completely unrelated, each query revolves around the same issue: What is the halachic definition of a tree?

It is usually easy to identify a tree. We know the obvious characteristics that define oak and apple trees, and it is clear that trees differ from plants that grow in a vegetable patch. However, from a halachic standpoint it is not always obvious whether many of Hashem’s botanical wonders are trees or not.

It is critical to determine what fits the definition of a tree in order to clarify the following halachic issues:

1. What beracha one recites on its fruit.

2. What beracha one recites on its fragrance.

3. Whether the prohibition of orlah applies to its fruit.

4. How severe is the prohibition to destroy it (bal tashchis).

5. There are several agricultural halachos concerning kelayim, shemittah, and maaser, all of which are relevant only in Eretz Yisroel.

Let us clarify these five areas of halacha before we discuss the main focus of our article, in order to understand the ramifications of why we must know which plants are considered trees.

1. What beracha one recites on its fruit.

As the Mishnah teaches, the beracha before eating the fruit of a tree is borei pri ha’eitz, whereas the beracha on fruit that grows from the ground, such as peas, beans, cucumbers, and melons, is borei pri ha’adamah. (The botanical definition of a fruit is the fleshy part [technically, the developed ovary] of the plant that nourishes the developing seed. Many of the foods that we colloquially call “vegetables,” are in reality “fruits of the ground.”) Thus, it is important to ascertain how certain fruits such as bananas, papayas, and berries grow in order to determine whether they grow on what is halachically classified as a tree, in which case their beracha is ha’eitz, or whether the plant upon which they grow is not a tree and the correct beracha is ha’adamah.

2. What beracha one recites on its fragrance.

Chazal established five different berachos on fragrances, one of which is “borei atzei besamim,” “He who created pleasant-smelling wood (or trees),” and another, “borei isvei besamim,” “He who created pleasant-smelling grasses.” Just as one must recite the correct beracha on a food before eating it, so it is important to recite the correct beracha on a fragrance before smelling it. We will see later that whether the closest English translation of atzei besamim is pleasant-smelling wood or pleasant-smelling trees depends on an interesting dispute.

Determining whether the correct beracha is atzei besamim or isvei besamim is even more significant than determining whether the correct beracha is borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah for the following reason: If one recites borei pri ha’adamah on a fruit that should have been borei pri ha’eitz, one fulfills the minimal requirement bedei’eved (after the fact) and should not recite an additional beracha of borei pri ha’eitz. The reason for this is that every tree grows from the ground — thus praising Hashem for “creating the fruit of the ground” when eating a fruit that grew on a tree is not inaccurate. Therefore, someone who is uncertain whether a certain fruit is “of the tree” or “of the ground” should recite borei pri ha’adamah before eating it.

However, when in doubt whether to recite atzei besamim or isvei besamim on a specific fragrance, one may not recite either beracha. This is because trees and grasses are mutually exclusive categories — if something is a grass, it is not a tree and vice versa. Thus, reciting the beracha praising Hashem for creating pleasant-smelling grasses before smelling a tree is a beracha levatalah, a beracha said in vain, because it is inaccurate.

When someone is uncertain whether a plant is considered a tree or a grass, he should recite a third beracha, borei minei besamim, “He who created types of pleasant-smelling items,” even though this is certainly not the optimal beracha on this fragrance. This is equivalent to reciting the beracha of shehakol before eating an apple. One has fulfilled the mitzvah, albeit not in the optimal way, since an apple “deserves” a more specific praise.

3. Whether the prohibition of orlah applies to its fruit.

The Torah prohibits eating fruit that grew within the first three years of a tree’s life. Thus, if a particular plant is a tree, the fruit produced in its first three years is prohibited; if it is not a tree, the fruit may be eaten immediately.

Although orlah is an agricultural mitzvah, it applies outside Eretz Yisroel. However, there is a major difference between orlah on fruits that grow in Eretz Yisroel and those that grow in chutz la’aretz. In chutz la’aretz only fruit that is definitely orlah is prohibited, and one may eat fruit that is questionably orlah. This fact has major halachic ramifications. There is also a mitzvah of re’vai that requires redeeming the fruit of the fourth year. Ashkenazim follow the ruling that in chutz la’aretz the laws of re’vai apply only to grapes (Rema and Gra, Yoreh Deah 294:7), whereas Sefardim require the laws of re’vai on all fruit trees.

4. How severe is the prohibition to destroy it (bal tashchis).

Destroying a fruit-bearing tree without gaining benefit in the process is prohibited min HaTorah. Although one may not destroy anything without purpose, the Rambam rules that destroying a tree is a more serious prohibition (Hilchos Melachim 6:8, 10). Some poskim explain that only destroying a tree is prohibited min HaTorah, whereas destroying other items, including plants, is prohibited only miderabbanan, and therefore would have some leniencies.

5. There are several agricultural halachos concerning kelayim in a vineyard (kil’ei hakerem), shemittah, and maaser, all of which are relevant only in Eretz Yisroel. There are also halachos related to grafting one species onto the stock of another (harkavas ilan), which applies equally in Eretz Yisroel and in Chutz LaAretz.

One may not plant vegetables in a vineyard in Eretz Yisroel because of the prohibition of kil’ei hakerem, mixing species in a vineyard (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 5:7), although one may plant trees in a vineyard (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 5:6). In addition, if something is categorized as an edible plant, one must be careful not to plant it too close to another edible plant because of kil’ei zera’im, mixing species when planting. This mitzvah does not apply to trees.

OTHER LAWS

How one determines the year in which a plant grows differs between trees and plants. The cut-off point for determining the years of tree fruits is usually determined by Tu Bishvat, whereas for plants it is Rosh Hashanah. This affects the halachos of maaser and of shemittah.

In addition, which year of the maaser cycle a fruit belongs to is determined by whether its chanatah, which refers to a stage early in the fruit’s development, took place before Tu Bishvat or after; for a plant, it is determined by whether it is harvested before Rosh Hashanah. Furthermore, a plant that grew uncultivated during the shemittah year would be prohibited because of the prohibition of “sefichin,” whereas the fruit of a tree would not be affected by this concern.

We now understand why it is important to determine whether a particular plant qualifies as a tree or not.

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A TREE?

The Random House dictionary I have on my desk defines a tree as, “a plant having a permanently woody main stem or trunk, ordinarily growing to a considerable height, and usually developing branches at some distance from the ground.” If we exclude the qualifiers, “ordinarily” and “usually,” then this definition does not consider a grape vine to be a tree since it lacks height if not supported and does not develop branches some distance from the ground. Since we know that halacha considers grapes to be fruits of the tree, this definition will not suffice. On the other hand, if we broaden the definition of “tree” to include all plants that have a “permanently woody stem or trunk” we will not only include grape vines, but also probably include eggplant, pineapple, and lavender which all have woody stems. On the other hand, several plants, such as the date palm and papaya, fit the Random House definition as a tree and yet grow very differently from typical trees. Are all of these plants trees?

Having demonstrated that the dictionary definition of tree is insufficient for our purposes, let us explore sources that may give us a halachic definition. The Gemara (Berachos 40a) states that one recites borei pri ha’eitz if “when you remove the fruit, the gavza remains and produces more fruit; but if the gavza does not remain, the beracha is not borei pri ha’eitz, but borei pri ha’adamah.” What is the “gavza” that remains to bear more fruit from one year to the next?

Among the major commentaries, we find three interpretations. Rashi translates gavza as branch, meaning that any plant whose branches fall off one year and then grow again the next is not considered a tree, even if the root and trunk (or stem) remain from one year to the next. There are berries whose stem remains from one year to next, but whose branches fall off during the winter (Tehillah Ledavid, Chapter 203). According to Rashi, the correct beracha on these berries is ha’adamah.

A second opinion, that of Tosafos, explains that “gavza” is the trunk or stem of the plant that remains from one year to the next and produces fruit (Ritva, Sukkah 35a). A plant whose root remains from one year to the next, but not its stem, is not a tree.

Many perennial fruits do not have a trunk that remains from year to year. (A perennial is a plant whose root remains from one year to the next and grows each year without replanting.) A banana plant is a perennial whose entire structure above ground dies each year and then grows again the next year from the root. According to Tosafos, bananas are not trees but plants; therefore their beracha is ha’adamah, not ha’eitz, and there is no orlah prohibition.

A third opinion, that of the Rosh and the Tur (Orach Chayim, Chapter 203), explains that any perennial is considered a tree and its beracha is ha’eitz. If the plant must be replanted each year (i.e., it is an annual) to produce fruit, then the beracha is ha’adamah, not ha’eitz. According to this understanding, the correct beracha on strawberries and bananas is ha’eitz since they are both perennials (not annuals), whereas according to the other opinions, the beracha on strawberries and bananas is ha’adamah.

The Shulchan Aruch and the Rema (Orach Chayim 302:2) rule that one recites borei pri ha’eitz if there is some type of stem that remains from year to year and produces fruit, but that the beracha is ha’adamah on perennials whose stem dies each year. However, it is disputed whether the reason we recite ha’adamah is because the Shulchan Aruch concluded like Tosafos, or because it is uncertain whether the beracha should be ha’eitz (like the Rosh and the Tur), or ha’adamah (like Tosafos), and we recite ha’adamah because of this uncertainty (Maamar Mordechai 203:3). There are several halachic ramifications that result from this question as I will explain later.

IS A TREE ALWAYS A TREE?

Is the definition of a tree the same for the halachos of orlah and kelayim as it is for berachos?

Tosafos (Berachos 40a) cites a passage in Talmud Yerushalmi (Kelayim 5:7) that something may not qualify for the definition of a tree for the laws of berachos and yet be considered a tree for the laws of kelayim, whereas the Ritva (Sukkah 35a) contends that the definition of the Gemara (Berachos 40a) for berachos applies to orlah as well. Tosafos concludes that the beracha on most perennial berries is ha’adamah because the bush does not remain from year to year, even though the bushes have the status of trees concerning kelayim and therefore may be planted in a vineyard.

IS HEIGHT A FACTOR?

Are there any other factors that define a tree other than what the Gemara mentioned? Must a plant grow tall to be considered a tree?

The Magen Avraham (203:1) rules that even if a tree grows very short, the correct beracha on its fruits and berries is borei pri ha’eitz. However, the prevalent minhag is to make a pri ha’adamah on berries that grow on plants which are less than three tefachim tall (about nine or ten inches), even though they meet all the other requirements of trees. The reason for the minhag is that a plant with such short stature is not considered significant enough to be a tree (Chayei Odom 51:9; Mishnah Berurah 203:3).

However, we should note that although the custom is to recite ha’adamah on the fruit of these small perennial bushes, the fruit grown in the first three years of the tree’s life is nonetheless prohibited because of orlah (Ritva, Sukkah 35a). Cranberries would fit into this category since they are perennial, yet grow on the ground of a bog. Thus, orlah applies to them, yet their beracha is borei pri ha’adamah.

We have now covered most of our opening questions, and plan to continue this discussion in a future article.

Man himself is compared to a tree (see Rashi, Bamidbar 13:20); and his responsibility to observe orlah, terumos, and maasros are intimately bound with the count that depends on Tu Bishvat. As Rav Hirsch explains, by observing Hashem’s command to refrain from the fruits of his own property, one learns to practice the self-restraint necessary to keep all pleasure within the limits of morality.

The author thanks Rabbi Shmuel Silinsky for his tremendous assistance in providing agricultural information for this article.

More on Orlah

Question #1: Chopping Down the Cherry Tree

“A year ago, I transplanted a cherry tree in order to sell the wood, which is widely used by artists for delicate artistic carving. I see that many cherries have grown on the tree. Are they prohibited as orlah?”

Question #2: Sabra Borders

“Someone planted a sabra tree (also known as a “prickly pear,” “cactus pear” or “Indian fig”) as a natural border fence for his property, and placed a sign telling people not to help themselves to the fruit. Is there an orlah prohibition on the fruit?”

Question #3: Woody Fuel

“I live in a rural area without electricity. We run a nature resort and chop wood for heating and cooking. If I plant trees for wood, do I need to keep track of which year I plant the tree, due to orlah concerns?”

Of the many agricultural mitzvos, one of the most fascinating ones we have is orlah. Orlah roughly means that during the first three years of a tree’s growth, any fruit that grows on it cannot be eaten or benefited from. The mitzvah is unique in many ways and its laws contain some very interesting rules and applications.

One of the insights that this mitzvah provides is that it shows that the Torah requires us not to limit ourselves to the studies of religion and philosophy, or even of just Tanach and Gemara.  It is impossible to put the laws of orlah into application without an extensive scientific knowledge. An incredible number of botanical details must be understood in the practical application of this mitzvah, and observing orlah properly requires investigating these details.

As a child, I was told that orlah is a very rare mitzvah, since there are no trees that produce fruit in their first three years. Notwithstanding that the Ramban (ad locum) implies this, one cannot rely on this halachically for two reasons:

Firstly, many trees and, in particular, bushes produce fruit and berries in their first three years.

Secondly, it is possible to have orlah on trees that are older than three years.

Let us begin with this topic by examining the pesukim in which this mitzvah is presented:

Vechi savo’u el ha’aretz, u’netatem kol eitz ma’achal va’araltem orlaso es piryo, shalosh shanim yihyeh lachem arei’lim, loyei’acheil.” “And when you come to the land and you plant any fruit tree, you shall treat yourselves as restricted against the fruits; for three years they shall be restricted to you, you shall not eat them” (Vayikra 19:23).

Let us now dissect this pasuk:

“Vechi savo’u el ha’aretz,” “And when you come to the land.” What land is the pasuk talking about? We can safely assume for now that it is Eretz Yisrael.

Kol eitz ma’achal.” Since the pasuk later references “piryo,” “its fruit,” we know that the tree bears fruit. What, then, is the pasuk telling us by referring to the tree as “eitz ma’achal”?

It is telling us that the mitzvah applies only when a tree is planted for the purpose of consuming its fruit.

Allow me to explain. Here are three examples of trees that are not planted for fruit:

A. A tree planted for lumber.

B. A tree planted as a boundary marker.

C. A tree planted to produce firewood.

Regarding trees on the above list, the Mishnah (Orlah 1:1) teaches that fruits that grow during the first three years of the life of the tree are permitted. However, there is a caveat to this heter: It must be clear that the tree was not planted for its fruit.

Here is an example:

Trimming the side branches of a tree demonstrates that the tree was not planted for its fruit. When you plant a tree for fruit, the side branches are beneficial. After all, the more branches there are, the more fruit usually grow. In addition, the lower branches are easier to reach, facilitating harvesting.

Trimming the side branches, however, assures that the tree grows straight and tall, yielding taller lumber. Therefore, trimming the side branches proves that your purpose is not for the fruit.

Similarly, if trees are planted close together, that proves that they are not intended for their fruit, since spacing is important for optimal fruit growth.

Chopping down the cherry tree

“A year ago, I transplanted a cherry tree in order to sell the wood, which is widely used by artists for delicate artistic carving. I see that many cherries have grown on the tree. Are they prohibited as orlah?”

The answer is that if you cultivated the tree in a way that it is obvious that you were interested in the wood and not the fruit, even what grew in the first three years is permitted. Also see below that there might be another reason why the cherries are permitted.

Sabra borders

At this point, we can also discuss the second of our opening questions: “Someone planted a sabra tree (also known as a “prickly pear,” “cactus pear” or “Indian fig”) as a natural border fence for his property, and placed a sign telling people not to help themselves to the fruit. Is there an orlah prohibition on the fruit?”

Had the owner planted the tree only as a border, it would not be eitz ma’achal, and the fruit that grew during the first three years would be permitted. However, this is dependent on the intentions of the planter. In this instance, since the owner put up a sign telling people not to take the fruit, he is clearly interested in the fruit crop. Therefore, the fruit is prohibited.

Another exception in which the fruit is prohibited:

Even if a tree is exempt from orlah restrictions due to any of the above situations, if the owner changes his mind and begins to use the tree as a fruit tree, whatever fruit grow during the remainder of the initial three-year period subsequent to this change are prohibited as orlah.

Woody

We can also answer the third of our opening questions: “I live in a rural area without electricity. We run a nature resort and chop wood for heating and cooking. If I plant trees for wood, do I need to keep track of which year I plant the tree, due to orlah concerns?”

There are no orlah concerns if the way the tree is grown or cared for demonstrates that it is being grown only for firewood.

Continuing our analysis of the pasuk: “va’araltem orlaso es piryo.” “You shall treat yourselves as restricted against the fruits.”

Fruits only
Only the fruits of the orlah tree are forbidden. The branches and non-fruit parts of the tree are permitted. However, the entire fruit, including shells, skins, and seeds, is forbidden. Furthermore, even inedible fruit that grow from an edible fruit tree is forbidden. For example, grapes which have not or will not develop are prohibited as orlah.

Benefit
In addition to being forbidden to eat orlah fruits, we are also forbidden to derive benefit, hana’ah, from them.

How does this manifest itself in practice?

It is prohibited to make a dye from the skins or shells of orlah fruits. We may not use the seeds of an orlah fruit for coloring, nor may we use them for fertilizer or animal food. Furthermore, even more indirect methods of benefit are prohibited. Allow me to elaborate:

Let us say that I own a tree whose fruit is orlah. I am not allowed to eat its fruits, but there is no such restriction on my non-Jewish neighbor. Orlah is not one of the mitzvos that a ben noach, a non-Jewish Noahide, is required to observe. However, since the fruits are assur behana’ah, prohibited for benefit, I am not allowed to give the fruits to him, nor am I allowed to tell him to help himself. This is because when I give him a gift, I will likely make him feel indebted to me. He might be motivated to give me something in return, and that would be a benefit derived from the orlah fruit.

What, therefore, should I do with these fruits? Should I just leave them on the tree?

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach paskened that to leave orlah fruits on the tree would create a stumbling block. Passersby might not realize that the fruits are forbidden, and they might eat them. His psak was to take the fruit off the tree and dispose of them in the halachically prescribed method, i.e., by burning them.

Chutz La’aretz
As we said earlier, the pasuk says “Vechi savo’u el ha’aretz,” “When you come into the land,” which we take to mean Eretz Yisrael. Why then is orlah not an agricultural mitzvah that applies only in Eretz Yisrael?


The Gemara (Kiddushin 39a) teaches that orlah in chutz la’aretz has a unique status. It is a halacha leMoshe miSinai, a halacha that we have an oral tradition dating back to Moshe Rabbeinu, and one for which we do not have a textual source in the Torah. This halacha, of orlah in chutz le’aretz, comes with an unusual leniency regarding questionable orlah, as follows:

In Eretz Yisrael, before buying a fruit, one is obligated to research and determine whether or not the fruit is orlah. When in doubt, the fruit must be treated as orlah and prohibited.In chutz la’aretz, on the other hand, one is not obligated to conduct any research. The fruit will only be forbidden if it is definitely orlah.

What is a tree?
How do we define a tree for the purposes of orlah?
While the poskim debate if the qualifications for orlah are the same as those for hilchos berachos, the qualifications for hilchos berachos give us a good starting point. The Gemara (Berachos 40a) defines a tree for the purpose of making borei peri ha’eitz as one that does not lose its trunk from year to year. According to this, if a tree trunk degenerates every year, or if it requires replanting every year, it is not halachically a tree.

However, the achronim give us further qualifications for consideration of a tree’s halachic status. For a discussion of these qualifications, I refer the reader to the articles on the website RabbiKaganoff.com, under the search words “tree” or “orlah.”

Three years

How do we calculate the three years for orlah?

Orlah is calculated in a very interesting way. If a tree is planted before the 15th of Av, its fruits that appear after the third Tu Bishvat are permitted. If the tree is planted after the 15th of Av, then only the fruits that appear after the fourth Tu Bishvat will be permitted. Thus, a tree planted before the 15th of Av, will produce permitted fruits a year earlier than a tree planted on or after the 15th of Av.

With most fruit, we calculate this based on the fruit’s first appearance. With some species however, such as olives, grapes, and carobs, this is calculated based on a specific stage of the fruit’s growth. Details of these halachos are beyond the scope of this article.

Up until now, we have discussed orlah as applying only during the first three years of a tree’s life. However, as mentioned previously in this article, it is possible to have a tree that is even older than three years and still subject to orlah.

How can this be?

The Mishnah in Orlah (1:3) teaches us that if a tree is uprooted and replanted, its orlah count sometimes starts afresh.

When the uprooted tree is uprooted along with enough soil for it to survive, the orlah count continues as it was; i.e., if the tree was past its three years, its fruit is permitted.

If, on the other hand, the tree is uprooted without enough soil for it to survive, it is viewed as if it was planted anew, and the orlah count starts from scratch.

What, then, constitutes enough soil for the tree to survive?

This is a machlokes rishonim, with some opinions defining that it means that the tree can survive for fourteen days, and other opinions requiring it to survive all the way to three years. In chutz le’aretz, since we are lenient with all orlah questions, we will rely on the opinions that require only fourteen days; in Eretz Yisrael, many poskim say that we must follow the stricter opinions.

Conclusion

In addition to the three years in which orlah is forbidden, the Torah rules that the fruit of the fourth year of a tree is holy, with the same laws as maaser sheini, that they. Both the fourth-year product, called reva’i, and maaser sheini should be eaten within the walls of Yerushalayim, and may be eaten only when we are tehorim; otherwise, the sanctity of the fruits must be redeemed, a topic I discussed in a different article.As the Torah states: “And when you come into the land and you plant any fruit tree, you shall treat yourselves as restricted against the fruits; for three years they shall be restricted to you, you shall not eat them. And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy for praises to Hashem. Only in the fifth year may you eat its fruit – therefore, it will increase its produce for you, for I am Hashem your G-d (Vayikra 19:23-25). We see that Hashem, Himself, promises that He will reward those who observe the laws of the first four years with abundant increase in the tree’s produce in future years. May we soon see the day when we can bring our reva’i and eat it b’taharah within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!

More on Bikkurim

Question #1: Pre-Mikdash Bikkurim

Were bikkurim brought before the first Beis Hamikdash was built?

Question #2: My very own kohein!

“May I choose which kohein receives my bikkurim, just as I can choose which kohein I use for pidyon haben?”

Question #3: Geirim and bikkurim

“Does a geir bring bikkurim, or perhaps this mitzvah is incumbent only on those who received an inherited portion in Eretz Yisroel?”

Question #4: Juice and oil?

Is a farmer allowed squeeze his bikkurim fruits into juice or oil, and bring the liquid as bikkurim?

Introduction

Although most of us are familiar with the basics of the mitzvah of bikkurim, the details of this mitzvah, which we have been unable to observe for thousands of years, are often unclear to us. Since we pray three times a day that Hashem rebuild the Beis Hamikdash where we will again be able to fulfill this beautiful mitzvah, we should be fully prepared to observe it. In addition, we want to comprehend the parsha of bikkurim thoroughly, fulfill the mitzvah of talmud Torah, and grow from internalizing the hashkafos associated with this mitzvah.

According to the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch, the mitzvah of bikkurim involves three different mitzvos. The first is the mitzvah of separating the bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash. The second is reciting parshas bikkurim, the special reading that the Torah records at the beginning of this week’s parsha, which is called viduy bikkurim. The third is a lo saaseh, a negative commandment, that the kohein may not eat bikkurim outside Yerushalayim. The first two mitzvos are observed by the farmer; the third is observed by the kohein.

In a previous article, I described the pomp and circumstance involved when bringing bikkurim. That article explained much of what is involved with the first of the three mitzvos I just mentioned, separating the bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash. The sources for these laws are in Mishnayos Maseches Bikkurim, which, with only three chapters, is one of the shortest mesechtos. Let us begin by explaining the pesukim that describe this mitzvah.

The Chumash

The opening words of parshas Ki Savo read: “And when you enter the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you as an inheritance, have taken possession of it and are dwelling there, then you should take from the first of the fruits of the soil that you bring home from your land that Hashem your G-d is giving to you, place them in a basket and go to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to place His name there.”

Chazal explain that the words “you have taken possession of it and are dwelling there” mean that there was no requirement to separate bikkurim until after Bnei Yisroel had completed the conquest of Eretz Yisroel and the division of the land among the shevatim, a process that took fourteen years (Kiddushin 37b).

“To the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to place His Name there.”

This means that the pilgrims brought their bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash. But the Beis Hamikdash was not constructed until 426 years after the Jews had completed dividing the land (see Melachim I, 6:1). Since we know that they were already required to bring bikkurim fourteen years after they crossed the Yarden, where did they bring bikkurim during those intervening years?

The Sifrei explains that the bikkurim were brought even prior to the building of the Beis Hamikdash. During these years, Klal Yisroel was required to bring the bikkurim to the mishkan when it was in Shiloh, where it stayed for 369 years. When the mishkan in Shiloh was destroyed (see Tehillim 78:60; Yirmiyohu 26:6), there was a period of 57 years prior to the building of the Beis Hamikdash when there was no mishkan, but there was a mizbei’ach for public use, which is where the korbanos tzibur were offered. This mizbei’ach was located first in the town of Nov, and then, when that town was destroyed by Shaul, in the town of Giv’on. The Ramban (Devorim 26:2) discusses whether bikkurim were offered when the main mizbei’ach was in Nov and in Givon, but he does not resolve the matter conclusively.

Reciting the declaration

“Then you will come to the kohein who is in that time and say to him: Today, I declare to Hashem, your G-d, that I have come to the land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give to us.”

At this point, we are beginning the second of the three mitzvos associated with bikkurim: reciting parshas bikkurim.

The Targum Yonasan and the Targum Yerushalmi both rule that “the kohein” means specifically the kohein gadol – otherwise the Torah should simply write “a” kohein. However, nowhere does the Mishnah, Gemara or any other halachic source rule that bikkurim must be brought to the kohein gadol. Rather, the bikkurim are brought to a kohein hedyot who was working in the Beis Hamikdash on the day that the pilgrims arrived. Other authorities also rule, unlike the two Targumim, that bikkurim can be brought to any kohein who is on duty in the Beis Hamikdash on the day that the pilgrims arrived (Ramban).

“Who is in that time”

The Torah instructs us to bring the bikkurim to the kohein who is in your time. This raises a question: To which other kohein could you possibly bring your bikkurim? Since the Torah does not mention walking into a time machine, once we are told to bring bikkurim to a kohein, presumably you are bringing them to someone walking the face of the earth at the time that you arrive in Yerushalayim. Is it not clear that you are bringing bikkurim to a kohein “of that time”?

Rashi explains that you should not ignore the mitzvah of bikkurim with the excuse that, “Since the kohanim available are not as great tzaddikim or talmidei chachamim as those of earlier generations; these are not the kohanim to whom I have to bring my bikkurim.” No, you are required to bring bikkurim to a kohein who is in your generation, even if you think that a kohein from a previous generation may have been a bigger tzaddik or talmid chacham or might have provided a greater degree of positive influence on you.

The Ramban suggests a different approach to explain why the Torah says, who is in that time. The posuk requires you to give the bikkurim to a kohein who is on duty in the Beis Hamikdash on the day of your arrival. The kohanim were divided into 24 mishmoros, shifts (singular, mishmor), each of which left their hometown to serve for a week in the Beis Hamikdash. The halacha requires the pilgrim to give the bikkurim to one of the kohanim on duty, that is, a member of the mishmor of the week that the pilgrim farmer arrives in the Beis Hamikdash with his bikkurim; he is not permitted to give his bikkurim to any other kohein.

Thus, we can answer one of our opening questions: “May I choose which kohein receives my bikkurim, just as I can choose which kohein I use for pidyon haben?”

The answer is that I must give my bikkurim to a kohein who is on duty in the Beis Hamikdash at the time that I arrive with my bikkurim. I may choose which of the kohanim on duty I want to be the beneficiary of my bikkurim.

Continuing the declaration

And the kohein takes the basket from your hand and places it down in front of the altar of Hashem, your G-d. Then, you shall raise your voice and declare before Hashem, your G-d:

Arami oveid avi vayeireid mitzrayma vayagar shom bimsei me’at. Va’yehi shom legoy gadol atzum vorov.”

This quotation, which I have thus intentionally left untranslated, and its continuation, are well familiar to us from the haggadah of Pesach, where we quote the declaration of the pilgrim bringing his bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash. In the haggadah, this is followed by an interpretation of these pesukim quoted from an early midrash. This practice at the seder is already recorded in the Mishnah (Pesachim 116a). The midrash that we quote in the haggadah is very similar to the midrash Sifrei on these pesukim.

Since there is a wide variation among early commentaries regarding how to translate the words, Arami oveid avi,any translation I provide forces me to choose sides in this basic dispute. Rashi, following the approach of the Targum Onkelos, explains the verse to mean: Lovon the Aramean destroyed my father. Although Lovon did not succeed in destroying Yaakov, the posuk states it as if he did, because he truly wanted to. This approach is followed also by the midrash quoted by the haggadah.

The ibn Ezra takes issue with this translation of the posuk, contending that the word oveid is intransitive, meaning that there is no object in this sentence to receive the “action”. He explains that if the posuk is to be translated as Rashi does, its wording should be ma’avid or me’abeid, which are transitive, and could be translated as “destroyed my father.” The ibn Ezra also questions why, according to this approach, the continuation of the posuk blames Lovon for the descent of Yaakov and his family to Egypt, since this was neither Lovon’s intention nor a result of his action.

Ibn Ezra’s approach

For these reasons, the ibn Ezra explains the phrase, “Arami oveid avi,”to mean, “a lost Aramean was my father,” with Yaakov, rather than Lovon, being referred to as an Aramean. He was considered “lost” because he arrived in Aram penniless, without any financial wherewithal, and he never owned any land with which to create a family home. The Seforno explains the verse in a similar manner.

Targum Yonasan’s approach

Targum Yonasan has a third approach, a cross between the two approaches, in which the words, Arami oveid avi, are explained: “Yaakov, my forefather, traveled to Aram. There, someone (Lovon) wanted to destroy him, but the Word of Hashem saved Yaakov from the hands of Lovon. Sometime afterward, Yaakov went down to Egypt…”

Rashbam’s approach

Yet a fourth approach is presented by the Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson. He accepts ibn Ezra’s point that the word oveid is intransitive. However, rather than explaining the posuk as a reference to Yaakov – as do ibn Ezra, Seforno and Targum Yonasan – he understands the “lost Aramean” to be Avraham, Yaakov’s grandfather. Avraham has a valid claim to being “an Aramean,” as he was born and raised in Aram. He is called a “lost” Aramean because he left Aram when commanded by Hashem: “Lech lecha mei’artzecha umi’molad’techa umi’beis avicha – leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s household,” and go “el ha’aretz asher ar’eka – to the land that I will show you,” which refers to the Promised Land, the possession of which is celebrated with the bikkurim. However (the posuk continues), this plan was interrupted by a rather extensive and unpleasant sojourn in Egypt.

Returning to bikkurim

After quoting these pesukim, the pilgrim bringing the bikkurim adds a brief statement that is not quoted in the haggadah: “And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruits of the land that Hashem has given me.”

Dried or fresh?

Not all crops ripen at the same time. For that matter, certain crops need to be dried, or they will spoil before they reach Yerushalayim. For this reason, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:2) shares that people who lived some distance from Yerushalayim brought their bikkurim from figs and grapes in the form of dried figs and raisins. Otherwise, by the time they arrived, the fruit would not look nice, which would diminish the beauty of the mitzvah.

For a similar reason, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:3) reports that bikkurim are not brought from areas in which the fruit is not top quality, such as from date trees that grow in the mountains or from inferior olive orchards.

The verse then concludes by instructing how to complete the fulfillment of the mitzvah, “Then place the bikkurim down before Hashem, your G-d, and bow down to Hashem, your G-d. Now rejoice with all the good that Hashem, your G-d, has given you and your household.”

The posuk says: “Now rejoice with all the good.”

What additional halacha does this teach? The Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:4) teaches that bikkurim were not brought to the Beis Hamikdash until Shavuos. There are two verses that associate bikkurim with the festival of Shavuos. In parshas Ki Sisa, the Torah says, “You shall make for yourself the festival of Shavuos, with the bikkurim of your wheat harvest”(Shemos 34:22), and, in parshas Pinchas, the posuk refers to Shavuos as Chag Habikkurim (Bamidbar 28:26). When the bikkurim were brought to the Beis Hamikdash before Sukkos, meaning between Shavuos and Sukkos, the verses beginning with the words Arami oveid avi are declared. In other words, the second mitzvah mentioned above, that of reciting the pesukim, is seasonal, and can be fulfilled only between Shavuos and Sukkos. This is derived from the words of the posuk in our parsha, “Now rejoice with all the good,” meaning the season of rejoicing, Sukkos (Pesachim 36b). However, if the owner tarried and brought his bikkurim after Sukkos, these verses are not declared, because after Sukkos is no longer “the time of simcha.”

The association of bikkurim with Sukkos is also based on another posuk, “And [you should also observe] the festival of the harvest, with the bikkurim of your deeds that you planted in the field” (Shemos 23:16).

The Mishnah concludes that bikkurim can be brought only until Chanukah. This means that the first mitzvah mentioned above, that of designating and bringing the bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash, can be fulfilled only until Chanukah.

Why Chanukah?

Why only until Chanukah?

The Ra’avad (Hilchos Bikkurim 2:6) explains that bikkurim are not brought after Chanukah because, by this time, the fruit being brought will be inferior.

The Rambam provides a completely different rationale why bikkurim are brought only until Chanukah. The Sifrei states that bikkurim are brought only once a year. Based on this Sifrei, the Rambam explains that bikkurim fruit that ripen after Chanukah should be brought with the coming year’s bikkurim.

The Levi and the convert

Continuing with the posuk: “This mitzvah applies to you and to the Levi and to the geir who is in your midst.”

Rashi notes that the posuk is emphasizing that the Levi and the geir also have the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim: The Levi, whom I might think does not bring bikkurim because he did not receive a true portion in Eretz Yisroel, and the geir, because he cannot make the declaration that accompanies the bikkurim, “behold I have brought the first of the fruits of the land that Hashem has given me,” since he does not receive a portion in the land of Israel. For this reason, the halacha is that a geir brings bikkurim, but he cannot recite the parsha (Bikkurim 1:4). In other words, the geir is required to observe the first mitzvah of bikkurim, but is exempt from the second.

Wine or pomegranate juice?

Could the farmer squeeze his bikkurim fruits into juice or oil, and bring the liquid as bikkurim?

This topic is a matter of dispute between early tanna’im, with Rabbi Eliezer ruling that he can, and Rabbi Yehoshua ruling that the liquid squeezed from grapes and olives can be brought, but not juice that is squeezed from dates, figs or pomegranates (Terumos 11:3; Chullin 120b). The halacha follows Rabbi Yehoshua (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 2:4), and therefore, grape juice, wine or olive oil can be brought as bikkurim, but pomegranate wine or juice, fig juice, date honey or silan (date syrup) cannot.

Conclusion

Rabbeinu Yosef ibn Shu’ib, an early fourteenth century darshan, cites four reasons provided by the Rambam for the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim, the first fruits of one’s land, to the Beis Hamikdash (Drashos ibn Shu’ib, Parshas Ki Savo, s.v. U’ve’inyan habikkurim). Obviously, the main reason for bringing bikkurim is to express our gratitude to Hashem that He not only gave us Eretz Yisroel, but He also provided us with delicious fruits. Rav Hirsch notes that a careful reading of the pesukim highlights other important aspects of the mitzvah. The Beis Hamikdash represents our relationship to Eretz Yisroel as being completely dependent on the Torah; this is why the bikkurim must be brought to the Beis Hamikdash and placed at the southwest corner of the mizbei’ach, which, he explains, represents that “G-d’s land, with all its riches, is subordinated to the spirit imparted by the light of the Torah.” Our acquisition of Eretz Yisroel is only for the purpose of our observing the Torah.

Relating Hashem’s Kindness

The Sefer Hachinuch (#606) adds another element to the mitzvah of bikkurim. As we noted above, the farmer observes two separate mitzvos, one of separating bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash, and a separate mitzvah of declaring the viduy bikkurim. This appreciation thanks Hashem for His help way before the birth of our pilgrim farmer. He praises Hashem for foiling Lovon’s evil plans to destroy Yaakov. The declaration continues recapping the history of Klal Yisroel in Mitzrayim, and the miracles that He performed for us.

In explaining the reason for the second mitzvah, the Chinuch notes that there is a special requirement for the pilgrim to verbalize his thanks. It is through the power of speech that a person can awaken himself. When a person states how much Hashem blesses him, it awakens his heart to remember that everything comes from the Master of the world.

May I Participate in the Census?

This year, Rosh Chodesh Sivan falls on Sunday, and therefore the haftarah for Shabbos parshas Bamidbar is mochor chodesh. However, the usual haftarah for parshas Bamidbar begins with the pasuk that serves as the basis for the prohibition to count Jews. Since the United States is attempting to conduct a census this year, as required in the Constitution, I present the following halacha discussion:

Question #1: Counting Sheep

Why would someone count sheep when he is trying to stay awake?

Question #2: Counting from a List

Is it permitted to count Jews by counting their names on a list?

Question #3: Ki Sissa or Hoshea?

The Gemara bases the prohibition to count the Jewish people from the opening words of the “official” haftarah for parshas Bamidbar: And the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea that cannot be measured and cannot be counted (Hoshea 2:1). Why does the Gemara attribute the prohibition to a less obvious source in Hoshea, when there appears to be an obvious Torah source for this prohibition, in the beginning of Parshas Ki Sissa?

Answer: Analyzing the Sources in Chazal:

The Mishnah (Yoma 22a) describes that in order to determine which kohen would be awarded the mitzvah of removing ashes from the mizbei’ach, the kohanim extended their fingers, which were then counted. The person in charge picked a number much greater than the assembled kohanim, and then counted fingers until they reached the number. The kohen on whom the number landed performed the mitzvah (Rashi ad loc.).

The Gemara asks why they didn’t simply count the kohanim themselves, to which it answers that it is prohibited to count Jews (Yoma 22b). Counting fingers is permitted; counting people is not (Rambam, Hilchos Temidim 4:4). We are aware of one common application of this mitzvah: when counting people for a minyan, one counts words of a ten-word pasuk, rather than counting the people directly (Sefer Ha’itim #174; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 15:3).

Here is another application: to determine how many places one needs to set at a table, one should not count heads, but one may count sets of legs (Shu’t Torah Lishmah #386).

The Gemara quotes three Biblical sources for this prohibition:

1. When the nation of Ammon threatened the Jewish community of Yaveish-Gilad, Shaul gathered a large Jewish army and counted them in an indirect manner (Shmuel I 11:8). According to one opinion in the Gemara, Shaul counted the members of his army by having each throw a piece of broken pottery into a pile. Thus, we see that even to fulfill a mitzvah, one may count Jews only in an indirect manner.

2. Before attacking Ameleik, Shaul gathered the Jewish people and had each person take a sheep from Shaul’s herds. By counting the sheep, he knew how many soldiers he had (Shmuel I 15:4, see Rashi). Again, we see that he used an indirect method to count them.

3. And the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea that cannot be measured and cannot be counted (Hoshea 2:1). Taking the verse not only as a blessing, but as a commandment, the Gemara derives a prohibition against counting the Jewish people.

Isn’t the Torah a Clearer Source?

The obvious question is — why does the Gemara not quote the following pasuk in the Torah as a source for the prohibition?

When you will take the headcount of the children of Israel according to their numbers, each man should give atonement for his life to Hashem when counting them so that there is no plague as a result of the counting. This is what whoever is counted should give: a half shekel (Shemos 30:12 -13).

This pasuk certainly implies that the only way one may count Jews is indirectly, by having each one donate half a shekel and then counting the coins. This seems to be the source of how Shaul knew that he should count the Jews the way he did. It is indeed odd that the Gemara quotes the incidents of Shaul as the source for the prohibition, rather than Shaul’s source — the Torah itself!

Before answering this question, I want to analyze a different point that we see in the pasuk. The Torah says: each man should give atonement for his life to Hashem when counting them, so that there is no plague as a result of the counting. In the discussion of no other mitzvah does the Torah say, “fulfill this commandment so that no plague results.” Why suddenly does the Torah say this in regard to this mitzvah?

Rabbeinu Bachya (ad locum) explains that when we count individuals, it causes the heavenly tribunal to note all his deeds, and this may result in his being punished for his sins, which otherwise would not be punished now.

Others explain the concern in terms of ayin hora. The Abarbanel, for example, explains that when counting people by head, the counting causes ayin hora and therefore illness enters their bodies hrough their eyes and mouths, whereas counting fingers does not cause the ayin hora to enter them. I leave to the reader to decide whether he means in a physical way or a metaphysical one.

Why the Prophets?

So, indeed, if we see from the Torah, itself, that counting Jews is prohibited and potentially very harmful, why did the Gemara base itself on verses of the Prophets?

The commentaries present several approaches to answer this question. Here is a sample of some answers:

(1) The Gemara is proving that one may not count Jews even for the purpose of performing a mitzvah, something that the Torah did not expressly say (Sfas Emes to Yoma ad loc.). However, from the incidents of Shaul and the verse in Hoshea, it is clear that one may not count Jews directly, even for the sake of a mitzvah.

(2) The Gemara needs to prove that we may not count even a small group of Jews, whereas the pasuk in Ki Sissa may be prohibiting only counting the entire people (Mizrachi; Sfas Emes).

(3) The verse in Ki Sissa could mean that one may count the Jews in a normal census, but that afterward, they all must provide half a shekel as an atonement, to make sure that no one suffers (Makom Shmuel, quoted by Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3). This last approach suggests that the verse When you will take the headcount of the children of Israel according to their numbers be explained in the following manner: When you take a regular census of the children of Israel, each man should give atonement for his life to Hashem when counting them – after you conduct your census, each person should provide a half-shekel to make sure no harm results. Indeed, the census could cause harm, but that does not necessarily mean that the Torah prohibited it. However, the stories of Shaul and the verse in Hoshea prove that the Torah prohibited counting Jews directly, since Shaul counted the people by counting sheep, rather than conducting a census and having them all donate half a shekel as atonement.

(4) One can interpret the verse in Ki Sissa to mean that the generation of the Desert, who had worshipped the eigel hazahav, the Golden Calf, was at risk and that therefore counting them might cause a plague (Maharsha to Yoma ad loc.; see also Ohr Hachayim to Shemos 30:2). However, one cannot prove from Ki Sissa that there is an inherent prohibition or risk in counting Jews when they have not violated such a grievous sin. However, the stories of Shaul or the verse in Hoshea prove that one may not count Jews even when they did not violate serious prohibitions.

Thus, we find several answers to explain why the Gemara did not consider the Torah source as adequate proof to prohibit counting the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash, but, instead, rallied proof from later sources. As we will see shortly, there are actual distinctions in practical halacha that result from these diverse explanations. But first, a different question:

Counting from a List

For the purposes of fulfilling a mitzvah, may one count Jews by listing their names, and then count their names? Is this considered counting people indirectly, since one is counting names and not people, or is this considered counting the people themselves?

Advertising Campaigns to Help the Needy

The idea of having creative advertising campaigns in order to generate tzedakah funds did not originate with Oorah or Kupat Ha’ir. About 200 years ago, Rav Yisrael of Shklov, a major disciple of the Vilna Gaon and an author of several scholarly Torah works (including Taklin Chadtin on Yerushalmi Shekalim and Pe’as Hashulchan on the agricultural mitzvos), was organizing a fundraising campaign for the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael in which he wanted to link donors to individual beneficiaries by listing the needy of Eretz Yisrael by name. Rav Yisrael held that this did not violate the prohibition of counting Jews, since it involved an indirect count by counting names on a list, for the sake of fulfilling a mitzvah. However, the Chasam Sofer disagreed, contending that counting names on a list is considered counting people directly. Even though one is not looking at their faces when counting them, counting people from a list is considered counting the person, and not counting their finger, leg, half-shekel, lamb or pottery shard (see Koveitz Teshuvos Chasam Sofer #8; Shu’t Kesav Sofer, Yoreh Deah #106). We will see shortly that this dispute exists to this day.

The Census

Is the State of Israel permitted to conduct a census of its population? Does an individual violate the mitzvah by being a census taker, or by providing the census takers with his information?

This question was hotly debated by halachic authorities, even when the pre-state Zionist organizations began counting the Jewish population, and continued with the censuses of the State of Israel. Several reasons are provided by those who permitted taking a census, the primary one being that determining how to provide proper medical, educational, economic and safety servicing for a large population requires knowing how many people there are. These authorities accepted that this qualifies as a dvar mitzvah, and that counting by list, or via computer and machine calculation is considered indirect counting (Shu’t Mishpatei Uziel 4:2; Noam XV).

On the other hand, several prominent poskim prohibited taking the census or participating in it (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3). On the 27th of Iyar, 5732 (May 11, ’72), the Steipler Gaon released a letter stating the following:

In the coming days, there will be census takers counting the Jewish people. One should be careful not to answer them at all, to tell them that it is forbidden to take a census, and that there is the possibility of a Torah violation, as explained in the Gemara, Yoma 22, the Rambam in the fourth chapter of Temidim and Musafim, and the Ramban in Parshas Bamidbar. Furthermore, the Tosafos Rid in Yoma writes that it is prohibited to do so even indirectly when no mitzvah is accomplished. The Kesav Sofer explains… that it is prohibited even through writing. Furthermore, taking a census involves the possibility of danger.

At the same time, the Beis Din of the Eidah Hachareidis also issued a letter prohibiting participating in the census or answering any questions from the census takers, reiterating that they had banned this practice ten years earlier.

After publishing a responsum in which he prohibited participating in the census, the

Tzitz Eliezer (7:3) was asked whether someone calculating the numbers of people who made aliyah may count how many people there are. He answered that for the purposes of a mitzvah, one may count indirectly. However, we should note that such figures are often counted simply for curiosity or publicity, which the Tzitz Eliezer prohibits (22:13).

In a more recent responsum from Rav Vozner (Shu’t Shevet Halevi 9:35), dated Elul 24 5755 (September 19, ’95), he writes that the heter of taking a census because of divrei mitzvah applies only if the statistics are used exclusively for divrei mitzvah, something that is not followed. However, he permits the census for a different reason — because they count the entire population of Israel, not specifically Jews. Furthermore, even though the census in Israel includes a breakdown into religious groups, since thousands of those who are listed by the government as Jewish are not, Rav Vozner does not consider this as counting Jews. He adds that since no one is counted by name or family, but there is simply raw data collected, and the data does not correlate at all to the number of Jews, he has no halachic objection to participating in the census.

On the basis of Rav Vozner’s responsum, there certainly should be no objection to participating in the United States census, since this involves counting people and does not count Jews.

Conclusion

Parshas Ki Sissa, which should appear to be the Torah source for this mitzvah, begins with the words “Ki sissa es rosh bnei Yisrael.” Although the explanation of this pasuk is “When you count the members of Bnei Yisrael,” literally, the words can be translated as “When you lift up the heads of Bnei Yisrael.” The question is why did the Torah use this expression rather than say more clearly that it is defining how to count the Jewish People.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Darash Moshe, Ki Sissa) explains as follows: When someone realizes that he did something wrong, that individual may justify what he did by saying, “I am not important. What difference does it make if I do not do what is expected of me?” Unfortunately, this type of mistaken humility can become a person’s undoing.

Ki Sissa” – “When you lift up” counteracts this way of thinking. Every Jew is as important as the greatest of all Jews: The biggest tzaddik and the seemingly unimportant Jew both give the same half-shekel. This “lifts up” every individual – you do count, and what you do is important!

To Dew or Not to Dew

Photo by Denk900 from FreeImages

Question #1: To dew or not to dew

“Why does nusach Sfard recite morid hatal during the summer davening and nusach Ashkenaz does not?”

Question #2: Sanctity of Eretz Yisroel?

“I know that many agricultural mitzvos, such as terumos, maasros and shemittah, apply only in Eretz Yisroel. But why does everyone in Eretz Yisroel recite morid hatal? What does the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel have to do with whether we recite morid hatal or not?”

Question #3: Where am I?

“In error, I recited vesein tal umatar during the davening on Chol Hamoed Pesach. Someone told me that I do not recite Shemoneh Esrei again, because I live in the United States. What difference does it make where I live?”

Background

This article will explore the background behind the variant customs regarding the recital of morid hatal. I note that during the time of the rishonim, there were various other nuscha’os, versions of the text, all now in disuse, including one text used during the winter months, “morid hagoshem” without the preceding words mashiv haruach, and another version, mashiv haruach umorid hageshem vehatal, adding a reference to dew during the winter months.

Mashiv haruach in the summer?

Furthermore, between Pesach and Sukkos there is another version, mashiv haruach umorid hatal, which, although included in tefillas tal that we recite in shul on the first day of Pesach, has for the most part fallen into disuse except for those who follow nusach hagra.

Introduction

At this point, let us begin with the basics. The second brocha of the Shemoneh Esrei is called “Gevuros,” because it describes Hashem’s greatness, and therefore begins with the words Atah Gibor, “You are great.” Let us study the text of the brocha, which, upon even cursory examination, is replete with redundancy.

“You, Hashem, are powerful forever! You revive the dead; You are abundantly able to save.” It is at this point that the words mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, morid hatal, or their alternatives are added, depending on custom and time of year. We can ask, “Why, indeed, is mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem inserted at this point?”

The brocha then continues: “He provides the living with loving kindness. He revives the dead with great mercy. He supports those who are falling, heals the ill, releases the bound and fulfills His promise to those who sleep in the earth. Who is like You, the Master of might, and who is comparable to You, King Who brings death, restores life and brings the sprouting of salvation. You are faithful to revive the dead. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who brings the dead to life.”

Four resurrections

The Ritva (Taanis 2a) notes that the brocha contains four references to techiyas hameisim, resurrection, which is seemingly highly redundant. They are:

1. “You, Hashem, are powerful forever! You revive the dead;”

2. “He revives the dead with great mercy.”

3. “King Who brings death (and) restores life.”

4. “You are faithful to revive the dead.”

Four types of resurrection

The Ritva explains that there is no redundancy, because each of the four refers to a different type of resurrection.

(1) The first refers to rain that provides food for life. In the words of the Talmud Yerushalmi, “Just as techiyas hameisim brings life to the world, so rain brings life to the world.” Now we understand why mashiv haruach is recited just at this point of the Shemoneh Esrei.

(2) The second is when Hashem brings people back from the brink of their demise, be it illness or other travail.

(3) The third is when the prophets, such as Eliyahu and Elisha, brought people back to life.

(4) The fourth is a reference to the ultimate techiyas hameisim.

Mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem

The Mishnah rules that between Sukkos and Pesach one should add mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem to the second brocha of Shemoneh Esrei. The Gemara states that one may recite mashiv haruach, which praises Hashem for providing wind, or morid hatal, which praises Hashem for providing dew, but that neither of these praises is required. To quote the Gemara: “Concerning dew and winds, our Sages did not require reciting them, but if he wants to, he may” (Taanis 3a). The Gemara proceeds to ask why this is true, to which it answers that winds and dew never cease. Praising Hashem for their daily occurrence is similar to praying that the sun rise in the morning. Although it is absolutely essential for our existence, Chazal did not institute a special prayer for this. For this reason, in the time of the rishonim, several different customs developed. Some thanked Hashem for the wind all year round, whereas others never recited such a prayer at all, neither in summer nor in winter. There were those who thanked Hashem for providing dew all year round, and those who never did.

With time, one practice became accepted. When we thank Hashem for rain (which is required), we also thank him for wind. Notwithstanding the statement of the Gemara that it is not required to say mashiv haruach, the universal custom is to say it when we say morid hagoshem. This is because the wind that accompanies the rain helps keep the ground from becoming too wet (Mishnah Berurah 114:11).

At this point, we understand the basic brocha. We can also understand why Chazal instituted mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem in the winter months, particularly in Eretz Yisroel and Bavel, when it rains only at that time of year.

Forgot mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem

The Talmud Yerushalmi rules: “If it is the season when he should say mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, and he said tal, he is not required to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei.” Yet, the Yerushalmi quotes another source that if someone neglected to recite mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem or vesein tal umatar, he must repeat Shemoneh Esrei. The Yerushalmi answers that this latter source is discussing a case when someone said neither morid hatal nor morid hagoshem; in this instance, he must repeat Shemoneh Esrei. But if he mentioned tal, and not geshem, he does not repeat Shemoneh Esrei. This ruling is accepted.

Birkas Hashanim

As we know, Chazal also instituted reciting a request for rain, vesein tal umatar, in the ninth brocha of Shemoneh Esrei, birkas hashanim. The difference between mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, “He who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall,” and vesein tal umatar, “Grant dew and rain upon the face of the earth,” is that the first is praise of Hashem and, therefore, it is inserted into the second brocha of our davening, both on weekdays and Shabbos, since the first three brochos of the Shemoneh Esrei are devoted to praise. The second is a prayer beseeching Hashem to provide rain, and as such is recited in birkas hashanim, the appropriate brocha of the weekday Shemoneh Esrei.

Missed them

Should one forget to recite either mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem or vesein tal umatar when required, one is obligated to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. However, there is a halachic difference between the two that is already noted by the Tur. Should one recite morid hatal in the second brocha, praising Hashem for providing dew, rather than mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, one is not required to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. Nevertheless, when required to recite vesein tal umatar, someone who recited only vesein tal and omitted a request for rain is required to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei.

To dew or not to dew

At this point, we can answer the first of our opening questions: Why do some people recite morid hatal during the summer davening, and others do (or should I say “dew”) not?

The answer is that, although one is never required to recite morid hatal, if he said it instead of saying mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, he does not need to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. Thus, there is an advantage to reciting it, because, should he recite it by mistake when he is required to say mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, he does not need to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. Similarly, someone who is uncertain whether to say mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem or not should recite morid hatal and they have fulfilled the requirement that Chazal created.

The minhag of nusach Sfard is to follow this approach, and that has also become the prevalent practice in Eretz Yisroel, even among those who daven nusach Ashkenaz. But it has nothing to do with being in Eretz Yisroel.

Sanctity of Eretz Yisroel?

We can also now answer the second of our opening questions:

“I know that many agricultural mitzvos, such as terumos, maasros and shemittah, apply only in Eretz Yisroel. But why do they recite morid hatal there? What does the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel have to do with whether we recite morid hatal or not?”

The answer to this question is historical, and not halachic. The origin of the Ashkenazic community of Eretz Yisroel was from the students of the Baal Shem Tov, who were all Chassidim and davened nusach Sfard, or from disciples of the Gra, who recited morid hatal in davening notwithstanding that they davened nusach Ashkenaz. Although there was a major influx of Ashkenazic Jews to Eretz Yisroel in the 1930’s, after the Nazis took power in Germany, for the most part they accepted the nusach Ashkenaz that was then practiced in Eretz Yisroel. This included reciting morid hatal in shmoneh esrei, reciting Hallel in shul with a brocha the night of the Seder, duchening daily, the omission of the brocha Baruch Hashem le’olam in weeknight maariv and various similar practices.

Where am I?

At this point, we have enough of an introduction that we can begin to understand the background to the last of our opening questions: “In error, I recited vesein tal umatar during the davening on Chol Hamoed Pesach. Someone told me that I do not recite Shemoneh Esrei again, because I live in the United States. What difference does it make where I live?” First, let us examine the following story shared by the Gemara (Taanis 14b):

“The people of the city of Nineveh (in contemporary Iraq) sent the following shaylah to Rebbe: Our city requires rain even in the middle of the summer. Should we be treated like individuals and request rain in the brocha of Shema Koleinu, or like a community and recite ve’sein tal umatar during the brocha of Boreich Aleinu? Rebbe responded that they are considered individuals, and should request rain during the brocha of Shema Koleinu.”

The Gemara subsequently demonstrates that the tanna Rabbi Yehudah disagreed with Rebbe, and contended that they should recite vesein tal umatar in the brocha of Boreich Aleinu.

This controversy recurred in the times of the early amora’im, approximately one hundred years later, when the disputants were Rav Nachman and Rav Sheishes. Rav Sheishes contended, as did Rebbe, that during the summer the Nineveh residents should recite vesein tal umatar in Shema Koleinu, whereas Rav Nachman ruled that they should recite it in Boreich Aleinu, following Rabbi Yehudah. The Gemara concludes that it should be recited in Shema Koleinu, and this is the conclusion of all halachic authorities.

Why not add?

Germane to understanding this passage of Gemara, a concern is raised by the rishonim. Halacha permits adding appropriate personal requests to the appropriate brocha of the Shemoneh Esrei. For example, one may include a prayer for the recovery of an individual during the brocha of Refa’einu, or request assistance for Torah study into the brocha of Chonein Hadaas. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 8a) rules that someone who needs livelihood may add a personal supplication to the brocha of Boreich Aleinu. Therefore, the question rises: If one may add his personal request for parnasah, why could the people of Nineveh not add their own personal requests for rain during Boreich Aleinu?

The rishonim present two answers to this question:

1. Since rain in the summer months can be harmful in some places, one may not pray for rain in birkas hashanim when this prayer is detrimental to others. A request for livelihood is different, since granting a respectful livelihood is never harmful to someone else.

2. This is the version of the prayer that Chazal instituted for the winter months, and they established a different text for the summer months. Therefore, reciting vesein tal umatar in birkas hashanim during the summer conflicts with the text that Chazal established for this brocha, in Hebrew called the matbei’a she’tav’u chachamim. One is not permitted to change the text of Chazal’s established prayers, although one may add personal supplications to them.

The Rosh understands that Nineveh could not recite their own personal request for rain in Boreich Aleinu because a city cannot make its own policy regarding the text of a brocha, but an entire country, defined as a large area, may. For this reason, he ruled that in Spain or Germany, where they needed rain after Pesach, they could recite Vesein Matar in Boreich Aleinu whenever their country needs rain.

Although the opinion of the Rosh is not accepted, someone who erred and davened in a way that the Rosh considers correct, should not repeat the Shemoneh Esrei (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 117:2).

Conclusion

Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power; one should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually absorb the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them!

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the seemingly minor aspects of davening should make us even more aware of the fact that davening builds our relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points — the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisrael!

The Haftarah for Pinchas

This week is the next to last week that the Eretz Yisroel community and the chutz la’aretz community are still reading different parshios, still due to the fact that acharon shel Pesach fell on Shabbos. This means that in Eretz Yisroel the haftarah for Parshas Pinchas is not one of the three read during the three weeks.

In most years, Parshas Pinchas falls during the three weeks and, as a result, its haftarah is Divrei Yirmiyahu, the opening words of the book of Yirmiyahu, which is the first of the telasa deparanusa, the three special haftaros we read during the “Three Weeks” of our national mourning (Rishonim quoting Pesikta). This haftarah is usually printed in the chumashim as the haftarah for Parshas Matos.

Since in Eretz Yisroel this is one of the fairly rare years when Parshas Pinchas is read before the fast of the seventeenth of Tamuz, there the haftarah printed in the chumashim for Parshas Pinchas is read. The haftarah, which is from the book of Melachim and begins with the words Ve’yad Hashem, describes how Eliyahu admonishes the wicked monarchs Achav and Izevel. Since the Torah reading and the haftarah reading respectively mention the attributes of zeal demonstrated by Pinchas and Eliyahu, this haftarah is very appropriate for this Shabbos. Furthermore, the Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 29; Midrash Rabbah on this week’s parsha) states that Pinchas was Eliyahu, thus providing another reason to read this haftarah on this Shabbos.

It is actually unclear whether the Midrash means that Pinchas and Eliyahu were the same person, particularly since other sources in Chazal identify Eliyahu as being either from the tribe of Binyomin or of Gad (Bereishis Rabbah 71:9), both of which are impossible if Eliyahu was Pinchas, who was a kohen. The Gemara may simply mean that Eliyahu exhibited the same personality traits as Pinchas, since both displayed tremendous zeal in upholding Hashem’s honor.

The haftarah quotes Eliyahu as saying to Hashem: Kano kineisi laHashem Elokei Tzeva’os ki azvu berischa bnei Yisrael, I have acted zealously on behalf of Hashem the G-d of Hosts, for the Children of Israel have forsaken your covenant (Melachim 1:19:10), an allegation Eliyahu soon repeats (ibid. Verse 14). According to the Midrash, Eliyahu accused Bnei Yisrael of abrogating bris milah. As a response, Hashem decreed that Eliyahu will be present at every bris to see that the Jews indeed fulfill this mitzvah. Chazal therefore instituted that there should be a seat of honor for Eliyahu at every bris (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 29; Zohar 93a).

Indeed, Jews view the mitzvah of bris milah dearly, and have accepted to observe this mitzvah in extremely difficult circumstances. Since the mitzvah of milah is so dear, we celebrate it as a happy occasion even during the three weeks and the nine days, periods of time in which we otherwise are accustomed to mourn. For this reason, the mohel, sandek, and parents of the baby may shave or get a haircut in honor of the bris, and during the Nine Days we serve meat meals in honor of the occasion.

We should also remember that Eliyahu is not only the malach habris, the angel who attends the bris, but also represents Pinchas, the bringer and angel of peace.

Since the discussion for haftarah of Pinchas is fairly short, I am adding another short article about a different, anomalous kerias haTorah situation:

How can this happen?

Kwiz Kwestion:

Someone received revi’i, the fourth aliyah, Shabbos morning, and, later that day, received back-to-back aliyos?

This question is not at all theoretical. I actually experienced it once. How did this happen?

Explaining the question fully provides a bit of a hint at the answer. Ordinarily, the only time someone receives back-to-back aliyos is when there is no levi in shul, in which case the kohen who receives the first aliyah also receives the second aliyah, that usually reserved for a levi. A kohen receives the aliyah because kohanim are members of the tribe of levi, and the same kohen receives the aliyah, rather than spreading the wealth around by giving a different kohen the second aliyah because of a rule ein kor’in lekohen achar kohen “We do not call up two consecutive kohanim.” Chazal ruled that this is prohibited because of concern that someone will think that, after calling up the first kohen, they discovered a halachic problem with his status and therefore needed to call up a different kohen (Gittin 59b).

Now, as a kohen I can tell you that it is a very common occurrence that I receive back-to-back aliyos, one as a kohen and the other bimkom levi. But how did I manage to get revi’i without the gabbai making an error? A kohen always receives either the first aliyah of the Torah, maftir, or acharon. Now, since revi’i is never maftir or acharon, how could a kohen ever receive the aliyah of revi’i?

One Shabbos I attended a family bar mitzvah, where the minyan was only family members. Not only am I a kohen, but so are all my brothers and sons, as well as my nephew, the bachur habar mitzvah. Virtually everyone else in attendance at the minyan made in honor of the bar mitzvah was a kohen. The only non-kohanim in attendance were the bachur’s maternal grandfather, who is a yisroel, and a family friend who is a levi. Thus, the first three aliyos were: a kohen (one of the family members), the levi guest and the maternal grandfather, who received shelishi.

Now is where the fun starts. All other attendees at the minyan were kohanim, and yet we have four more aliyos, plus maftir to give out! What is a gabbai supposed to do?

Fortunately, this question is discussed by the rishonim, with a wide variety of answers. The Beis Yosef cites four opinions what to do for the four remaining aliyos.

1. Call up the same three people who were called up as kohen, levi, and shelishi, as revi’i, chamishi and shishi, and then call up the original kohen for a third time as shevi’i.

2. The yisroel who was called up as shelishi should be called up again for revi’i, chamishi, shishi, and shevi’i since he is the only yisroel in the house.

3. Call up children for the remaining four aliyos.

4. Call up different kohanim for the remaining four aliyos.

What are the reasons behind each of these approaches?

1. Call up the same three people again

Although Chazal required that we call up seven people for aliyos on Shabbos, nowhere does it say that one may not call up the same person twice. As we see from the case when the kohen receives the aliyah of the levi, someone can be called up twice and count as two people receiving aliyos. Thus, our best way to resolve this situation is to call up the same three people again, which avoids calling up two kohanim one after the other. We also avoid calling up a kohen for an aliyah that implies that he is not a kohen, except for the one kohen who already was called up as kohen. Thus, no one should make a mistake that a kohen has any problem with his pedigree.

2. Call the yisroel for five consecutive aliyos

At the time of the Mishnah and Gemara, there was no assigned baal keriyah, and the person who received the aliyah was expected to read for himself. The institution of an assigned baal keriyah began in the time of the rishonim, when it became a common problem that someone called up for an aliyah was unable to read the Torah correctly, thus calling into question whether the community fulfilled the mitzvah of kerias haTorah.

However, even during the days of the Mishnah it occasionally happened that a minyan of Jews did not include seven people who could read the Torah correctly. The Tosefta, a source dating back to the era of the Mishnah but not included in the Mishnah, discusses a case in which there is only one person in the minyan who is capable of reading the Torah. What do we do? The Tosefta (Megillah 3:5) rules that we call this person up to the Torah seven consecutive times in order to fulfill the mitzvah of seven aliyos.

Based on this Tosefta, some explain that since we cannot call up two kohanim one after the other, when we have only one Yisroel in attendance, we call him to the Torah for all the yisroel aliyos (Beis Yosef, based on his understanding of the Mordechai).

3. Call up children

Our practice is that we do not call a child up to the Torah because it is not a sign of respect that a child read the Torah for a community (see Megillah 23a). From this comment, we see that, other than this concern, a child may have an aliyah, even though he is underage to fulfill a mitzvah.

Therefore, Rabbeinu Yeruchem rules that, in the situation at hand, we should call up children for the remaining aliyos. Apparently, he considers this to be a better solution than calling up someone who has already received an aliyah. The only time we can give someone two aliyos is to a kohen when there is no levi in shul. Therefore, our only alternative is to suspend the community honor and call up children for the missing aliyos.

If there are no children in attendance, Rabbeinu Yeruchem rules that we cannot continue the reading of the Torah!

4. Call up consecutive kohanim

All the approaches we have quoted thus far contend that there is never any exception to the rule that one may not call up two kohanim consecutively. However, there are rishonim who dispute this assumption, contending that, when it is obvious to all attendees that the reason you called two kohanim consecutively was because there were no other alternatives, there is no concern that someone will think one of the kohanim has a yichus problem, and therefore Chazal were not gozeir.

The Rashba contends that when everyone in attendance realizes that there are only kohanim in the minyan, we simply call up consecutive kohanim. There is no concern not to call one kohen after another in this instance.

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that the halacha follows the Rashba, and, to the best of my knowledge, this approach is accepted by all late halachic authorities. Thus, we now have answered our opening conundrum: How did I receive revi’i, the fourth aliyah, on Shabbos morning, and, later that day, receive back-to-back aliyos?

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