Is Papaya a Tree?

Although the month of Shvat just began, since I have planned a different, very exciting article for next week, we are going to discuss an aspect of Tu Bishvat this week. For those who want to read more about the holiday themes of Tu Bishvat, you can check on RabbiKaganoff.com under the search words orlah or fourth year.

Question #1: What bracha?

What bracha do I recite before I eat papaya?

Question #2: Orlah

Does the prohibition of orlah apply to papaya?

Question #3:

Are there any kashrus concerns germane to papain?

Introduction:

Whether a particular plant is defined halachically as a tree or not influences several areas of halacha, including:

1. What bracha one recites on its fruit.

2. What bracha 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. What are its laws concerning kelayim, shemittah, and ma’aser, all of which are relevant only in Eretz Yisrael.

What is a tree?

Although it is obvious that an oak tree is not a vegetable, the status of many species of Hashem’s botanical wonders is questionable: are they trees or are they not? 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 two 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, all of which 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?

For halachic purposes, a better working definition is that a tree is a woody perennial plant that possesses a stem that remains from year to year and produces fruit. This definition is also not without its difficulties. In a different article, I discussed the status of eggplant, several varieties of berry including raspberry and cranberry, and several fragrant plants and flowers, which may or may not qualify as trees, depending on our definition. There are many times that we treat a plant lechumrah as a tree regarding the very stringent laws of orlah, although we will not treat it as a tree regarding many or all of the other halachos mentioned. In that article, I noted that the following characteristics might be qualifying factors in providing the halachic definition of a tree:

(a) Is the species capable of producing fruit within its first year (after planting from seed)?

(b) Does the fruit production of the species begin to deteriorate the year after it begins producing? In other words, a typical tree species produces quality fruit for a few years. If the species produces quality fruit for only one year, and then the quality or quantity begins to deteriorate, does it halachically have the category of a tree?

(c) Does the species produce fruit from shoots that will never again produce fruit?

(d) Is its physical appearance markedly different from a typical tree?

(e) Does it produce fruit for three years or less?

We should also note that the poskim dispute whether the definition of a tree for the purposes of the brachaborei atzei besamim” is the same as the definition for the bracha of “borei pri ha’eitz” and for the halachos of orlah, shemittah, ma’aser, and kelayim.

Is papaya a tree?

A papaya may grow ten feet tall or more, but it bears closer similarity in many ways to being a very tall stalk since its stem is completely hollow on the inside and it does not usually produce branches. Its leaves and fruits grow directly on the top of the main stem, and it usually produces fruit during the first year, unlike most trees.

Commercially, the grower usually uproots the plant after four to five years of production, although the papaya can survive longer, and in some places it is standard to cut it down and replant it after three years.

With this introduction, we can now begin to discuss whether papaya is a tree fruit and its proper bracha borei pri ha’eitz, or whether is it is considered a large plant on which we recite ha’adamah as we do for banana. A more serious question is whether the prohibition of orlah applies to papaya. If it does, this could create an intriguing problem, since it may be that there are plantations, or even countries, where the entire papaya crop grows within three years and may be prohibited as orlah.

Commercial and halachic history of papaya

The Spaniards discovered papaya in Mexico and Central America, from where it was transported to the Old World. The earliest halachic reference to it that I am aware of is a shaylah sent from India to the Rav Pe’alim (Vol. 2, Orach Chayim #30), author of the Ben Ish Chai, asking which bracha to recite on its fruit.

The Rav Pe’alim discusses what the appropriate bracha on papaya is. He begins by comparing papaya to the eggplant. Based on four factors, Rav Pe’alim rules that papaya is not a tree and that the appropriate bracha is ha’adamah. These factors are:

1. The part of the stem that produces fruit never produces again. Instead, the fruit grows off the newer growth higher on the plant. Initially, I did not understand what the Rav Pe’alim meant with this, since there are many trees, such as dates, which produce only on their new growth, not on the old. Thus, this does not seem to be a feature that defines a tree. After further study, I realized that the difference is that papaya produces fruit only on top of the “tree,” and it looks atypical, not resembling other trees, whereas dates, although the fruit grows on the new growth high up on the tree, it does not grow on the top of the tree, but from branches on the new growth.

2. The stem of the papaya is hollow, which is not characteristic of trees. (Rav Moshe Shternbuch, in his teshuvah on whether papaya is included in the prohibition of orlah, describes papaya as a tall stalk. See Shu’t Teshuvos VeHanhagos 3:333).

3. The fruit grows directly on the trunk and not on the branches.

4. The papaya produces fruit within its first year.

In a follow-up letter, a correspondent wrote that the custom among Jews in India is to recite ha’eitz before eating the papaya’s fruit. Rav Pe’alim responded that he does not consider this custom to be a halachic opinion, since the community lacked Talmidei Chachomim to paskin shaylos. He points out that if the papaya is a tree, then we must prohibit its fruit as orlah since the grower usually cuts it down before its fourth year.

Among contemporary poskim, some follow the ruling of the Rav Pe’alim that papaya is exempt from orlah and its bracha is ha’adamah (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:52), whereas most rule that papaya does have orlah concerns (Shu’t Sheivet Halevi 6:165; Mishpetei Aretz, page 27, quoting Rav Elyashiv; Teshuvos VeHanhagos). One should note that Rav Ovadyah Yosef, who rules that papaya is exempt from any orlah concerns, also rules that passion fruit, called pasiflora in Modern Hebrew, is also exempt from the prohibition of orlah since it produces fruit in its first year. Most other authorities do not accept this approach.

Papaya outside Eretz Yisrael

There should be a difference in halacha between papaya growing in Eretz Yisrael and that growing in chutz la’aretz. Whereas the prohibition of orlah exists both in Eretz Yisrael and in chutz la’aretz, questionable orlah fruit is prohibited if it grew in Eretz Yisrael but permitted if it grew in chutz la’aretz. This is because the mitzvah of orlah has a very unusual halachic status. There is a halacha leMoshe miSinai that prohibits orlah fruit outside of Eretz Yisrael, but only when we are certain that the fruit is orlah. When we are uncertain whether the fruit is orlah, the halacha leMoshe miSinai permits this fruit.

Based on the above, one should be able to permit papaya growing outside Eretz Yisrael either because (1) there is the possibility that this particular fruit grew after the orlah years had passed or (2) that perhaps papaya is not considered a tree for one of the reasons mentioned by the Rav Pe’alim.

There are two important differences in halacha between these two reasons. The first is whether the bracha on papaya is ha’eitz or ha’adamah. The Rav Pe’alim ruled that it is not a tree fruit and therefore its bracha is ha’adamah. According to the first approach, it may indeed be ha’eitz and still be permitted, since it is only safek orlah.

Here is another difference in halacha between the two reasons.

Papain

Papain is a highly popular enzyme extracted from the papaya. In the early twentieth century, Belgian colonists in the Congo noticed that the local population wrapped meat in papaya leaves. The colonists discovered that the papaya leaves preserved the meat and also tenderized it. Laboratory analysis discovered an enzyme, now called papain, as the agent of the process. This spawned a new industry producing and selling papain from papaya plantations around the world.  New applications were discovered, and papain is now also used in the production of beer, biscuits, and is very commonly used as a digestive aid.

If papain was still produced from leaves there would be no orlah issue, since orlah applies only to the fruit of a plant. Unfortunately, today’s papain is extracted not from the leaf, but from the peel of the papaya. If a fruit is prohibited as orlah, its peel is also prohibited.

In actuality, there is a more serious problem of orlah in papain than in eating the papaya fruit itself. Papain is collected by scratching the peel of the growing fruit, which causes a liquid containing the papain to exude from the peel, without harming the fruit. A bib is tied around the middle of a papaya tree, which catches all the papain from that particular tree. The papain is collected and sent to a factory where all the papain harvested is blended. The process can be repeated many times before the fruit is ripe for picking. Thus, the papain is a second crop.

However, this method of harvesting the papain creates a halachic complexity not encountered with the papaya fruit. Since safek orlah is permitted in chutz la’aretz, if we are uncertain as to whether a particular tree growing is within its orlah years, we may eat the fruit because of the halacha leMoshe miSinai that safek orlah is permitted. Therefore, even if we consider papaya a tree, the fruit grown outside Eretz Yisrael is permitted if there is a possibility that it is not orlah.  The papain, however, would be prohibited because the papain used is a mixture of extracts of all the fruit. If indeed this particular grove contained some trees that are orlah, then the mixture is permitted only if one can be mevateil the orlah that is in the mixture. In the case of the mitzvah of orlah, that would require 200 parts of kosher fruit to every one unit of orlah. Therefore, papain would be prohibited if there are 200 parts of non-orlah fruit to one part orlah, which in essence prohibits all the papain.

The above is true if we assume that the papaya is a tree subject to the laws of orlah. However, if we assume that the different reasons suggested are enough bases to rule that it is questionable whether papaya is subject to the laws of orlah, then we may permit papaya from trees that grow outside Eretz Yisrael even when we are certain that the tree is less than three years old. The latter reason would permit papain that originates in chutz la’aretz.

While nibbling on the fruit this Tu B’Shvat, we should think through the different halachic and hashkafic ramifications that affect us. 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 B’shvat. As Rav Shamshon Raphael 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.

Could the Fruit on My Tree Be Orlah?

Question:

Recently, our school had several fruit trees planted for decorative and educational purposes. Someone told us that we must carefully collect the fallen fruits and bury them to make sure that no one eats them. Is there really an orlah prohibition in chutz la’aretz, and is it possible that these fully-grown trees are producing orlah fruits? If indeed we need to be concerned about orlah, do we also need to redeem the fruits of the tree in the fourth year?

Before we can answer these questions, we need to discuss the following topics:

  1. Is there a mitzvah of orlah in chutz la’aretz?
  2. Can a fully-grown tree possibly have a mitzvah of orlah? I thought orlah only applies to the first three years of a tree’s growth!
  3. Does orlah apply to an ornamental tree?
  4. Does the mitzvah of reva’ie apply in chutz la’aretz?

ORLAH

Introduction: The Torah (Vayikra 19:23) prohibits eating or benefiting from fruit grown on a tree during its first three years. Those fruits are called orlah and the prohibition of the Torah applies whether the tree was planted by a Jew or a gentile. The rules of orlah apply whether the tree grew in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz, although many leniencies apply to trees growing in chutz la’aretz that do not apply to those growing in Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Orlah 3:9). Orlah fruit must be burnt to guarantee that no one benefits from them (Mishnah Temurah 33b); in addition, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, ruled that one must remove orlah fruits as soon as they begin to grow to prevent someone from mistakenly eating them.

REVA’IE

The Torah (Vayikra 19:24) teaches that the fruit a tree produces the year following its orlah years has a unique halachic status called reva’ie. One may eat this fruit only within the area surrounded by the original city walls of Yerushalayim and only if one is tahor, a status that is virtually unattainable today, as we have no ashes of a parah adumah. However, the Torah permitted us to redeem reva’ie by transferring its sanctity onto coins that must be treated with special sanctity. After performing this redemption, the reva’ie fruit loses all special reva’ie laws, and one may eat it wherever one chooses to and even if one is tamei. We will discuss later whether reva’ie applies outside Eretz Yisroel.

Why does orlah apply in chutz la’aretz? Is it not an agricultural mitzvah that should apply only in Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Kiddushin 36b)?

The Gemara (Kiddushin 39a; Mishnah Orlah 3:9) teaches that orlah in chutz la’aretz has a special status. Although it is true that agricultural mitzvos usually apply only in Eretz Yisroel, a special halacha lemoshe misinai teaches that the mitzvah of orlah applies in chutz la’aretz. (A halacha lemoshe misinai is a law Hashem taught Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai that has no source in the written Torah.) However, this particular halacha lemoshe misinai came with an intriguing leniency.

QUESTIONABLE ORLAH

The usual rule is that in a case of doubt whether or not something is prohibited, if the prohibition is a Torah one must rule stringently and prohibit the item (Avodah Zarah 7a). Even though orlah in chutz la’aretz has the status of a Torah prohibition, the halacha lemoshe misinai teaches that any doubt concerning a chutz la’aretz orlah fruit may be treated with a unique leniency. In Eretz Yisroel, one may not purchase fruit in a market without first determining whether there is a significant possibility that the fruit is orlah. In the case of orlah from chutz la’aretz, however, one is not required to research if the fruit is orlah. Even more so, the fruit is prohibited only if one knows for certain that it is orlah; if one is uncertain, it is permitted. Thus, doubtful orlah grown in chutz la’aretz is permitted even though definite orlah is prohibited min haTorah. This is indeed an anomaly.

This leads us to our next discussion point:

FULLY GROWN ORLAH TREES

  1. Can a fully-grown tree possibly have a mitzvah of orlah? I thought orlah only applies to the first three years of a tree’s growth!

In fact, someone may actually be the proud owner of a mature tree whose fruit is prohibited min haTorah because of orlah. How can this happen?

The Mishnah (Orlah 1:3) teaches that if a tree was uprooted and replanted, its orlah count sometimes begins anew. If the uprooted tree retained enough of its soil to survive, the old orlah count remains; if the tree was past its three orlah years, its fruit is permitted. But if the tree’s soil was removed from its roots during the uprooting, it is considered as planted anew, and its orlah count starts all over. Thus, halacha can consider a fully mature tree as newly planted.

The criterion for determining whether the tree is halachically new or old is whether the tree can survive with the soil still attached to its roots. However, the Mishnah omits one important detail: for how long must the tree be able to survive with that soil on its roots? Obviously, if the tree continues to grow for a long time, the small amount of soil on its roots will be insufficient. How much soil must the tree have on its roots in order that it not lose its orlah count?

The Rishonim dispute this question, some contending that soil for fourteen days is sufficient, while others require enough soil for considerably longer (see Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 394; Chazon Ish, Orlah 2:10-12). Since we rule leniently on orlah questions in chutz la’aretz, one may be lenient and permit a tree that has only enough soil to live for fourteen days. In Eretz Yisroel, many poskim rule that one must follow the stricter opinion.

It is important to note that, according to all opinions, if one replanted a tree with little or no soil attached, the tree is halachically considered as newly planted, and the next three years of fruit are orlah. The Torah not only prohibits one to eat these fruits, but also to benefit from them – or even give them to a non-Jewish neighbor.

HOW COMMON IS THIS?

How often is a mature, replanted tree considered new for orlah purposes?

According to the expert I contacted:

“In most parts of the United States, fruit trees sold in late winter and very early spring are usually ‘bare-root,’ meaning no soil around the roots but rather some material, like wood shavings, just to keep them moist. Unsold trees are then potted into bucket-size pots or bags of soil. The trees begin to grow as spring progresses and the tree leafs out. The nurseryman is being perfectly honest when he says it is a three-year-old tree — except that for orlah count, it is year one because the tree was replanted without soil. This problem is very common with many varieties of fruit trees that lose their leaves in autumn, such as pears, plums, peaches, cherries, apricots and nuts.”

The same expert pointed out that there can be other orlah problems in chutz la’aretz, such as trees grafted onto a root stock that was cut down to less than a tefach above the ground. This case, which is apparently very common, is halachically orlah miderabbanan (see Sotah 43b). This would apply even with a potted tree that never lost its soil. The orlah count begins again from when the tree is replanted.

WHAT DO I ASK THE GARDENER?

When purchasing a fruit tree from a nursery or gardener, what questions should one ask?

According to the horticultural halachic expert I asked, the most common, and unfortunately little known, problem is not orlah but kilayim, mixing of species. We are referring to the problem of harkavas ilan, grafting of a fruit tree onto the stock of a different species, which also applies outside of Eretz Yisroel.  More information on this topic can be found on under the title “May a Non-Jew Own a Nectarine Tree? For That Matter, May a Jew?

In regards to orlah, both of the above-mentioned problems could, and frequently do, occur: The tree may be replanted into your yard as bare-root, or it may be grafted onto a short stock. In either case, the fruit that now grows qualifies halachically as orlah.

Other orlah problems may occur. Here is a common case: Someone purchased a tree from a nursery where the soil was still attached to its root; the tree’s root ball was wrapped in burlap and tied. (The nursery industry calls this type of tree “balled and burlapped.”) When purchasing such a tree, one should try to verify when the tree was planted, and also whether the soil ball fell off while replanting the tree, which is a common occurrence. All of these affect whether the fruits of the tree are orlah, and for how many years.

I will share with you one more case that some authorities consider an orlah problem. Some people grow fruit trees in pots and move them outdoors for the summer and back indoors for the winter. Some opinions contend that moving this tree outdoors is considered replanting it, particularly if the pot is placed on earth, and means that the fruit of this tree is always orlah!

III. ORLAH ON ORNAMENTAL TREES

If one plants a tree with no intention of using its fruit, is the fruit prohibited because of orlah?

The Mishnah (Orlah 1:1) rules that fruit growing on a tree planted as a barrier or hedge, for lumber, or for firewood is not orlah. The reason for this leniency is that the Torah states that the mitzvah of orlah applies “when you plant a tree for food” (Vayikra 19:23), and these trees are not meant for food. Perhaps, the planting of our ornamental fruit trees is included in this leniency and their fruit is not orlah?

Unfortunately, this is not true. The Yerushalmi (Orlah 1:1) rules that this leniency applies only to trees planted in a way that makes it clear to an observer that they are not planted for their fruit. Examples of this are trees planted too close together for the proper growth of their fruit, or trees pruned in a way that the lumber will develop at the expense of the fruit. However, people usually do not grow ornamental trees in a way that demonstrates that they have no interest in the fruit.

Most poskim rule like this Yerushalmi (Rosh, Hilchos Orlah 1:2; Tur Yoreh Deah 294), including the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 294:23). (Note that the Rambam [Maaser Sheni 10:2] does not quote this Yerushalmi as normative halacha. Those interested in researching why the Rambam seems to ignore the Yerushalmi should research the explanation of the Rashas to the Yerushalmi and the comments of the Beis Yosef on the above-quoted Tur.)

Many years ago, when I was a rav in Baltimore, someone asked me a shaylah that is very germane to this discussion. He had planted a hopvine and asked me whether there was an orlah or reva’ie prohibition involved in this plant. Knowing only that hops are used as an ingredient in beer, I asked him what a “hopvine” is and why one would plant it. He answered that it is an ivy runner that climbs the walls of a building. He had planted the vine primarily because he liked the ivy cover for his house, but also because he was interested in brewing his own beer, using organically grown hops. At that time I was under the impression that there was certainly an orlah problem, since he also planned to harvest the fruit. But what would happen if the planter had no interest in the fruit and was simply interested in the vine’s aesthetics? Would that absolve the vines from the mitzvah of orlah? I leave it to the reader to ponder this issue.

I subsequently discovered that hops are not an orlah concern for a totally different reason: Although hops do not need to be planted annually, halachically they are not considered trees, since their shoots die off in the winter and re-grow each year. Such a plant is called a herbaceous perennial plant, not a tree, and is not subject to the halachos of orlah. Nevertheless, the concept of planting a tree for a purpose other than using its fruit is very halachically germane.

DOES REVA’IE APPLY TO FRUITS GROWN OUTSIDE ERETZ YISROEL?

Does the mitzvah of reva’ie apply in chutz la’aretz as the mitzvah of orlah does, or is it treated like other agricultural mitzvos that apply only in Eretz Yisroel? The Rishonim debate this question and its answer depends on two other interesting disputes. The first, mentioned in the Gemara (Brachos 35a), is whether the mitzvah of reva’ie applies only to grapes or to all fruits. According to some opinions, the mitzvah of reva’ie applies only to grapes (see Tosafos, Kiddushin 2b s.v. esrog); according to a second opinion, it applies to all fruits (see Brachos 35a); and according to a third approach, the mitzvah applies min haTorah only to grapes, but it applies midirabbanan to all fruits (see Tosafos, Kiddushin 2b s.v. esrog).

A second dispute is whether the mitzvah of reva’ie applies outside the land of Israel, like the mitzvah of orlah, or whether it follows the general rule of most other agricultural mitzvos and applies only in Eretz Yisroel (Tosafos, Kiddushin 2b s.v. esrog and Brachos 35a s.v. ulimaan; Gra, Yoreh Deah 294:28). The logical question here is whether reva’ie is an extension of the mitzvah of orlah, in which case the halacha lemoshe misinai that orlah applies in chutz la’aretz extends to reva’ie. On the other hand, it may be that reva’ie is a separate legal concept, totally unrelated to the mitzvah of orlah. If the latter is true, reva’ie should be treated like any other agricultural mitzvah and would not apply in chutz la’aretz.

We should bear in mind that even if we conclude that reva’ie applies in chutz la’aretz, it applies only when these fruits are definitely obligated in reva’ie. If the fruit might be from a later year, one may eat the fruit without any kashrus concern. If the chutz la’aretz fruit may be third year (orlah) or may be fourth (reva’ie), one may be lenient and redeem the fruit as one treats reva’ie.

How do we rule?

There are three opinions among the poskim:

(1) Reva’ie applies to the fruit of all trees growing outside Eretz Yisroel.

(2) Reva’ie applies only to grapes, but not to other fruit trees of chutz la’Aretz. This opinion assumes that since there is an opinion that even in Eretz Yisroel reva’ie does not apply to species other than grapes, one may be lenient with regard to chutz la’aretz and treat the fruits as a safek.

(3) Reva’ie does not apply in chutz la’Aretz.

These last poskim contend that the halacha lemoshe misinai forbidding orlah in chutz la’aretz applies only to orlah, but not to reva’ie, which is a separate mitzvah. Concerning reva’ie, we follow the general rule that agricultural mitzvos apply only in Eretz Yisroel, thus exempting these fruits from the mitzvah of reva’ie.

How do we paskin?

Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 294:7) quotes the first and third opinions, but rules primarily like the first opinion, that the mitzvah of reva’ie does apply outside of Eretz Yisroel. Rama and Gra both rule like the second opinion that it applies only to grapes outside of Eretz Yisroel and not to other fruits. Therefore, Ashkenazim may be lenient and need not redeem fourth-year fruits grown outside of Eretz Yisroel except for grapes, whereas Sefardim must redeem them.

CONCLUSION

Note that the Torah states: 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’ie and eat it betaharah within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!

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

 

The Fruits of the Fourth Year

The second of this week’s two parshios, Kedoshim, mentions the mitzvah of neta reva’ie. Hence…

The Fruits of the Fourth Year

Question #1:

Rabbi Lamdan, a local talmid chacham, asks his Rav: “I have carefully studied this week’s parsha, which contains the Torah’s only mention of the mitzvah of neta reva’ie (fruit that grows during the fourth year of a tree’s existence). Yet, I cannot find a single allusion in the Torah to the laws of neta reva’ie as recorded by the halachic authorities! What information am I missing?”

Question #2:

Tikvah, always known for her intellectual honesty, inquires: “I feel like a hypocrite. Every day I pray for Moshiach to come and our return to the land of our fathers, and yet, I know little about the agricultural mitzvos of the Torah. If I truly hope for his imminent appearance, should I not be familiarizing myself with the laws that will apply when he arrives?”

Question #3:

When the Levy family moved into their spacious Waterbury home, they planted several fruit trees and grapevines, which are now producing luscious looking pears, apples and grapes. May they begin enjoying the fruit? Must they perform any special procedures before eating them?

What do these three questions have in common?

Understanding the basic laws of neta reva’ie and their source will enable us to answer both Rabbi Lamdan’s and the Levys’ questions, and at the same time will assist Tikvah in her search for truth.

First, the basics:

This week’s parsha proclaims:

“When you arrive in the Land, and you plant any tree for its fruit, you shall restrict its fruit; what is produced the first three years is restricted from you and may not be eaten. 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).

The fruit produced in the first three years of a tree’s life is called orlah and is forbidden. The Torah refers to planting an eitz maachal, which I translated as a tree for its fruit, rather than a fruit tree. This is because Chazal understand that the prohibition of orlah applies only to a fruit tree planted for its fruit, and not to a fruit tree planted for a non-food purpose, such as for lumber or as a hedge (Orlah 1:1). This rule may affect the Levys, as I will later explain.

Although the Torah states only that orlah may not be eaten, the Torah shebe’al peh teaches that one may not benefit from it either. For this reason, one may not dye one’s skirt with orlah pomegranate peels, heat a house with orlah nutshells, or even feed orlah fruits and peels to animals. (In a different article, I discussed how one determines the end of the three prohibited crop years.) Although the mitzvah of orlah is obviously agricultural, it nevertheless applies to trees growing outside Eretz Yisrael.

KODESH HILLULIM – HOLY FOR PRAISES

Although the fourth year’s fruit is no longer orlah, it still has a special status. When the Torah discusses this produce, it states, “And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy for praises (in Hebrew, kodesh hillulim) to Hashem.” As Rabbi Lamdan correctly noted, the Torah’s entire description of the status of these fruits is these two words. What does this obscure phrase kodesh hillulim mean? What type of sanctity does the fruit manifest, and how does this result in praise?

REDEMPTION IS PRAISE

The Gemara explains that the sanctity of the neta reva’ie fruit prohibits one from eating it until it has been redeemed (Berachos 35a). This act of redemption is itself praise to Hashem (Rashba ad loc.).

However, Rabbi Lamdan is not entirely satisfied with this answer. He knows that one redeems neta reva’ie only if one cannot eat the fruit in Yerushalayim, an aspect that the verse does not mention. Furthermore, the verse says nothing about the method of redemption, which, in fact, has many detailed halachos, as we will see.

We must research further.

MILITARY EXEMPTIONS

We find another reference that might shed some light on the nature of neta reva’ie. Concerning the individuals exempted from going to war, the Torah states: “Who is the man who planted a vineyard, but he did not yet redeem it? He shall return to his house” (Devarim 20:6). Here the Torah alludes to the redeeming of a vineyard, although it mentions no details about when and how this happens (see Rashba, Berachos 35a). Although this verse does not answer any of Rabbi Lamdan’s questions, it does imply a new factor, heretofore unmentioned: that the mitzvah of neta reva’ie applies only to grapes. (In reality, the Gemara [Berachos 35a] cites a dispute whether neta reva’ie indeed applies only to grapes or to all fruits, a matter that we will soon discuss.)

Thus, our search for the sources for this mitzvah is still unresolved.

In fact, much of the law concerning neta reva’ie originates elsewhere. A mesorah, an oral tradition from Sinai, compares its sanctity to that of a different mitzvah, maaser sheni (Kiddushin 54a). There the Torah states:

“And you shall eat the maaser of your grain, your wine, and your olive oil …before Hashem your G-d, in the place where He will choose to rest His name — so that you will thereby learn always to be in awe of Hashem. However, when you will be blessed by Hashem your G-d such that you will be unable to carry [the maaser sheni] as far as the place that Hashem chose, then you may exchange it for money that you subsequently take with you when you go to the place that Hashem chose. You may then exchange the money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, and you shall eat there before Hashem your G-d, and in this way, you and your family will celebrate” (Devarim 14:23-26).

THE LAWS OF MAASER SHENI

The Torah shebe’al peh teaches that “the place where He will choose to rest His name” refers to the city of Yerushalayim. Thus, we are to transport maaser sheni to Yerushalayim. However, if this is difficult, one may redeem the produce for coins instead, and the special sanctity of the maaser sheni transfers to the money. One adds an additional 25% to the money and brings it to Yerushalayim, where he purchases with it food to be eaten within the confines of the city. This acquisition transfers the maaser sheni sanctity from the money onto the food.

Whether one transports one’s maaser sheni produce itself to Yerushalayim or exchanges it for money, the farmer remains with a large value that may be consumed only in Yerushalayim, a city bursting with sanctity and special, holy people. The beauty of this mitzvah is that it entices the farmer to ascend to the Holy City and be part of the spiritual growth attainable only there.

One can even look at the maaser sheni as “vacation fund” money that the Torah provides. Although the farmer may not be wealthy, when he arrives in Yerushalayim, he can eat and drink like a king!

WHAT MAY ONE PURCHASE?

The Torah specifies that once in Yerushalayim, one may exchange the maaser sheni money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which seems both wordy and unusual. The Torah shebe’al peh interprets this to mean that one may not purchase just any food with maaser sheni money, but only those that grow either from the ground or on it. Therefore, one may use maaser sheni money to purchase fruit, vegetables, breads, pastry, meat or poultry, but not fish, which do not grow on the ground, not salt or water, which do not grow; and not mushrooms, which are fungi and also do not grow from or on the ground.

RITUAL PURITY — TAHARAH

Both the original maaser sheni and food purchased with its redemption money are holy and may be eaten only within the walls of the old Yerushalayim and only when both the food and the individual eating it are tahor, ritually pure.

OH MY JERUSALEM

By the way, the area of today’s Old City of Jerusalem is encompassed by walls constructed by the Ottoman Turks.  The Turkish walls surround areas that probably were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and therefore those areas do not have the halachic sanctity of the Holy City; at the same time, without any question, large sections that do have the sanctity of the Holy City are outside these walls.

CONTEMPORARY MAASER SHENI

The fact that one must be tahor to consume maaser sheni changes the way one observes this mitzvah today, when achieving this status is virtually unattainable. Since we have no ashes of a parah adumah with which to purify ourselves of certain types of tumah, we cannot eat the produce of maaser sheni, nor the food purchased with the redeeming coins, since they have the same sanctity. Because of this problem, it is pointless to purchase food with these coins, and instead, they remain unused and are eventually destroyed. To avoid excessive loss, one may redeem large quantities of maaser sheni onto a very small value within a coin: this is the way we redeem maaser sheni today. Of course, we are missing the main spiritual gain of consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, but this is one of the many reasons for which we mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and pray daily for its restoration.

THE LAWS OF NETA REVA’IE

We now return to the laws of neta reva’ie. Although the Torah alludes only to the redemption of neta reva’ie fruits, the Torah shebe’al peh teaches us to apply the laws of maaser sheni to neta reva’ie, where the redemption services the grower unable to transport his produce to Yerushalayim. Similarly, one may eat neta reva’ie itself only in Yerushalayim when tahor. Someone who cannot transport it there may redeem it by transferring its kedusha, holiness, to coins. When doing this, he add 25% to the value, brings the money to Yerushalayim instead of the fruit, and there purchases food to eat in the Holy City. Just as redeeming maaser sheni still allows the grower to reap the spiritual benefits of his produce, so, too, redeeming reva’ie enables the grower to benefit from the Yerushalayim experience.

At this point, we can answer Rabbi Lamdan’s original inquiry. The extensive literature of the Mishnah, Gemara and halachic authorities concerning neta reva’ie assumes that the laws of neta reva’ie derive from those of maaser sheni, and that the purpose of the redemption of neta reva’ie produce is to allow someone with a bountiful reva’ie crop to benefit from the spiritual gains of his produce.

And just as we cannot make ourselves tahor today, and therefore we cannot eat the produce of maaser sheni, we can also not consume the neta reva’ie or the food purchased with its redemption coins, since they have the same sanctity. Because of this problem and to avoid the loss that would result, we may transfer the kedusha of large quantities of neta reva’ie to a coin of small value. Again, we are missing the main spiritual gain of consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, and for this, too, we mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

REVA’IE IN WATERBURY?

Having answered Rabbi Lamdan’s questions and also having addressed Tikvah’s concern, we will now tackle the questions raised by the Levys’ trees and vines. Does someone living outside Eretz Yisrael also merit fulfilling the mitzvah of neta reva’ie on his fruit? The Rishonim debate whether this mitzvah applies in chutz la’aretz, just as the mitzvah of orlah does, or if it is treated the same as most agricultural mitzvos that are exempt in chutz la’aretz. There are three basic approaches to this issue:

1. Some authorities contend that, since neta reva’ie is an agricultural mitzvah, it does not apply outside Eretz Yisrael, which is the usual, but not absolute, rule regarding these mitzvos (see Rambam, Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 10:16).  Although orlah is an exception and applies even in chutz la’aretz because of a special halacha leMoshe miSinai, an oral tradition that Moshe received at Mount Sinai, reva’ie applies only in Eretz Yisrael, since it was not specifically included in the halacha leMoshe miSinai. Those who rule this way conclude that the Torah did not extend the spiritual benefits of these mitzvos to include produce grown outside Hashem’s palace. Therefore, the Levys’ trees are exempt from the mitzvah of neta reva’ie and all fruit produced after the orlah years are available for consumption, without any redemption procedure.

2. On the opposite side, there are authorities who contend that the halacha leMoshe miSinai that requires that we observe orlah in chutz la’aretz also requires observing the mitzvah of reva’ie; Hashem wanted us to benefit from the mitzvah of neta reva’ie, even outside the Holy Land. Therefore, the fruit that grows on the Levys’ trees and vines in Waterbury during the fourth year have the sanctity of neta reva’ie (see Rabbeinu Yonah, Berachos, Chapter 6). This is the opinion that the Shulchan Aruch follows (Yoreh Deah 294:7). (For reasons beyond the scope of this article, reva’ie applies only when we are certain that the fruit grew in the fourth year, but not when we are uncertain whether it grew in the fourth year or the fifth.)

ALL FRUIT OR ONLY GRAPES

3. There is a third opinion that contends that reva’ie applies to grapes that grow in chutz la’aretz but not to other fruits (Tosafos, Kiddushin 2b s.v. esrog and Berachos 35a s.v. ulemaan). This is based on a dispute as to whether the mitzvah of reva’ie in Eretz Yisrael applies to all fruit trees, or only to grapes (Berachos 35a). Many authorities conclude that we rule leniently regarding produce grown in chutz la’aretz and therefore absolve all fruits from neta reva’ie, except for grapes (Rama and Gra to Yoreh Deah 294:7).

Thus, according to Sefardic practice of following the Shulchan Aruch, the pears, apples and grapes of the fourth year growing in Waterbury, have the status of reva’ie and require redemption. According to the Ashkenazic practice, the grapes require redemption, but not the pears or apples.

CONCLUSION

Note that the Torah states: “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 tremendous increase in the tree’s produce in future years. May we soon see the day when we can bring our reva’ie and eat it while tahor within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!

Could the Fruit on My Tree Be Arlah?

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Question:

Recently, our school had several fruit trees planted for decorative and educational purposes. Someone told us that we must carefully collect the fallen fruits and bury them to make sure that no one eats them. Is there really an arlah prohibition in chutz la’aretz, and is it possible that these fully grown trees are producing arlah fruits? If indeed we need to be concerned about arlah, do we also need to redeem the fruits of the tree in the fourth year?

Before we can answer these questions, we need to discuss the following topics:

I. Is there a mitzvah of arlah in chutz la’aretz?

II. Can a fully-grown tree possibly have a mitzvah of arlah? I thought arlah only applies to the first three years of a tree’s growth!

III. Does arlah apply to an ornamental tree?

IV. Does the mitzvah of reva’ie apply in chutz la’aretz?

I. ARLAH

Introduction: The Torah (VaYikra 19:23) prohibits eating or benefiting from fruit grown on a tree during its first three years. Those fruits are called arlah and the prohibition of the Torah applies whether the tree was planted by a Jew or a gentile, and whether it grew in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’Aretz, although many leniencies apply to trees growing in chutz la’Aretz that do not apply to those growing in Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Arlah 3:9). Arlah fruit must be burnt to guarantee that no one benefits from them (Mishnah Temurah 33b); in addition, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach, zt”l ruled that one must remove arlah fruits as soon as they begin to grow to prevent someone from mistakenly eating them (heard orally from Rabbi Shmuel Silinsky).

REVA’IE

The Torah (VaYikra 19:24) teaches that the fruit a tree produces the year following its arlah years has a unique halachic status called reva’ie. One may eat this fruit only within the area surrounded by the original city walls of Yerushalayim and only if one is tahor, a status that is virtually unattainable today as we have no ashes of a parah adumah. However, the Torah permitted us to redeem reva’ie by transferring its sanctity onto coins which must be treated with special sanctity. After performing this redemption, the reva’ie fruit lose all special reva’ie laws and one may eat them wherever one chooses to and even if one is tamei. We will discuss later whether reva’ie applies outside Eretz Yisroel.

Why does Arlah apply in chutz la’aretz? Is it not an agricultural mitzvah that should not apply outside Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Kiddushin 36b)?

The Gemara (Kiddushin 39a; Mishnah Arlah 3:9) teaches that arlah in chutz la’aretz has a special status. Although it is true that agricultural mitzvos usually apply only in Eretz Yisroel, a special halacha leMoshe miSinai teaches that the mitzvah of arlah applies in chutz la’aretz. (A halacha leMoshe miSinai is a law Hashem taught Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai that has no source in the written Torah.) However, this particular halacha leMoshe miSinai came with an intriguing leniency.

QUESTIONABLE ARLAH

The usual rule is that in a case of doubt whether or not something is prohibited, one must rule stringently and prohibit the item a Torah law is involved (Gemara Avodah Zarah 7a). Even though arlah in chutz la’aretz has the status of a Torah prohibition, the halacha leMoshe miSinai teaches that any doubt concerning whether a chutz la’aretz fruit is arlah may be treated with a unique leniency. In Eretz Yisroel, one may not purchase a fruit in a market without first determining whether there is a significant possibility that the fruit is arlah. In the case of arlah from chutz la’aretz, however, one is not required to research if the fruit is arlah. Even more, the fruit is prohibited only if one knows for certain that it is arlah and if one is uncertain it is permitted. Thus, doubtful arlah grown in chutz la’aretz is permitted even though definite arlah is prohibited min haTorah.

This leads us to our next discussion point:

FULLY GROWN ARLAH TREES

II. Can a mature tree possibly have a mitzvah of arlah? I thought arlah only applies to the first three years of a tree’s growth!

Today someone living in chutz la’aretz may actually be the proud owner of a mature tree whose fruit is prohibited min haTorah because of arlah. How can this happen?

The Mishnah (Arlah 1:3) teaches that if a tree was uprooted and replanted, its arlah count sometimes begins anew. If the uprooted tree retained enough of its soil to survive, the old arlah count remains and if the tree was past its three arlah years its fruit are permitted. But if the tree’s soil was removed from its roots during the uprooting, it is considered as planted anew and its arlah count starts all over. Thus halacha can consider a fully mature tree that has been transplanted as newly planted.

What determines whether the tree is halachically new or old? The criterion is whether the tree can survive with the soil still attached to its roots. However, the Mishnah omits one important detail: for how long must the tree be able to survive with that soil on its roots? Obviously, if the tree continues to grow for a long time, the small amount of soil on its roots will be insufficient. How much soil must the tree have on its roots to maintain its post-arlah status?

The Rishonim dispute this question, some contending that soil for fourteen days is sufficient, while others require enough soil for considerably longer (see Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 394; Chazon Ish, Arlah 2:10-12). Since we rule leniently on arlah questions in chutz la’aretz, one may be lenient and permit a tree that has only enough soil to live for fourteen days. In Eretz Yisroel, many poskim rule that one must follow the stricter opinion.

It is important to note that, according to all opinions, if one replanted a tree with little or no soil attached, the tree is halachically considered as newly planted and the next three years of fruit are arlah. The Torah not only prohibits eating these fruits, but even benefiting from them – or even giving them as a present to a non-Jewish neighbor.

HOW COMMON IS THIS?

How often is a mature, replanted tree considered new for arlah purposes?

According to the expert I contacted:

“In most parts of the United States, fruit trees sold in late winter and very early spring are usually bare root, meaning no soil around the roots but rather some material, like wood shavings, just to keep them moist. Unsold trees are then potted into bucket-size pots or bags of soil which begin to grow as spring progresses and the tree leafs out. The nurseryman is being perfectly honest when he says it is a three-year-old tree — except that for arlah count it is in year one because it was replanted without soil. This problem is very common with many varieties of fruit trees that lose their leaves in autumn such as pears, plums, peaches, cherries, apricots, and nuts.”

The same expert pointed out that there can be other arlah problems in chutz la’aretz, such as trees grafted onto a root stock that was cut down to less than a tefach above the ground. This case, which is apparently very common, is halachically arlah miderabbanan (see Gemara Sotah 43b). This would apply even with a potted tree that never lost its soil. The arlah count begins over from when the tree is replanted.

WHAT DO I ASK THE GARDENER?

When purchasing a fruit tree from a nursery or gardener, what questions should one ask?

According to the horticultural- halachic expert I asked, the most common, and unfortunately little known, problem is not arlah but kilayim, mixing of species, or more specifically, harkavas ilan, grafting of a fruit tree onto the stock of a different species –which also applies outside of Eretz Yisroel.

In regards to arlah, both of the previously mentioned problems could, and frequently do, happen: The tree may be replanted into your yard as bare-root, or it may be grafted onto a short stock that halachically qualifies the fruit that now grow as arlah.

Other arlah problems may occur. Here is a common case: Someone purchased a tree from a nursery where the soil was still attached to its root; the tree’s root ball was wrapped in burlap and tied. (This type of tree is called “balled and burlaped” in the nursery industry.) When purchasing such a tree, one should try to verify when the tree was planted, and also whether the soil ball fell off while replanting the tree, which is a common occurrence. All of these affect whether the fruits of the tree are arlah, and for how many years.

I will share with you one more case that some authorities consider an arlah problem. Some people grow fruit trees in pots and move them outdoors for the summer and back indoors for the winter. Some opinions contend that moving this tree outdoors is considered replanting it, particularly if the pot is placed on earth, and means that the fruit of this tree is always arlah!

III. ARLAH ON ORNAMENTAL TREES

If one plants a tree with no intention of using its fruit, is the fruit prohibited because of arlah?

The Mishnah (Arlah 1:1) rules that fruit growing on a tree planted as a barrier or hedge, for lumber, or for firewood are not arlah. The reason for this leniency is that the Torah states that the mitzvah of arlah applies “when you plant a tree for food” (VaYikra 19:23), and these trees are not meant for fruit. Perhaps the planting of our ornamental fruit trees is included in this leniency and their fruit is not arlah?

Unfortunately, this is not true. The Yerushalmi (Arlah 1:1) rules that this leniency applies only to trees planted in a way that makes it clear to an observer that they are not planted for their fruit. Examples of this are trees planted too close together for the proper growth of their fruit, or trees pruned in a way that the lumber will develop at the expense of the fruit. However, people usually do not grow ornamental trees in a way that demonstrates that they have no interest in the fruit.

Most poskim rule like this Yerushalmi (Rosh, Hilchos Arlah 1:2; Tur Yoreh Deah 294) including the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 294:23). (Note that the Rambam [Maaser Sheni 10:2] does not quote this Yerushalmi as normative halacha. Those interested in researching why the Rambam seems to ignore the Yerushalmi should research the explanation of the Rashas to the Yerushalmi and the comments of the Beis Yosef on the above-quoted Tur.)

Many years ago when I was a rav in Baltimore, someone asked me a shaylah that is very germane to this discussion. He had planted a hopvine and asked me whether there was an arlah or reva’ie prohibition involved in this plant. Knowing only that hops are used as an ingredient in beer, I asked him what a “hopvine” is and why would one plant it? He answered that it is an ivy runner that climbs the walls of a building. He had planted the vine primarily because he liked the ivy cover for his house, but also because he was interested in brewing his own beer using organically grown hops. At that time I was under the impression that there was certainly an arlah problem since he also planned to harvest the fruit. But what would happen if if the planter had no interest in the fruit and was simply interested in the vine’s aesthetics? Would that absolve the vines from the mitzvah of arlah? I leave it to the reader to ponder this issue.

I subsequently discovered that hops are not an arlah concern for a totally different reason: Although hops do not need to be planted annually, halachically they are not considered trees since their shoots die off in the winter and re-grow each year. Such a plant is called a herbaceous perennial plant, not a tree, and is not subject to the halachos of arlah. Nevertheless, the concept of planting a tree not for its fruit is very halachically germane.

IV. DOES REVA’IE APPLY TO FRUITS GROWN OUTSIDE ERETZ YISROEL?

Does the mitzvah of reva’ie apply in chutz la’aretz as the mitzvah of arlah does, or is it treated like other agricultural mitzvos that apply only in Eretz Yisroel? The Rishonim debate this question and its answer depends on two other interesting disputes. The first, mentioned in the Gemara (Brachos 35a), is whether the mitzvah of reva’ie applies only to grapes or to all fruits. According to some opinions, the mitzvah of reva’ie applies only to grapes (see Tosafos, Kiddushin 2b s.v. esrog); according to a second opinion, it applies to all fruits (see Gemara Brachos 35a); and according to a third approach, the mitzvah applies min haTorah only to grapes, but it applies midirabbanan to all fruits (see Tosafos, Kiddushin 2b s.v. esrog).

A second dispute is whether the mitzvah of reva’ie applies outside the land of Israel, like the mitzvah of arlah, or whether it follows the general rule of most other agricultural mitzvos and applies only in Eretz Yisroel (Tosafos, Kiddushin 2b s.v. esrog and Brachos 35a s.v. ulimaan; Gra, Yoreh Deah 294:28). The logical question here is whether reva’ie is an extension of the mitzvah of arlah, in which case the halacha leMoshe miSinai that arlah applies in chutz la’aretz extends to reva’ie. On the other hand, it may be that reva’ie is a separate legal concept totally unrelated to the mitzvah of arlah. If the latter is true, reva’ie should be treated like any other agricultural mitzvah and would not apply in chutz la’aretz.

We should bear in mind that even if we conclude that reva’ie applies in chutz la’aretz, it applies only when these fruits are definitely obligated in reva’ie. If the fruit might be from a later year, one may eat the fruit without any kashrus concern.

How do we rule?

There are three opinions among the poskim:

(1) Reva’ie applies to the fruit of all trees growing outside Eretz Yisroel.

(2) Reva’ie applies only to grapes, but not to other fruit trees of chutz la’Aretz. This opinion assumes that since there is an opinion that even in Eretz Yisroel reva’ie does not apply to species other than grapes, one may be lenient with regard to chutz la’aretz and treat the fruits as a safek.

(3) Reva’ie does not apply in chutz la’Aretz.

These last poskim contend that the halacha leMoshe miSinai forbidding arlah in chutz la’aretz applies only to arlah, but not to reva’ie, which is a separate mitzvah. Concerning reva’ie, the general rule that agricultural mitzvos only apply in Eretz Yisroel applies, thus exempting these fruits from the mitzvah of reva’ie.

How do we paskin?

Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 294:7) quotes the first and third opinions, but rules primarily like the first opinion that the mitzvah of reva’ie does apply outside of Eretz Yisroel. Rama and Gra both rule like the second opinion that it applies only to grapes outside of Eretz Yisroel and not to other fruits. Therefore, Ashkenazim may be lenient and need not redeem fourth-year fruits grown outside of Eretz Yisroel except for grapes, whereas Sefardim must redeem them.

HASHKAFAH OF TU B’SHVAT AND ARLAH

We all know that Tu B’Shvat is the “Rosh Hashanah” for trees, but what does that mean? Do the trees ignite fireworks on their New Year? Does Hashem judge their deeds and misdeeds and grant them a fruitful year or otherwise, chas v’shalom? (In actuality, the Mishnah in Mesechta Rosh Hashanah teaches that the judgment for trees is on Shavuos, not Tu B’Shvat!).

The truth is that the arboreal New Year does indeed have major halachic ramifications for man, who is compared to a tree (see Rashi, Bamidbar 13:20); these ramifications are intimately bound up with the arlah count that depends on Tu B’shvat. As Rav Shimshon Raphael 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.

While nibbling on the fruit this Tu B’Shvat, we should think through the different halachic and hashkafah ramifications that affect us.

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