The continuation of the Shmita (Sabbatical) year

Parshat Behar opens with the laws of Shmita which are only effect in the Land of Israel. Every seventh year, the land takes an agricultural break and the produce which is grown on the land is treated as holy.


Those living in Israel are very careful during the Shmita year to make sure that they know where and how their produce was grown to ensure that the laws of Shmita are observed.


Although the Shmita year technically ended this past Rosh Hashana, more than half a year ago, the laws of Shmita still apply to some of the fruits that are grown in Israel well into the eighth year.


The laws of Shmita go into effect later in the seventh year for fruits as we follow “chanata”, the point when the first fruit emerges (Rosh HaShana 14a). Rashi explains that when the first fruit emerges, the sap rises in the tree and it is only on account of this sap that the tree continues to survive. Therefore, the time when the fruit first emerges is the most crucial stage in the fruit’s growth and that stage determines the year to which the fruit is assigned. Therefore, during the first few months of the seventh year there is no Shmita sanctity (Kdushat Shviit) for fruits (only for vegetables). Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon explains that the time when the Shmita produce begins to reach maturity depends on the type of fruit: some fruits reach chanata around the time of Tu B’Shvat (January) and reach the market several months later (ex: almonds, loquats and apples) and therefore they are considered Shmita fruit from the middle of the seventh year until the middle of the eighth year. There are other fruits where almost a year passes between chanata and harvesting (such as citrus fruit) and therefore these will be Shmita fruit only in the eighth year.


Some examples of fruits which still retain Shmita sanctity for about another month (May/June) are cherries, figs, lychee, mango, pears, apples and avocado.


Other fruits such as clementines, dates, guava, kiwi, olives, persimmons, quince and star fruit will retain their Shmita sanctity into September while grapefruits, oranges and pamelos will retain their sanctity through November.


Although the Shmita year has been over since September, Israelis still have Shmita in the back of their minds when they shop for fruits or if they have a fruit tree growing in their back yard.


Israelis who grow fruit trees halachically have to leave the trees as “hefker” (ownerless) during the time period that the trees have Shmita sanctity, meaning that they are obligated to welcome their friends and neighbors to pick fruit from the tree. In that way they are also welcome to pick what they need. If the owner does not declare the tree ownerless then he would not be permitted to eat from it.

Wine or grape juice that is produced from grapes that have Shmita sanctity must be treated with respect (the same way that all of the other Shmita produce must be respected) and therefore one may not spill out or waste it (until it spoils) even years after the Shmita year has been completed. Wines that have Shmita sanctity will clearly be labeled as “Otzar Beit Din” and should not be exported as sanctified Shmita produce is not permitted to leave Israel.


For those living in Israel, Shmita is not just an agricultural idea that is mentioned in the Torah. Shmita affects our lives before Rosh HaShana of the Shmita year when some of the laws of planting and preparing the land already go into effect and lasts through the end of November, over a year after the Shmita year ends and beyond if Shmita produce is made into olive oil or wine.