This year, 5782, is the Shemitta year which has been observed by the Jewish nation since the time the Land of Israel was divided among the twelve tribes. The Shemitta cycle consists of counting seven years with every seventh year being the Shemitta year.
Cancellation of Loans and Cessation of Agricultural Work
The Mitzvot of the Shemitta year are divided into two categories: the cessation of agricultural work and the cancellation of loans.
The laws of the cessation of agricultural work apply only in Israel and to produce grown in Israel. Thus, although we at “Halacha Yomit” will discuss the basic laws of Shemitta, we shall not delve into too much detail since many of these laws do not apply to those residing outside of Israel. (Nevertheless, even those residing outside of Israel must be aware of the laws as they apply to produce grown in Israel which is exported to different countries, such as Etrogim and wines.)
The laws of the cancellation of loans apply equally in Israel and abroad. Nevertheless, since these laws apply only at the conclusion of the Shemitta year, we shall not discuss them at present and we shall deal with this issue towards the end of this year, G-d-willing.
Cessation of Agricultural Work
Let us now explain some of the fundamental points of Shemitta. Let us first quote the verses of the Torah which discuss the Mitzvah of Shemitta.
The Torah states: “You shall sow your field for six years and on the seventh you shall leave it fallow and unattended so that the poor of your nation may eat it; the remainder shall be eaten by the beasts of the field. So shall you do for your vineyard and your olive tree.” (Shemot 23)
Additionally, the Torah states: “Hashem spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai saying. Speak to the Jewish nation and tell them, When you come into the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest as a Shabbat for Hashem. Six years shall you sow your field and six years shall you prune your vineyard and collect its produce. The Seventh year shall be a Shabbat of solemn rest for the land, a Shabbat unto Hashem; you shall not sow your field nor shall you prune your vineyard. That which grows of itself of your harvest you shall not reap and you shall not gather the grapes of your undressed grapevine; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The Shabbat fruits of the land shall be for you to eat, for you, for your servant, and for your maid as well as for the hired-worker and settler who live among you. And for your cattle and for the beasts in your field shall all of the produce be for food.” (Vayikra 25)
We derive from these verses that one who owns land in the Land of Israel must cease from agricultural work during the Seventh Year, as the verse states, “From ploughing and reaping shall you desist.” One may likewise not sow one’s field during the Shemitta year, as the verse states, “You shall not sow your field.” Similarly, one may not perform any works on trees, as the verse states, “And you shall not prune your vineyards” (i.e. cutting the tree’s branches for its benefit). It is likewise forbidden to harvest any produce that grows on its own during the Shemitta year, as the verse states, “That which grows of itself of your harvest you shall not reap.” Just as it is forbidden to reap grain, it is likewise forbidden to pick fruits off of their trees.
To summarize: We have discussed four kinds of forbidden works during the Shemitta year: Sowing, pruning, harvesting, and picking.
The prohibitions of sowing and pruning are absolute during Shemitta and are not permitted during Shemitta at all. On the other hand, harvesting and picking cannot be completely forbidden, for the Torah states that “the Shabbat of the land will be for you for eating” meaning that the Torah wishes for us to eat the fruits of Shevi’it (the seventh, Shemitta year). If harvesting and picking are absolutely forbidden during Shevi’it, how can we partake of the produce of the field? Rather, the Torah commands us not to harvest or pick in a manner similar to the way these works are performed during other years, i.e. gathering a large amount of produce at once. Rather, one must gather the fruits in small amounts.
Summary: One must cease all agricultural work during the Shemitta/Shevi’it year. It is therefore forbidden to plant seeds or trees during this year. It is likewise forbidden to harvest grain or fruits in the same manner this is done during other years. Rather, one must do so in a slightly different manner as we shall discuss further.