Halacha Date: 14 Cheshvan 5782 October 20 2021
This year (5782) is the Shemitta year. In previous Halachot, we have already explained the basic laws of Shemitta including the fact that one may not plant in or work (in any manner) any land within the Land of Israel unless the work is meant to protect the crops from harm that will befall them if they are not tended to.
Since the laws of Shevi’it are quite lengthy and the laws do not necessarily apply to everyone, we cannot cover all of these vast laws in this forum. In case of a question regarding the laws of tending to a field or garden during Shevi’it, one should consult a competent halachic authority who is well-versed in these laws. In any event, it is possible to maintain a garden in a reasonable fashion within the guidelines of Halacha during the Shemitta year.
A Cooperative Garden
A cooperative garden, i.e. a garden owned by more than one person, is obligated in Mitzvot of Shemitta. Thus, the laws of Shemitta do take effect on gardens surrounding residential apartment complexes and none of the forbidden works during Shevi’it may be performed in such gardens.
As a result, an individual who lives in a cooperative housing complex (or apartment building) may not allow his money to be used to fund work forbidden during Shevi’it and it is certainly forbidden to hire someone else to perform such works on the garden during the Shemitta year. All of the building’s residents are obligated to keep the Mitzvot of Shemitta and to only perform permissible forms of work on their garden during Shevi’it (such as watering as needed for the plants and trees of the garden not to be damaged). However, works unnecessary for the existence of the plants are strictly forbidden during this year.
If an individual is Torah and Mitzvot observant but lives in a building or housing complex with other who unfortunately are not should try to influence his fellow neighbors as pleasantly as possible about the importance of abstaining from performance of forbidden work during this year. If one knows, however, that his words will fall on deaf ears and the neighbors will not agree to keep the laws of Shemitta, there are three ways for one to avoid transgressing the laws of Shevi’it: Firstly, when paying one’s joint maintenance dues, one should specifically state that this payment is being made for other maintenance costs and not for the maintenance of the garden (or by saying that one is paying for only the permissible works during the Shemitta year, such as watering as much as necessary to avoid the plants’ drying out).
The second option is for the observant tenant to obtain a power of attorney and take this to one’s local Rabbinate so that they can, in turn, sell this plot of land to a non-Jew so that this individual is not an accomplice to a prohibition.
The third option is to relinquish one’s rights to the cooperative garden in front of three people in which case this individual will have no connection to the building’s garden whatsoever.