Halacha for Monday 15 Av 5774 August 11 2014              

Halacha Date: 15 Av 5774 August 11 2014

Category: General

Tu Be’av of the Sixth Year of the Shemitta Cycle

This coming year, 5775 (beginning from this coming Rosh Hashanah) marks the Shemitta year (the Seventh year of the Shemitta cycle). Beginning today, Tu Be’av (the Fifteenth of Av) of the Sixth year of the Shemitta cycle, some of the laws of Shemitta come into effect.

The Mitzvot of the Shemitta year are split into two categories: The cessation of agricultural work and the cancellation of loans. We shall only discuss the agricultural element of Shemitta now, for the monetary aspect is not yet applicable as Shemitta only cancels loans at the end of the Shemitta year, i.e. in a little more than a year from now.

What is this cessation of agricultural work? The Torah states (Vayikra 25): “Speak to the children of Israel and tell them, when you come to the land which I have given you, the land shall keep a Shabbat for Hashem.” We derive from here that there is a positive Torah commandment to abstain from working the land or trees on the Seventh year of the Shemitta cycle in the Land of Israel. Anyone who performs work on the land or trees during this year has transgressed a positive Torah commandment as well as a negative Torah commandment, as the verse states, “You shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard.”

Included in the prohibition to work the land is ploughing or fertilizing it. The Gemara (Mo’ed Kattan 4a) states that based on law transmitted orally to Moshe Rabbeinu at Mount Sinai, it is prohibited to perform any work on the land beginning from the Sixth year (the year we are currently in which immediately precedes the Shemitta year) thirty days before the onset of the Seventh year, for this constitutes benefitting the land close to the onset of Shemitta.

The Gemara (ibid.) and subsequently the Rambam (Chapter 3 of Hilchot Shemitta Ve’Yovel) rule that the prohibition to work the land from the end of the Sixth year applied only during times when the Bet Hamikdash stood; however, nowadays, when the Bet Hamikdash no longer stands unfortunately, one may work the land until Erev Rosh Hashanah of the Shemitta year.

Nevertheless, there is a distinction between the law regarding planting trees and other agricultural works, for our Sages forbade planting trees beginning from forty-four days before the onset of the Shemitta year even during times when the Bet Hamikdash does not stand so that others do not suspect one of planting a tree during the Shemitta year. Forty-four days before Rosh Hashanah of the Shemitta year coincides with today, the Fifteenth of Av. (Chazon Ovadia-Tu Bishvat, page 14)

If the roots of the tree are not bare and are covered with a mound of earth, there are certain situations in which it is permissible to plant a tree after Tu Be’av of the Sixth year.

Non-fruit trees and decorative (non-fruit-bearing) bushes may be planted after Tu Be’av. It is nevertheless preferable to abstain from planting them after the Fifteenth of Elul so that they do not take root during the Shemitta year).

Summary: All agricultural works forbidden during the Shemitta year may be performed this year, the Sixth year of the Shemitta cycle, until Erev Rosh Hashanah besides for planting fruit trees (as well grafting and joining of fruit trees) which becomes forbidden beginning from today, the Fifteenth of Av of the Sixth year.

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