Halacha Date: 6 Cheshvan 5782 October 12 2021
In the previous Halacha we have discussed some laws regarding tending to one’s field or garden during Shevi’it. We have written that just as it is forbidden to plant in a field, it is likewise forbidden to plant in flower pots during Shevi’it. It is likewise forbidden to prune, hoe, and perform any other work in order to improve the growth of the crops during Shevi’it.
Flower Pots in One’s Home
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Chapter 1 of Orla) states that it is doubtful whether or not the laws of Shevi’it apply to crops grown within a house, for on the one hand, the Torah states, “And the land shall observe a Shabbat for Hashem,” which would imply that one must leave all lands fallow including within a house, for this is also considered “land.” On the other hand, the verse states, “You shall not sow your field” and one’s house can certainly not be considered one’s field. It is therefore doubtful if Shevi’it applies inside one’s home.
Halachically speaking, this issue would be contingent upon another disagreement among the Rishonim. Some Rishonim maintain that Shevi’it is observed nowadays on a biblical level just as it was in previous times and according to this opinion, we must certainly act stringently regarding the Shevi’it status of crops grown in one’s home since the Yerushalmi remains in doubt about this matter and we follow the rule that “when in doubt regarding a Torah law, one must act stringently.”
Other opinions rule that Shevi’it is observed nowadays only on a rabbinical level, for according to Torah law, Shevi’it is only observed when Yovel (the Jubilee year) is observed and Yovel is only observed when the majority of the Jewish nation is settled in the Land of Israel. Nowadays though, most of the Jewish nation resides outside of Israel.
Halachically speaking, Shevi’it nowadays is observed only a rabbinic level. Since with regards to rabbinic enactments we follow the rule that “when in doubt regarding a rabbinic law, one should act leniently,” the same would apply to the Gemara’s doubt regarding whether or not Shevi’it applies to crops grown within the house and one would act leniently. Thus, there is no prohibition whatsoever to tend to flower pots in one’s house and one may plant in them and tend to them as one wishes during the Shemitta year. (One should nevertheless not purchase plants from a nursery and bring them home unless certain guidelines are followed.) The Sefer Pe’at Ha’Shulchan (Chapter 20, Subsection 52) rules likewise.
The Claim of the Chazon Ish
Nevertheless, Hagaon Chazon Ish (Hilchot Shevi’it, Chapter 20) challenges this ruling for several reasons including the fact that when our Sages ruled that crops grown inside the house are exempt from the Mitzvot of Shevi’it, this only applies when the house serves as a detriment to the crops or plants, i.e. the plants do not grow as usual because the walls and ceiling of the house cause them damage by blocking the air and sunlight. However, regarding flower pots and things grown in greenhouses in our times where the house actually benefits the plants and crops, this would not be included in the kind of “house” the Torah exempted from the laws of Shemitta. Hagaon Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l ruled likewise regarding greenhouse-grown crops.
On the other hand, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 9, page 332) rebuffs the opinion of the Chazon Ish, for our Sages derived this exemption from the verse, “You shall not sow your field,” and as such, there is no reason to make a distinction between whether or not the house is beneficial or detrimental to the plants; even if the usual way of growing such plants or crops is within the house, Shevi’it nevertheless does not apply to such crops. Hagaon Harav Yisrael Yaakov Fisher zt”l (in his Even Yisrael, Volume 8, Chapter 74) rules likewise. Thus, Maran zt”l rules that one may tend to trees grown in greenhouses in any way necessary and the laws of Shevi’it do not apply to them at all, for a greenhouse shares the same law as a house.
Summary: Flower pots within one’s home do not retain any of the laws of Shevi’it and one may do whatever one wishes to them, including planting within them, pruning the plants, and the like just as one would during any other year.