While the issue of sefichim has come up a number of times in the course of learning of shvi’is, Mishnah 9:1 is the first time where the topic is mentioned and dealt with explicitly. Since this topic is central to the masechta and features in contemporary Halacha, it is important to get the basic facts straight.
First and foremost, sefichim are grains, legumes (“kitnios”) and vegetables that were not deliberately planted in shvi’is, yet grew as an after-growth of plants from the previous year. While these crops may be eaten mi’deoraisa, Chazal prohibited the consumption of these crops out of the concern that people will plant these items on shvi’is, which is assur, and claim that they grew on their own. This shittah is the opinion of the Chachamim. In Toras Kohanim(Behar 4:5), Rabbi Akiva disagrees and holds that sefichim are in fact prohibited min hatorah.
Fruits have no problem of sefichim, since a tree does not produce fruit the first year that it is planted. So it makes no sense for someone to claim that this fruit sprouted and grew on its own during shmittah. Additionally, grains, kitnios and vegetables that people do not usually cultivate are also not in the category of sefichim. It the details of this point that is debated in our Mishnah.
To determine whether grains and kitnios that are sefichim are prohibited under the gezeirah of sefichim, Chazal ruled that if they grow one third during shvi’is they have kedushas shvi’is and are assur. With regard to vegetables however, there is a big machlokes rishonim. The Rambam holds that “lekita”, i.e. when the crops are harvested and gathered, determines both whether vegetables have kedushas shvi’is and are sefichim. There are other more minor details in the Rambam’s position on sefichim that are not mentioned here, but the lekita idea is the most important. Thus, tomatoes that were gathered from the field during shvi’is, according to the Rambam, are both forbidden to eat and have kedusha shvi’is, and must therefore be treated properly.
The Rash holds that kedushas shvi’is of vegetables in general is established by when the vegetables’ growth is completed (and not the lekita). However, whether an item is sefichim or not is determined by when the plant (and not the vegetable itself) begins to sprout. Thus, if tomatoes began to sprout in the sixth year and finished their growth during shvi’is (when it was then collected from the field), the tomatoes are not sefichim and are permissible to eat while having kedushas shvi’is. However, if the tomato plants began to sprout on shvi’is but finished their growth during the following year they are sefichim and do not have kedushas shvi’is. Rav Chaim Kaniefsky Shlita(Derech Emunah Hilchos Shvi’is ch. 4) says that the Halacha is to be lenient like the Rash.
With that introduction we return to our Mishnah. The Rambam, Meleches Shlomo, and the Tiferes Yisrael understand the seifa to be a machlokes tanna’im over which sefichim are assurim to eat. We rule like the Chachamim that all sefichim are forbidden.
Interestingly, the Bartenura understands the seifa of the Mishnah as a machlokes tannai’m over a separate issue entirely: produce that grew on its own in someone’s property, must we be concerned that perhaps the owner did not declare it hefker (ownerless)? The Tosfos Yomtov and the Mishnah Rishonah explain that the Bartenura is consistent with his opinion that Maseches Shvi’is was taught and written down before Chazal prohibited sefichim.
(Source: Mishnah Behirah 9:1)
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