Mitzvat Bi'ur

Sheviit (9:8) | Yisrael Bankier | 11 years ago

One of the new concepts that have been discussed regularly this week has been bi’ur. Question relating to which food it applies to and whether it can be annulled have been raised. Yet what is biur?

The Torah teaches: “[the food of the shmittah year] shall be for your animal (behema) and for the beast (chaya) that is in you land…” (Vayikra 25:7). Rashi explains that the pasuk is in the process of permitting shmittah food for personal consumption. If the pasuk permits shmittah produce to wild animals, then it would be unnecessary to teach that it is permitted to animals under one’s care. The Chachamim therefore deduced that collected shmittah produce is permitted to animals in one’s care as longs as it is still available in the fields for wild animals. Past this point all stored food requires “biur”.

The later Mishnah (9:8) teaches that one can first distribute three meals worth of food to members of his household, relatives and neighbours. But shall he do with anything that remains after that? What exactly then is biur? This is a subject of debate.

The Rambam (Hilchot Shmittah 7:1-3) understands that the excess must be destroyed – burnt or thrown into the dead sea.1

The Ramban (Vayikra 28:7) however (amongst other Rishonim) disagrees. He explains biur simply means “removal”. In other words, the owners must take the produce out of his house and declare them ownerless (hefker). (Interestingly, the owner can reclaim these items if he wishes.) The Ramban cites the Tosefta(Sheviit 8:1-4) that states explicitly that this is the procedure. Furthermore, the Ramban notes that the Mishnah in Temura (7:5) lists the prohibited objects that must be burnt. There is no mention of shmittah products after the time of biur which supports his position that they need not be burnt.

The Raavad takes an interesting, almost intermediate position. He explains that biur is really a two steps process. Once the produce is no longer found in the field about the city, then the food is distributed or declared hefker. When the food can no longer be found in any of the fields in the region (9:2-3) then anything remaining must be destroyed.

The Chazon Ish explains the Raavad’s position as follows. During the shmittah year, all the produce in the field are declared ownerless and everyone collects them into their house. Once the produce is no longer found in the surrounding fields, the following pasuk applies: “And in the seventh year, you shall leave it untended and unharvested, and the destitute of your people shall eat, and the wild life shall eat what remains…” (Shemot 25:7). Consequently at that point, anything stored in one’s house must be made ownerless so that “the destitute of your people shall eat.” However, once nothing is found in the region, then the earlier quoted pasuk applies and what remains must be destroyed.

What is the opinion of Rashi? Rashi (Pesachim 52b) explains that they must be made hefker in a place where animals and beasts tread. The Tosfot understands that Rashi means that they must be placed there so that they can be trample and destroyed by these animals. Consequently this understanding would align Rashi with the Rambam. The Ramban however understands that Rashi is merely explaining that the products must not only be hefker to humans, but even to animals as well and therefore agreeing with the Ramban.


1 The Kesef Mishnah explains that the Rambam had a different text of Mishnah 9:8 that read: “… R’ Yosi teaches, both the poor and weath cannot eat after the time of biur.”

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