The Sanctity of Shmittah Fruit

Sheviit (4:7) | Ohad Fixler | 17 years ago

Fruit that grows during the Shmittah year have an added quality called kedushat shvi’it. The Chachamim learn this idea from the following pasuk:

"והייתה שבת הארץ לכם לאכלה"

They explain that during the Shmittah year the land is given to us for eating ("לאכלה") and not for wasting. Consequently there is a prohibition against wasting the shmittah food. The fundamental details of this law are found in the mishnayot in the eight perek in connection to the prohibition against selling shmittah fruit or using them for medicinal purposes. We however met some mishnayot that relate to this law:

  1. Perek 4, mishnayot 7-9 refer to the time after which one can eat

    shmittah fruit. Before that time the fruit are not ripe enough and it is considered as if one has wasted them.

  2. Perek 4, Mishnah 10 refers to the prohibition against cutting

    down a fruit tree as it will effectively destroy the fruit which is on the tree.

What does it mean that the shmittah fruit have “kedushah”? Does it solely mean that there is a prohibition against wasting this fruit, or is there something special about these fruit? Most of the Rishonim explain the kedushah is expressed only in the prohibition against wasting it. The Ramban (on the Sefer HaMitzvot) however understands that there is a positive mitzvah to eat the shmittah fruit. Consequently when one eats shmittah fruit he fulfils a positive mitzvah due to the kedushah present in the fruit.

Support for the Ramban’s opinion may be found in the Yerushalmi (8:2):

One is commanded to eat that which is edible excluding stale bread or vegetables or cooked food that has rotted.

The Yerushalmi writes that one is not obligated to eat food that has kedushat shvi’it but has been ruined. This implies that we are in fact obligated to eat shmittah fruit that is edible (see the Megillat Esther on the Ramban). According to the Ramban there are two ways to understand the nature of this mitzvah:

  1. There is a mitzvah to find shmittah fruit and eat it, much like

    the obligation to eat matzah on Pesach.

  2. The mitzvah does not obligate a person; rather it is connected to

    the object itself. If someone has shmittah fruit there is a mitzvah to eat it as apposed to waste it, yet one is not required to go out and find shmittah fruit if he has none.

In contrast to the Ramban, the Rambam does not count eating shmittah fruit as one of the 613 mitzvot. Their argument begins in understanding the pasuk:

"והייתה שבת הארץ לכם לאכלה"

Is this pasuk a commandment, or does it simply give us the permission to eat shmittah fruit? There are two ways to understand the debate between the Rambam and Ramban.

  1. The first two mitzvot that the Ramban believes that the Rambam forgot to include, are the mitzvot of eating bikurim and ma’aser sheni in Yerushalaim and eating trumah in purity. Perhaps this is merely an extension of that debate. In other words, aside from including negative mitzvot that relate to the improper manner of eating something, the Ramban also includes the positive mitzvah when it is eaten in the proper manner. The Rambam on the other hand, only counts the negative mitzvah, while the proper manner of eating is implied rather than commanded.

  2. The debate is specifically focused on the understanding of kedushat shvi’it (see the Megillat Esther). One can suggest that the Ramban understands that there are two elements to Shmittah – the prohibition against work and a special sanctity connected with the fruit. Just as Shabbat has both a prohibition against work and the positive mitzvot of kavod ve’oneg, Shmittah also has an extra dimension of kedushah on the fruit. The Rambam on the other hand, understands that the significance of shmittah is the renouncement of ownership of one’s possessions. Consequently his fruit becomes ownerless and everyone must eat them simply because the fruit are forbidden for any other use. There is no inherent sanctity in the fruit; rather the Torah was concerned that everyone would eat the fruit so that the owners would understand the Hashem is the true owner of the land.

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