The Shmittah Sabbatical Year

This past Rosh HaShanah was not only the beginning of the year 5775 in the Hebrew calendar, it was the beginning of a Shmitta (Sabbatical) year.

Chapter 25:3-5 in Leviticus teaches us the following about the Land of Israel:

  • Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruit;
  • But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest to the land, a sabbath for the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor prune your vineyard.
  • That which grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your vine undressed; for it is a year of rest to the land.

I plan to discuss the spiritual significance of the Sabbatical year and its implications for the Jewish People and the Land of Israel in a future article, but Robin Joy of Toronto asked me the following question which I’d like to share with you.


ROBIN JOY: During shmita, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting, is forbidden by halakha (Jewish law). How can you be harvesting olives and making oil now that we’ve entered the Sabbatical year?

RABBI SHMUEL VEFFER: Great question Robin. In general, with fruits, we determine which year it belongs to based on when it blossomed and the fruit budded. The olives that are being harvested right now blossomed this past spring in the sixth year, so the shmittah laws don’t apply to the current harvest. Next year’s harvest will have the sanctity of Shmittah and we won’t be picking olives or making oil even though we will be technically picking them in the eighth year. That’s why we need a double crop this year! By the way, in general, the year for vegetables is determined when they are picked, so right now any vegetables in the fields have the sanctity of the seventh year. I’ll write a longer explanation or make a video for a future newsletter for members/subsribers.

ROBIN JOY: Thank you for the clarification as i was wondering how it works, now are olives a fruit or vegetable?

RABBI SHMUEL VEFFER: Olives are considered a fruit by the Torah. Anything that grows on a woody stock and perenially produces fruit from the same woody stock is considered a fruit. Anything that grows only anually from green stalks from the ground is a vegetable. Therefore blueberries are considered fruit, while bananas are considered vegetables (for the sake of blessings).

The Shmittah Sabbatical Year

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