Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Behar 5768/ May 10, 2008

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,



The Commandment to Eat Sabbatical Produce


Rabbi Judah Zoldan


Midrasha for Women


In commanding the sabbatical year, Parashat Behar states:  “But you may eat whatever the land during its Sabbath will produce – you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield” (Lev. 25:6). According to the simple meaning of the text, the Torah allows us to eat agricultural produce that grows during the sabbatical year. 


Nahmanides sees this verse not only as granting permission, but actually commanding us, in the form of a positive injunction, to eat this produce. In his work, Hasagot al Sefer Ha-Mitzvot shel ha-Rambam (Critique of Maimonides’ Sefer ha-Mitzvot), he enumerated additional positive commandments which he felt Rambam had omitted. In addition number 3, he wrote as follows:

Regarding produce of the seventh year, the Torah said:  “But you may eat (le-‘okhlah) whatever the land during its Sabbath will produce (Lev.25:6)” … and this commandment was repeated in the Lord’s words, “Let the needy among your people eat of it (ve-akhelu)” (Ex. 23:11).   It does not say leave it to the needy among your people, as it is said of the gleanings and fallen fruit, “you shall leave them (ta’azov) for the poor and the stranger” (Lev. 19:10; 23:22).  Rather, Scripture mentions eating in all instances.

The Torah does not say that this produce is to be left or abandoned, rather that it is to be eaten; hence we have a positive commandment from the Torah to eat the produce of the sabbatical year. [1]   Some people interpret Nahmanides’ remarks otherwise, the common element in their views being that it is not a commandment to eat the produce of the sabbatical year. [2]

What is the nature of the sanctity that attaches to the produce of the sabbatical year?  The Tosafists (Sukkah 39a) wrote, “The laws and prohibitions pertaining to the produce of the sabbatical year are innumerable.” Nevertheless we shall briefly note several of them:  in principle, the produce is to be eaten in the usual way as during regular years. In addition one must take especial care not to be throw away, waste, or destroy any of it, including scraps and peals, nor to use it in other than the accepted fashion. One may not engage in commerce regarding these fruits. Also, human food is not to be fed to animals, and sabbatical produce is not to be taken abroad.

The special laws concerning agricultural produce that grows in the land of Israel during the sabbatical year should be seen as expressing the apex of relations between human beings and their food. [3]   This can be illustrated by several rules regarding food, whether in general or specifically related to Israel:

Benediction of enjoyment:   Before eating anything, anywhere in the world, one gives thanks to the Creator of fruit which grows on trees and fruit which grows on the ground, to Him who brings forth bread from the soil, and to Him, by whose word everything came into being:  “Whoever partakes of any worldly joy without benediction, is as if he were partaking of Heaven’s sanctified things ... and as if he were stealing from the Holy One, blessed be He, and from the Community of Israel” (Berakhot 35a-b).  By reciting a benediction, we become enabled and permitted to partake of the beneficence of the Holy One, blessed be He.

“Abbreviated Grace” over three categories of foodstuffs.  A special benediction is recited after eating baked goods (other than bread) prepared of the five species of grain, fruit of the seven species with which the land of Israel was blessed, and after drinking wine.  In this benediction, known as Berakhah me-ein shalosh, we ask to be brought to Jerusalem, to “rejoice in its rebuilding, eat of the fruits of the land and be satisfied with its goodness.”  This benediction is recited anywhere in the world, but if recited over produce of the land of Israel, the benediction concludes with the words, “We shall thank you for the land and for its fruits. . . for the sustenance it provides . . . and for its fruit of the vine.”  Some people challenged the request that we “eat of its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness,” claiming that “one should not like the land for its fruits and its goodness, rather, for the opportunity to fulfill the commandments that are connected with the land” (Tur, Orah Hayyim par. 208).  Rabbi Joel Sirkis rejected this argument, responding (Bayit Hadash, commentary on the Tur, loc. sit.):

Does not the sanctity of the land bestowed upon it stem from the sanctity of the upper realms, also with regard to its fruits, which draw on the sanctity of the Divine Presence that dwells in the land?…  Therefore, it is well that we insert into this benediction the words, “may we eat of its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness,” for when eating of its fruit we receive sustenance from the sacred and pure Divine Presence, being satisfied from His beneficence.

Indeed, Jeremiah prophesied (2:7):  “I brought you to this country of farmland to enjoy its fruit and its bounty.”

Tithes:   Tithes are to be taken from the produce of the land of Israel and to be given as follows: terumah gedolah (between 1.6-2.5%) to the priests, and the first tithe (one tenth) to the levites.  A tithe is also taken of livestock and given to the priests.  In the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of the seven-year sabbatical cycle, a second tithe is set aside, called ma’aser sheni, and the fruits and vegetables that have been tithed are to be eaten in sanctity within the walls of Jerusalem, as specified in Scripture (Deut. 14:22-23):

You shall set aside every year a tenth part of all the yield of your sowing that is brought from the field.  You shall consume the tithes of your new grain and wine and oil, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks, in the presence of the Lord your G-d, in the place where He will choose to establish His name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your G-d forever.

One can redeem the agricultural produce with money and then go to Jerusalem and “spend the money on anything you want – cattle, sheep, wine, or other intoxicant, or anything you may desire” (Deut. 14:26). From the outset, however, the commandment is to eat the yield of the land in Jerusalem.

Aside from the benediction and the sanctity associated with the produce of the land, the act of consuming the food is supposed to be done in a sacred place, as noted in Tosafot (Bava Batra 21a):

Spending his time in Jerusalem until he had finished eating his tithe, there he would see that everyone is busy worshipping the Lord, so he too would set his mind to fearing the Lord and occupying himself studying the Torah.

Sanctity of produce from the sabbatical year.  Agricultural produce grown in Israel during the sabbatical year has an additional aspect of sanctity. As we discussed in the opening of this paper, one is permitted, in fact even commanded, to eat the produce of the sabbatical year anywhere in the land of Israel, not only within the confines of Jerusalem, with the same care and attention noted above.   Rabbi Samuel Bornstein, the Admor of Sochachov, explains that the land of Israel is given to us during the intervening years between sabbatical years for us to till and safeguard: [4]

Every seventh year the land returns to the One who gave it to us, and all who partake of its produce are as if partaking of the food on the table of the owner—the Holy One, blessed be He.   Therefore sanctity attaches to the produce of the sabbatical year … and therefore tilling the soil is forbidden and the yield must be treated as abandoned property (hefker), so that the earthly landlords not exercise their ownership.

If, during this year, we seek out agricultural produce “with no suspicion of being from the sabbatical year,” we are evading the point and retreating from what the Torah actually instructs us.  The usual notice on agricultural produce that says “this produce is without any suspicion of orlah or shevi’it” places the yield of the sabbatical year on the same level as fruits which are orlah (fruit from trees less than four years old), which are absolutely forbidden.  Quite the contrary, we have seen that in principle, the fruits of the sabbatical year are to be eaten! This year we face a great challenge in observing rules of halakhah that are not applied during the intervening years between sabbatical years.   The personal kitchen of each individual attains a higher level of sanctity.  The fruit and vegetables on our tables come from the Heavenly table and, as Maimonides noted, we are even specially commanded to eat the produce of the sabbatical year.

For those of us who are not farmers, the special treatment accorded to the produce of the land during this year refreshes our bond with the land and its produce and applauds the work of those who are tillers of the soil, this year in particular and every year in general.  Jewish agriculture in the land of Israel is not only a necessity for our survival but also a value in and of itself.  Therefore, preference should be given to local Jewish produce over imports or non-Jewish produce. Indeed, the heter mekhirah (allowing the use of seventh year agricultural produce by selling the land) which has been practiced for over a century has strengthened and continues to strengthen Jewish agriculture in the land of Israel.   The heter is right and proper according to the halakhah, and can be used in our day, as well (for example, for such things as exporting Israeli agricultural produce), but the customs of special sanctity of the sabbatical year need not be applied to this produce. Therefore, preferring food grown by Jewish farmers who market their produce through the otzar beit din (an halakhic procedure which allows farmers to market their produce in the seventh year, while the produce maintains the sanctity of shmittah)) brings double credit to those who eat such produce:  credit for participating in the burden of strengthening Jewish farming, which is done under certain restrictions this year since not all agricultural work is permitted, and credit for observing the commandment to eat produce to which sanctity of the sabbatical year attaches.


[1] As interpreted by Rabbi Isaac De Leon, Megillat Esther (A Commentary on Sefer ha-Mitzvot); Rabbi Yom Tov al-Gazi, in Hilkhot Hallah la-Ramban, end of par. 2; Rabbi Simeon ben Tzemah (Ha-Rashbatz) Zohar ha-Raki’a, pos. com. 67, and others.  We might compare Nahmanides’ view here with his position regarding the law about eating of the spoils of war: he holds that we are commanded, not merely permitted, to eat non-kosher produce even in time of siege on our enemies in time of war:  First, he words the commandment as follows: “For we were commanded, when laying siege to a city, to eat of the fruit of the trees within its boundaries as long as the siege lasts” (Sefer ha-Mitzvot, pos. com. 6).   According to Nahmanides, during an obligatory war one may eat otherwise forbidden food from the booty taken from the enemy “not only to survive from starvation in time of war. Rather, even after the enemies’ major and well-to-do cities have been captured and settled, the plunder taken from the enemy is permitted them.  And this does not apply to all who go out to war, rather, to those fighting in the land that He swore to our forefathers to give us” (Nahmanides, Commentary on the Torah, Deut. 6:10).   This is contrary to Maimonides’ view (Hilkhot Melakhim 8.1), that forbidden foods plundered from the enemy may be eaten in optional as well as obligatory wars, but only to save life when there is no other option.

[2] Rabbi Moses Kliers (Torat ha-Aretz, ch. 8, par. 25-29) explains that according to Nahmanides, it is a positive commandment to eat the produce of the sabbatical year, but that this commandment is not an affirmative injunction but rather the fulfillment of a mitzvah, just as eating matzah the entire Passover fulfills a mitzvah, but is not an obligation. Rabbi Abraham Isaiah Karelitz (Hazon Ish, Shevi’it par. 14.10) maintains that Nahmanides meant that the prohibitions which apply to the produce of the seventh year are founded on the command to eat this produce, but that we are not especially commanded to eat the produce of the seventh year.  Similarly, Rabbi Jacob Yehiel Weinberg (Responsa Seridei Esh, part 2, par. 90) maintains that Nahmanides’ intention was that the prohibitionsof the seventh year stem from an overall positive commandment (“lav ha-ba mi-klal ‘aseh”), but that we are not positively commanded to eat the produce of the seventh year in the same way we are commanded to eat of the sacrifices or as the kohen is commanded to eat terumah.   Rabbi Samuel ha-Levy Wozner (Responsa Shevet ha-Levy, part 4, par. 232) writes that we are not commanded in the way of exhorting us to eat the produce of the seventh year, rather that if there is such produce which would be wasted should we not eat it, then we are commanded to eat it.  For further elaboration, see Rabbi Tzvi Cohen, Perot Shevi’it, pp. 227-232.

[3] For further elaboration, see Rabbi Uzi Kalchheim, Shivat Umah le-Artzah, pp. 135-143.

[4] Shem Mi-Shemuel, Leviticus, p. 347.