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Mitzvot dependent on the Land of Israel — outside of Israel too?

Mitzvot dependent on the Land of Israel — outside of Israel too?

In this article, we will discuss the application of the mitzvot dependant on the Land of Israel - outside of Israel.

Rabbi Moshe Bloom

In this article, we will discuss the application of the mitzvot dependant on the Land of Israel as they apply outside of Israel. While this may seem like an oxymoron, several agricultural mitzvot do apply abroad.

Here are a few:

  1. Orlah: The Shulchan Aruch (YD 294 §8) rules that orlah applies in our day even outside of the Land of Israel: “Orlah applies in every place and in any time, to [the produce of] gentiles and Jews; however, in the Land of Israel it is from the Torah; outside of the Land of Israel it is a halacha leMoshe miSinai.”

That is, outside of Israel, the prohibition is based on a halacha leMoshe miSinai. I assume that most readers are raising an eyebrow, and asking themselves: “Wait a minute. I’ve never heard or learned about the issue of orlah applying outside of Israel. How does this square with the Shulchan Aruch?”
The answer lies in the next section (§9):

“When there is uncertainty regarding orlah … outside of the Land of Israel, it is permissible. How so? A vineyard with an orlah grapevine and grapes sold from outside of [the vineyard] … outside of the Land of Israel it is permissible, even if one knows that the [grapes] were brought from the same vineyard, as long as one does not [actually] see them harvested from the orlah grapevine.”

That is, we are lenient when there is any doubt regarding orlah outside of the Land of Israel. Moreover, the posekim extend this heter and explained that as long as it is not 100% clear that a given fruit is orlah, it will be permissible. So, if I planted a tree in my backyard outside of Israel, and after two years it bears fruit, it is definitely orlah and is forbidden for consumption and benefit. However, if I buy the fruit at the store, or a friend gives me fruit since I cannot be completely certain that the fruit is orlah, I may eat it.

In the past, most fruit trees could not bear fruit on a commercial scale in their first three years. In recent years with today’s innovations, farmers can produce quality produce from many more trees even in their first years. So the prohibition remains relevant, but only when there is absolute certainty about the orlah status, not when this status is uncertain. Note that the laws of orlah are more severe than most other prohibitions, since it is not nullified in a ratio of 1:60, but only in 1:200.

  1. Neta revay. Whether or not neta revay applies outside of the Land of Israel is a dispute among the Rishonim. Some rule that neta revay applies in its entirety, and some rule that it does not apply whatsoever. The Rema cites the Geonim, who ruled that neta revay applies only to vineyards outside of the Land of Israel, but not to other trees, and this is also the ruling of the Vilna Gaon. Regardless, the fruit should be redeemed without a blessing.

Neta revay is similar to orlah when it comes to the issue of uncertainty. That is, the obligation to redeem the fruit applies only when it is certain that the fruit is neta revay, but when there is any doubt, it is exempt from redemption. Neta revay also applies to fruit grown in land owned by a non-Jew.

  1. Kilei hakerem. Kilei hakerem that is, planting a vegetable, grain, or legume, together with a grape pit, is a rabbinic prohibition outside of the Land of Israel. It is also forbidden to eat a vegetable planted next to a grapevine.
  2. Kilei ilan. Grafting. Many farmers graft two types of trees together to enhance the produce. They take a branch from one tree (the scion) and connect it to the trunk of another tree (the stock), thus creating a new tree, whose fruit is the same as that of the scion but is heartier and can withstand soil maladies and pests, like the stock.

Grafting is permitted when the trees are the same type; when performed with two different types of trees, it is forbidden. The prohibition of grafting (kilei ilan) is also  biblically mandated outside the Land of Israel (Shulchan Aruch, Y.D. 295 §1):

One who grafts one tree onto another, for example, grafting the shoot of an apple onto an etrog, or an etrog onto an apple, is liable for lashes from the Torah everywhere, whether inside or outside of the Land of Israel. So too, one who grafts a vegetable onto a tree or a tree onto a vegetable, in every place, is liable for lashes.

The Shulchan Aruch rules in §7 that it is also forbidden to cultivate grafted trees. That is, if I bought a tree that was grafted in a prohibited manner (two different types of trees), it is forbidden to keep it in my ownership and I must uproot it. In practice, some posekim are lenient when there are uncertainties in several areas; however, optimally one should not purchase a tree that is grafted in a forbidden manner.

  1. Terumot and ma’aserot. One must separate terumot and ma’aserot from produce grown in the Land of Israel. According to many opinions, this obligation also applies to produce grown in Israel that is exported abroad. There is a dispute among the Rishonim and Achronim on this issue, but in practice one should take terumot and ma’aserot without a blessing on produce exported from the Land of Israel. Despite the fact that the official guidelines of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate are to take terumot and ma’aserot from produce that will be exported abroad, farmers and packaging houses in practice do not separate terumot and ma’aserot from fruit earmarked for export (from an inquiry to representatives of the Chief Rabbinate, Tevet 5778 / December 2017). For this reason, it is important to separate terumot and ma’aserot from such produce without a blessing.

My feeling is that since there are not many Torah observant Jewish farmers who live outside of Israel, in both past and present; and because for many years in Europe, Jews were even banned from owning land, nor did they serve as farmers, the general awareness about these mitzvot is very low. Moreover, those who live in apartment buildings and do not have a garden do not generally encounter these mitzvot. This is why, I believe, there is such a lack of awareness regarding these special mitzvot among observant Jews living outside of Israel.

Through our observance of the mitzvot dependant on the Land of Israel—regardless of whether we currently live in the Diaspora or in Israel—may we merit to draw closer to the Land of Israel and to its special mitzvot.