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Shemitah Miracle with my Palm Tree - watering

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Shemitah Miracle with my Palm Tree - watering

Can I water my trees to benefit the fruit? And what miracle did Shoshan Raiz had in her yard in Yad Binyamin?

Shoshan Raiz, Tammuz 5782


I am so excited to share my personal shemitah miracle with all of you. Nine years ago we planted a date palm in my backyard, but it never yielded fruit. I figured that it was a male, and at one point I stopped watering it. We used it for sechach and lulavim.

Just yesterday, my son, Shlomo (8), runs in and yells excitedly: "Imma, we have dates!"  I went outside and lo and behold, the tree was full of unripe dates! My small children and I broke out in singing and dancing, thanking Hashem for His kindness (my teens said something along the lines of, "Oh, cool," but somehow were not crazy with joy.

 Ever since I made Aliyah nearly 20 years ago, it has been my dream to a own a fruit tree so I could fulfil this Biblical mitzvah of declaring the fruit hefker during shemitah, and allow people to come and pick the fruit, bringing home the message that the land, and everything really, belongs to Hashem.

Then Shlomo says, "Imma, let's water the tree a lot now to help the fruit be really juicy!"

"Hmmm," I say, "That sounds like a classic case of ukmei peira, performing an action to benefit the fruit, which is forbidden." Baruch Hashem I work at Torah VeHa'aretz Institute and our rabbis and agronomists are available to answer shemitah questions, so I asked away. Knowledge is power.


Even though we are stringent in private gardens to avoid actions that encourage fruit growth (following Rabbi Kook's ruling), watering a tree is a different story. Rambam specifically states that the reason watering is permitted is so that the land will not become desolate during shemitah; watering is a vital action.

The upshot is: even though I hadn't watered the tree before, it is perfectly fine to begin watering it now, especially now that it is summer.

To account for the opinion of the Chazon Ish (who maintains that plants should be watered enough to survive, but not more than that), our agronomist, Dr. Motty Shomron, recommends watering plants 10% less than we would other years, at each season. Note that there are lenient opinions that allow watering plants in home gardens regularly (Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, for example).

Oh, and come Elul (when the dates ripen), please feel free to come to my backyard in Yad Binyamin for gadid, the special Hebrew word for date harvest. The dates are hefker.


Postscript on my date story:  I discussed watering with my local gardener. He said that this shemitah my palm received ample water because of major leaks in our neighbor's irrigation system (which he fixed several times). Note that we have been neighbors for a decade and this has never happened. Their name is (drumroll please ...) the Shabbat family. So in honor of the Shabbat year and thanks to my Shabbat neighbors, we now have dates with the holy sanctity of the Shemitah-Shabbat year.

Shoshan Raiz is the official translator of Torah VeHa'aretz Institute.