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Shemitah, Chapter 19: Handling Leftovers

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Shemitah, Chapter 19: Handling Leftovers

What do we do with sacred scraps? Can we feed them to animals? Use them for compost? On properly handling leftovers with shemitah sanctity.

Rabbi Moshe Bloom

A. Introduction

  1. It is permissible to eat (or prepare food) from sacred shemitah produce in any conventional manner, even if by doing so some of the food might become spoiled.[1] (For instance, it is permissible to eat half of an apple, even though the rest of it might spoil afterwards.) It is proper, however, to eat the entire fruit to reduce hefsed as much as possible.[2]
  2. It is permissible to place shemitah produce in a clean place, even though it will certainly spoil or rot there in the future. This is because one is not spoiling it directly.[3]
  3. The following leftovers do have shemitah sanctity:
    1. Peels that are edible to humans (such as potato, cucumber, and carrot peels) or animals (peanut peels), even if no person or animal is available (or willing) to actually eat those peels.
    2. Fruit pits with bits of fruit stuck to them (such as date, olive, peach, plum pits) or seeds that are eaten on their own (such as watermelon seeds).
    3. Citrus peels that are often used as animal fodder or as jams and candy.
  4. The following leftovers do not have shemitah sanctity:
  5. Hard peels that are not used as animal fodder (such as almond or other nut shells).
  6. Pits that do not have any edible parts (such as apricot pits) and seeds that are bitter and are not eaten on their own (such as citrus and grape seeds).[4]

B. Handling leftovers

  1. Leftovers without shemitah sanctity may be thrown away in the garbage.
  2. Leftovers with shemitah sanctity should be handled as follows:
    1. Food with shemitah sanctity should not be thrown away in the garbage, since it becomes disgusting in this way.[5]
    2. It is recommended to prepare a special container (pach shemitah, pach shevi'it, lit. a shemitah garbage bin) for shemitah After they begin to rot, they may be disposed of in the garbage.
    3. Solid food scraps should be placed in a bag and kept in the shemitah bin until they are no longer worthy of human consumption. Afterwards the bag can be disposed of in the garbage.[6]
    4. It is forbidden to mix scraps from fresh produce with old scraps sitting in the shemitah bin, since (1) the fresh produce becomes disgusting in this fashion and (2) the old scraps accelerate the natural decomposition process of the new scraps. It is also forbidden to mix leftovers of various types of liquids together or to mix leftovers of solids with liquid foods. In practice, it is permitted to put leftovers from different days in the same bin, each day's leftovers are stored in a closed plastic bag.
    5. If no substantial damage will be incurred to different types of scraps if mixed together, it is possible to be lenient and place them together. However, if significant damage will occur to the different types of foods, such as if they are leftovers of cooked dishes, each type of leftover food should be placed in a separate bag and then subsequently placed in the shemitah
    6. It is permissible to throw away the shemitah leftovers in the regular garbage bin after they rot and are no longer fit for human consumption. For fresh fruits and vegetables, one should wait about a week; for cooked food, about two days. Of course, if there are leftovers from various dates in the bin, one should wait the appropriate amount of time from the date of the food placed in the bin last before disposing in the regular garbage.

C. Additional cases

  1. Fruits or vegetables that become disgusting to humans still retain shemitah sanctity as long as they can be used as animal fodder. Nevertheless, it is permissible to throw them in the garbage, because this does not disqualify it from being used for animals.[7]
  2. Food left outside of the refrigerator for a long time—until its taste changes to the point that it would generally not be eaten, may be thrown away in the garbage.[8]
  3. The prohibition of hefsed applies also to vegetable soup and to water used to cook shemitah vegetables until flavored by them, even if it does not have any vegetable bits in it (such as beet water, which is often used to make borscht). Such soup or liquid leftovers should either be placed in a bag, and then into the shemitah bin, or left uncovered all night.[9]
  4. It is permissible to wash off small bits of food stuck to the sides of pots or other cooking utensils, cutting boards, graters, etc.[10]

D. Waste separation

  1. There are homes where source separation is performed all year round; that is, in the home kitchen, waste is separated into different containers: organic waste (vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells, meat, etc.) is disposed of separately from solid waste (plastic, glass, etc.). While it is possible to continue separating types of waste, the shemitah bin guidelines should be followed. Instead of placing organic leftovers in a plastic bag, it is possible to store peels in a paper bag. For more on compost, see F below.
  2. It is permissible for garbage trucks to remove organic waste and it is permissible for them to transfer it into the apparatus that processes waste into compost (in various ways), as during other years.[11]

E. Feeding animals

  1. It is permissible to feed animals peels and leftover fruits and vegetables with shemitah sanctity that can no longer be used for human consumption.[12]
  2. Sacred shemitah food that is worthy of human consumption may not be used to feed animals.[13]
  3. Food that is spoiled, and can no longer be used for human consumption, may be fed to animals.[14] This is provided that it is impossible to restore the food and make it edible for humans.[15]
  4. For fruits and vegetables that are only eaten peeled: when no person will eat the peels, it is permissible to feed the peels to animals immediately; one need not wait for them to begin to rot.

F. Compost

  1. The problem with a composter is that peels and leftovers are added daily. This directly causes them to rot, and one may not directly spoil shemitah
  2. It is permissible to place peels and leftovers in a paper bag or newspaper (and thus not directly cause rotting) in the compost bin/pile, but mix the content of the composter only a week after the last fruit or vegetable peels/leftovers are added. At this point, it is permissible to add materials that accelerate the decomposition process (red worms, etc.).
  3. It is permissible to place scraps and peels of food without shemitah sanctity together with sacred shemitah leftovers—provided that the former do not cause the shemitah produce to spoil.
  4. When the compost is ready, it is permissible to remove it from the composter, bag the compost, and place it in storage in an organized fashion. However, one should not pile it in the yard. It is permissible to use it as fertilizer, following the fertilization guidelines in Chapter 22 I.
  5. It is permissible to add dry twigs to the compost pile, since their purpose is to keep the compost from drying out.


[1] Rabbi Elyashiv and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, Mishpatei Eretz, chap. 21, n. 15. They maintain that there is no prohibition in causing hefsed as a byproduct of eating shemitah produce.

[2] This is Rabbi Eliahu's ruling.

[3] Mishpat Kohen §85, end; Chazon Ish §14:10 s.v. velamadnu.

[4] The laws that govern which types of leftovers have or do not have shemitah sanctity appear also in Chapter 18 §B.1–4. See there for the footnotes on these halachot.

[5] Mishpat Kohen §85. According to Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, leftover scraps of food that people don't generally eat after they finish eating do not have shemitah sanctity (such as food left in a plate).  

[6] According to tests performed by Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Meir Levinger, placing food in a bag and closing it does not accelerate rotting. Furthermore, if the bag is tightly closed, it makes no difference that it is in a garbage bag.
Practically, though, we need to discern between garbage cans that are emptied into garbage trucks equipped with compressors that tear the garbage bags, and garbage cans emptied into places without compressors. Today, the vast majority of domestic waste is removed by trucks with compressors; if we throw the plastic bag with shemitah leftovers into the garbage can, the garbage truck compressors will tear the bags and cause these scraps to become disgusting—which is problematic. For this reason, it is important to leave the leftover shemitah food in the shemitah bin until it begins to decompose, and only then dispose of it in the regular garbage bin.

[7] Yerushalmi, Ma'aser Sheni 2:1 states that we are not obligated to eat the following, even if it has ma'aser sheni sanctity: bread that became moldy, vegetables peels and cores (kenibat yarak), or a cooked dish that spoiled (termed by the Mishnah: "whose form changed"). Afterwards, it states that if ma'aser sheni oil spoils it loses its sacred status. However, with regard to shemitah oil, the Gemara deliberates whether such oil nevertheless retains its sacred status. The Penei Moshe explains that the deliberation relates to oil that is spoiled for human use but is still fit for animal consumption—so it might still be sacred. However, if this oil is no longer fit for animal consumption either, its sacred shemitah status is certainly void. See also Rabbi Kook, Shabbat Ha'aretz 5:12 §1 and Kuntres Acharon §21; Torat Ha'aretz 8:26; Rabbi Auerbach, Ma'adanei Eretz §10:6, s.v. umihu; Tzitz Eliezer XI §68:4. All maintain that one should be stringent, taking into account the doubt raised by the Yerushalmi, that if this oil is still fit for animal consumption, it might still be sacred.

See also Torat Hashemitah §12:71. However, the Chazon Ish (§13:24) maintains that there is shemitah sanctity in food that was edible to humans that became fit only for animals, yet elsewhere (§14:10, s.v. nireh, maskanah) he writes that one should be stringent only if most people generally feed such food to animals.

[8] See Shabbat Ha'aretz 5:3 §1 nn. 5–6, Kerem Tziyon, ch. 13, n. 6. Az Nidberu IV §56 concludes that cooked dishes that would not spoil if left all night outside of the refrigerator may not be discarded or spoiled, even after being left outside of the refrigerator for one night.  

[9] Kerem Tziyon ch. 13., n. 16, based on Rambam 7:22 and ibid., Hilchot Ma'achalot Assurot 15:8.
On bones cooked with shemitah vegetables, see Shevet Halevy VII §180:2, who writes that since it is not generally used as food for humans or animals, it is devoid of shemitah sanctity. Rabbi Eliahu writes that if the bones are worthy of human consumption (by sucking them, etc.), they do have shemitah sanctity. If not, then they are completely devoid of shemitah sanctity.
Water used to cook shemitah potatoes (or other vegetables): even if the water is not usually used as soup, it nevertheless has shemitah sanctity, since it absorbed the taste of the shemitah vegetables. However, Mishpatei Eretz (23:13 and n. 27) quotes Rabbi Elyashiv's ruling that shemitah sanctity does not apply to items that humans do not generally eat, so the "potato water" would not be sacred.

[10] Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Sefer Hashemitah p. 31, n. 5, since people generally do not use such small amounts. His ruling is based on Rambam, Terumot 11:1415; there the Rambam rules that if one pours out a jar with terumah oil, after the stream stops one should wait for the last three drops to leave the jar. Afterwards, one can refill the jar with non-sacred oil. We are not required to gather the leftover terumah oil in the jar beyond this point. Similarly, if a granary is emptied of terumah wheat, one need not collect all of the terumah kernels scattered around before bringing in non-sacred wheat. It is sufficient to collect the terumah grain in the regular manner.
See also Mahari Kurkus, ibid., who explains the Rambam's statements differently, based on which we can draw conclusions about shemitah-related matters. Indeed, Mikdash David §38, writes, (based on Tosefta 7:2, which states that food scraps are still considered food vis-à-vis shemitah), that leftover food has shemitah sanctity. Mishpatei Eretz 23:22 brings a proof from the Kessef Mishneh, (Hilchot Ma'aseh Hakorbanot 10:10, who writes that bones from sacrifices are not sacred, since people don't save or use them, even if bits of meat are stuck to them), based on which one can be lenient about shemitah scraps. See also Shabbat Ha'aretz 5:3 §2.

[11] For two reasons: (1) This food is placed in the garbage bin only after the scraps have begun rotting, and often the scraps are not even worthy of animal consumption. (2) Since most farmers sell their land through heter mechirah, their produce does not have shemitah sanctity. Thus, most food scraps removed by the trucks do not have shemitah sanctity, and we follow the halachic principle of kol deparish merubah parish ((כל דפריש מרובא פריש; that is: if an individual item becomes separated from a group of items that were mixed up, the individual item is assumed to belong to the majority component of the mixture.

[12] Since they are generally no longer designated for human consumption; Pe'at Hashulchan 24:17, n. 55.

[13] Rambam 5:5. See also Shabbat Ha'aretz 5:5. About bones cooked together with shemitah vegetables, see n. 9 above, that they do not have shemitah sanctity and therefore can be given to dogs.

[14] Pe'at Hashulchan, ibid.

[15] Rabbi Kook, Shabbat Ha'aretz 5:12 §1.