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Shemitah, Chapter 2: Where do the Laws of Shemitah Apply?

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Shemitah, Chapter 2: Where do the Laws of Shemitah Apply?

Do the laws of shemitah apply to the planter hanging in my kitchen? An overview of areas where the laws of shemitah apply; chapter 2 of the Shemitah Consumer's Guide.

Rabbi Moshe Bloom

A. Borders of shemitah sanctity

  1. The prohibition of engaging in various forms of agricultural labor during the shemitah year applies to all areas of the Land of Israel that were captured during the First Temple period[1] (gevulot olei Mitzrayim, lit. the borders of those who emerged from Egypt—first sanctification). According to the majority of the posekim, this area includes the entire State of Israel and beyond.
  2. In the borders of the Land of Israel sanctified during the Second Temple period (olei Bavel, those who emerged from Babylon—second sanctification), all of the shemitah laws apply. This area is smaller than the olei Mitzrayim borders.
  3. In the areas of the Land of Israel that were not sanctified during the Second Temple period, the prohibition of sefichin[2] does not apply, yet the crops are considered to have shemitah sanctity due to doubt[3] (see Appendix E).

B. Types of planters

  1. The obligations of shemitah apply to perforated planters (atzitz nakuv) sitting indoors and to planters sitting on detached platforms outside; no biblical prohibitions may be performed. in such cases, even when there is a doubt if it is a biblical prohibition.[4]
  2. Furthermore, the laws governing shemitah sanctity apply, from doubt, to crops growing indoors in perforated planters.[5] This applies to all of the related obligations: the injunction to render ownerless, the prohibition of harvest, prohibition of trade, the sanctity of the crops, and the mitzvah of bi'ur.
  3. Shemitah prohibitions do not apply to unperforated planters (atzitz sheino nakuv) that are sitting on detached platforms (matza menutak) or grown hydroponically indoors, as described below.[6] Even a perforated planter inside the house sitting on a surface that disconnects it from the soil, such as a plastic or metal dish, is considered an unperforated planter. On perforated planters sitting directly on the house tiles, see C §3–4.
  4. In such cases (unperforated pots indoors), one may be lenient with the rabbinically prohibited melachot (even without additional heterim), listed in Chapter 1 §A.5. Furthermore, they do not have shemitah
  5. In principle, it is forbidden for a Jew to perform the forbidden melachot on land belonging to a non-Jew.[7] However, the prohibition of sefichin does not apply[8] nor does shemitah[9]

C. Growing in private homes

  1. There are several areas in private homes where people grow various plants:
    1. Gardens outside the home in regular soil or on top of various surfaces;
    2. Patios in the home;
    3. Planters inside the home;
    4. On the windowsill;
    5. On the roof of a building.
  2. There are various laws that govern planting and cultivating plants in these places at home:
    1. An outdoor garden, whether in regular soil, on a surface, or on the roof of a building are considered like regular soil. No forbidden melachah may be performed during the shemitah
    2. Shemitah laws do not apply to plants growing indoors: (1) planted in an unperforated planter or sitting on an impermeable tray or (2) sitting on a patio with less than 330 L of soil, with concrete underneath.
    3. Planting in the following areas is akin to planting in regular soil: (1) indoor planters with a perforation, (2) planters sitting on a patio with more than 330 L of soil, and (3) planters sitting on patios connected to the ground without a concrete surface underneath.
  3. For ground-level apartment buildings, some posekim[10] are more stringent and considering plants sitting on the apartment tiles as if they were sitting on regular soil (even if growing in an unperforated planter). However, if a planter is sitting on a plastic, metal, or rock tray, which, in turn, is placed on the floor tiles, all opinions concur that the plant is disconnected from the soil.

However, if:

  1. The plant is sitting on a ceramic or wooden tray, a Palrig surface, or a perforated nylon sheet (all considered surfaces that do not disconnect plants from the soil);
  2. The pot is sitting directly on the tile floor (generally relevant with large planters);
  3. The plant is hanging and does not have a tray beneath it;

In all of these cases, there are those who are stringent who consider the planter to be perforated.

  1. Even according to the stringent opinions (see above), planting on the first floor and up is considered planting on detached platforms.

The roof of the penthouse apartment is akin to regula


[1] Rambam 4:26. Some are lenient that sowing is allowed (Rashi, Chagigah 3b): see Shabbat Ha'aretz 4:26 §4. In any case, most halachic authorities are lenient about heter mechirah in olei Mitzrayim territory (which is not also olei Bavel territory): see Shabbat Ha'aretz, ibid., §6.

[2] Rambam, ibid.; on the concept of sefichin, see Chapter 7.

[3] There is a dispute among the posekim if shemitah sanctity applies to olei Mitzrayim territory; see Shabbat Ha'aretz 4:26 §2. For the parameters of shemitah sanctity, see Chapter 3.

[4] Yerushalmi (Orlah 1:2) deliberates whether the laws governing shemitah are similar to those governing ma'aserot (about which the term "field," is used) and plants growing indoors are biblically exempt from tithing, since the verse states with regard to shemitah, "You shall not sow your field," which would seem to exclude the home. Or, alternatively, if shemitah is similar to the laws of orlah (where the Torah employs the term "land" and is a biblical prohibition indoors as well), since about shemitah the Torah states: "And the land will rest," implying that this includes indoors as well. See Shabbat Ha'aretz 1:3 §2.

[5] See Kerem Zion ch. 3, Gidulei Zion §6; Shabbat Ha'aretz, Kuntres Acharon §3, who is lenient only in instances of substantial monetary loss. Nevertheless, it is possible to be lenient with exports; see Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, "Notes on the shemitah matters – on shemitah sanctity in the home," HaTorah Veha'aretz I (5749), p. 174.

[6] On planting in hothouses, see Appendix E; see also Rabbi Ariel, "Planting in hothouses during shemitah," Be'ohalah Shel Torah III §10.

[7] Shabbat Ha'aretz 8:8 §§3–4. However, for land sold through heter mechirah, it is possible to perform melachot that are prohibited rabbinically. Torah prohibitions, however, should be avoided.  

[8] Rambam 4:29.

[9] This is the accepted practice in Jerusalem. See Shabbat Ha'aretz 4:29 §§2,6.

[10] Rabbi Auerbach, Minchat Shlomo I 41:2.