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Shemitah, Chapter 25: Practical Laws of Bi'ur

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Shemitah, Chapter 25: Practical Laws of Bi'ur

How do we perform the mitzvah of bi'ur today? What do I do if I forgot to do bi'ur on time? On the procedure for rendering crops ownerless and related bi'ur laws.

Rabbi Moshe Bloom

A. Bi'ur time

Produce with shemitah sanctity (or through shemitah money) are obligated in bi'ur according to the bi'ur schedules. See Appendices A–D.

B. Who is required to perform biur?

  1. The obligation to perform bi'ur applies only to those who own an quantity of produce that exceeds the amount needed for every member of the household for one week[1] ("food for three meals"[2]).
  2. When the bi'ur time arrives, it is permissible to have food of that type at home that will be sufficient for all of the family members for a week, or to give the produce to a Jew who does not have food for a week from that specific type of produce.[3]
  3. The owner of the produce is not required to eat all of the produce in his next three meals; he can eat it whenever he wants.[4]
  4. The mitzvah of bi'ur should be performed if one owns more food than the "three meal" amount and one cannot find another person to give it to.[5]

C. Bi'ur through hefker

  1. The prevalent custom in Israel today is that the mitzvah of bi'ur entails declaring the produce ownerless to anyone who wants to take it.[6]
  2. Preferably, one should remove the produce from one's home and declare it ownerless before three people. While these three people may not be members of one's immediate family, they may be related to one another. If this isn't feasible, one should invite three people to his home and declare the produce ownerless in their presence.[7]
  3. It is permissible to declare the produce ownerless before three friends, even though one knows that they will not take it. After performing the mitzvah of bi'ur, it is permissible to take the produce back.[8]
  4. In extenuating circumstances, when there isn't the possibility of declaring the produce ownerless before three friends, it is permissible to set out the produce in the public domain or in an unlocked yard, and declare it ownerless when no one else is present. Afterwards, it is permissible to take the produce back home.[9]
  5. The produce is rendered ownerless by declaring that it may be taken by anyone. The text for the hefker brought by Chazal is as follows:

"אחינו בית ישראל: כל מי שצריך ליטול יבוא ויטול"

"Our brothers of the House of Israel: whoever needs to take should come and take."[10]

  1. Preferably, the act of declaring produce ownerless should be performed directly by the owner. If needed, it is possible to declare it ownerless through an agent. However, it is best to also declare it ownerless in person.[11]
  2. When the bi'ur time is subject to doubt, one should render the produce ownerless when the time of doubt begins; afterwards, follow the directives below, according to order of halachic preference:
    1. Leave the produce outside the home until the bi'ur time is definitely over. After this time, it is possible to take the produce back home.[12]
    2. Take the produce back each day and declare it ownerless the next day, until the bi'ur time is definitely over.[13]
    3. Render the produce ownerless and bring it back home without the intent of taking ownership of the produce. To this end, invite three people home and notify them that one is bringing the produce back home only to safeguard it. However, it is not one's intention to acquire the produce by virtue of it being in his home or yard. At this point, it is possible eat the produce, since it is ownerless.[14]
  3. The obligation of bi'ur applies also to money that assumed shemitah Its bi'ur time is the same time as the original produce purchased with the money. The owner of such money needs to buy produce with it and render the produce ownerless, just like the original produce itself.[15]
  4. If one pickles several types of shevi'it fruits or vegetables together[16] and the bi'ur time arrives for one of them, one should do the following: take out the fruit or vegetable whose bi'ur time has arrived and perform the mitzvah of bi'ur with it. The rest of the mixture is not obligated in bi'ur, even though the taste of the fruit/vegetable absorbed in it is still there after the bi'ur time has arrived.[17] However, if one pickles the mixture after the bi'ur time of one of the ingredients has arrived, the entire mixture is forbidden (unless the ingredient requiring bi'ur is nullified in a 1:60 ratio).[18]

D. If one failed to perform bi'ur

  1. If one failed to render the produce ownerless at the appropriate bi'ur time, the produce is forbidden to eat.[19] However, if one received shemitah produce from a friend after the designated bi'ur time and is unsure whether it was rendered ownerless, it is possible to immediately perform the mitzvah of bi'ur and eat the produce afterwards.[20]
  2. If one failed to perform bi'ur on produce due to circumstances out of one's control, the produce is not forbidden. One should immediately render the produce ownerless as soon as possible.[21]

E. Miscellaneous laws

  1. Even after bi'ur, the produce continues to retain its sacred status and should be handled accordingly.[22]
  2. Israeli produce exported abroad whose bi'ur time arrives in Israel: one should perform the mitzvah of bi'ur with the produce. It is forbidden to transport this produce from place to place.[23]
  3. Cooking utensils used to cook or otherwise prepare shemitah produce do not need to be "kashered" at the time of bi'ur.[24]


[1] Mishnah 9:8; Tosefta 8:4; Rambam 7:3; Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:3 §1.

[2] Chazon Ish §11:6, s.v. ube'inyan; the definition of "a week" is the average amount of groceries that a person buys for his household each time he makes a purchase. The definition of "little by little," that is permissible for private individuals to gather is for several days. The Chazon Ish, ibid., defines "three meals" as a person's basic needs.

[3] Mishnah, ibid.; Tosefta ibid.; Rambam, ibid; Shabbat Ha'aretz, ibid.

[4] Chazon Ish, ibid. Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:3, n. 6.

[5] Rambam, ibid.; bi'ur for shemitah produce is similar to bedikat and bi'ur chametz. In principle, it is preferable not to leave any chametz in our possession, so we give away our chametz to others. Only if we still have a lot left over, then we should perform bi'ur chametz—but it is not necessary to actually perform bi'ur chametz. For bedikat chametz, it's not a mitzvah to find and get rid of the chametz; only to ensure that there is no chametz left in our possession. The same holds true for bi'ur of sacred shemitah produce.

[6] Ramban, Vayikra 25:7, based on Tosefta, ibid. This is the opinion of most Rishonim; see Pe'at Hashulchan 27:3. See also Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:3 §2. However, Rambam (7:3) maintains that bi'ur is performed only by burning (but his opinion was not accepted by mainstream poskim).See Mishpat Kohen §83, who writes that it is not preferable to burn the produce, since doing so transgresses the prohibition of hefsed for shemitah produce and bal tashchit (similar to redeeming ma'aser shenit onto a perutah rather than to its true value, so as not to cause financial loss – MB); Sefer Hashemitah p. 45, n. 3.

[7] Bi'ur Hagra on Yerushalmi 9:4. See also Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:3, n. 14.

[8] Chazon Ish §26, Seder Hashevi'it §1 s.v. peri. See also Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:3 §2.3–4.  

[9] Yerushalmi 9:4. Rabbi Kook (Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:3 §2.4, n. 21) maintains that this is true according to those who hold that bi'ur is miderabanan; however, according to those who hold that it is de'oraita, the produce should be declared ownerless in front of three people. Rabbi Yisraeli is lenient in this regard, even when there are no extenuating circumstances involved.

[10] Tosefta, ibid.; Rambam, Nedarim 2:14; Shulchan Aruch, CM §273:34.

[11] This is the ruling of Rabbi Eliahu. See Mishnah Berurah §434:15, that in principle it is possible to appoint an agent to nullify one's chametz (some are stringent in this regard; Mishpatei Eretz 31:5.

[12] Sefer Hashemitah, p. 46 §12; Rabbi Auerbach, Minchat Shlomo §51:18.

[13] Chazon Ish §26, Seder Hashevi'it §5, s.v. kanah.

[14] This is the ruling of Rabbi Eliahu. See also Mishnat Yosef III §36.

[15] Rambam 7:7. Rashas (9:5) maintains that bi'ur deadline for money is on Rosh Hashanah of the eighth year, see Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:7 §3. Rabbi Eliahu maintains that if the money was used to buy several types of fruits and vegetables together, one should act in accordance with §C.9.

[16] See above, Chapter 24 §B.10 on mixtures of sacred and non-sacred produce.

[17] Mishnah 9:5; Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:6 §3. Rash (9:5) states that this halachah applies only to vegetables. However, if fruit is in question, one should perform bi'ur on the flavor absorbed by the other types of food in the mixture.

[18] Lechem Mishneh, Ma'achalot Assurot 15:6. See also Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:6, n. 13.

[19] Rashi, Yoma 83a, s.v. tevel; Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:3 §3. According to the Pe'at Hashulchan (Taklin Chadatin Shekalim 3:2), it is forbidden even to derive benefit from the produce.

Some maintain that only the owner is not allowed to benefit from the produce, but all others are allowed to do so.

Rabbi Eliahu rules that if one transgresses bi'ur unintentionally (beshogeg), the produce is indeed forbidden to the transgressor but permitted to others. See also Shabbat Ha'aretz, ibid., n. 23.

[20] See Rashas 9:9; Chazon Ish §11:6; Shabbat Ha'aretz, ibid., nn. 25, 29.

[21] Sefer Charedim, Mitzvot Hateluyot Ba'aretz, introduction. According to Gedulat Mordechai §9, even if one could not perform bi'ur due to circumstances beyond one's control, the produce is nonetheless forbidden. See Torat Hashemitah 15, n. 45; Shabbat Ha'aretz, ibid., nn. 26, 28.

[22] Rivmatz 9:2. Rabbi Yisraeli rules accordingly. See also Shabbat Ha'aretz, ibid., n. 11. Rash (9:7) maintains that after the bi'ur time, the produce loses its sacred status. See also Shabbat Ha'aretz, ibid., n. 18.

[23] However, it is permissible to transfer it back to Israel to perform the mitzvah of bi'ur there, but this is not obligatory. Rashi, Pesachim 52b, s.v. bechol makom; Yerushalmi 6:4. See also Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:12.

[24] Torat Hashemitah 15:45; Rabbi Auerbach: Ma'adanei Eretz, Kovetz He'arot 8:19 and Minchat Shlomo 51:19; See Shabbat Ha'aretz 7:6 §6.