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Experiments during the shemitah year

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Dear Rabbi Yehuda,

I'm doing a master's degree on botany in the Faculty of Agriculture. I am currently looking into pursuing a doctorate, and was wondering if this is possible, since the shemitah year falls out during that time. I am studying wheat and am performing experiments in the field and in planters, perform tests that destroy the plants, and produce DNA and RNA. Can I do this type of practical research during the shemitah year? If so, which tests may I perform and which are forbidden?


Rabbi Yehuda HaLevy Amichay

It is difficult for me to answer since I do not know what you are planning to do. However, in general it is possible to perform experiments on anything that does not have kedushat shevi'it: such as plants that grow in hothouses on detached platforms. It is also possible to perform research after heter mechirah, when the sale is specific and a non-Jew performs the forbidden melachot, and all of the research is not for eating purposes.

Below are general guidelines on this topic:

  1. Non-fragrant, ornamental plants planted during the sixth year that are just growing during shemitah can be used for any science experiment.
  2. Do not plant or sow ornamental plants now in order to experiment with them.
  3. It is possible to commission a non-Jew to plant in a hothouse (under certain conditions) ornamental plants. It is best to do so with heter mechirah.
  4. For vegetables, do not waste or spoil (hefsed) produce with kedushat shevi'it. However, if the land is sold to a non-Jew, it is possible to perform experiments with such produce.
  5. Jews may not plant outdoors even after heter mechirah. It is possible to be lenient in hothouses only.