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?
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:
- Non-fragrant, ornamental plants planted during the sixth year that are just growing during shemitah can be used for any science experiment.
- Do not plant or sow ornamental plants now in order to experiment with them.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jews may not plant outdoors even after heter mechirah. It is possible to be lenient in hothouses only.