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Planting to conquer territory

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Dear Rabbi,

I want to clarify an issue relating to shemitah, which has practical and immediate ramifications for me, so I need an answer right away (among other reasons, to commit to a tender for the Eitam lands on behalf of the Eftat Local Council. I redeem lands and preserve them from the Arab invaders, especially through planting trees. Part of this planting is on State lands (some of which are on JNF-KKL land), and some are on "survey" lands. All are in my area of residence: Efrat. I want to know if I am allowed to plant trees in these areas during the shemitah year. I would have never imagined that this might be permitted, until I read in the responsa Eretz Hemda that Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli permits it (additions to Gate 2:1: "Shemitah on ownerless and public land," p. 101), based on the ruling of the Netziv and Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank. All of my actions in this respect are for the sake of Heaven only, and I do not receive any financial or personal benefit. I am not looking for a heter, rather, I want to know what the true Torah way is for this issue.


Rabbi Yehuda HaLevy Amichay

First of all, yishar ko'ach for your commendable work. May it be Hashem's will that you succeed in saving territory of the Land of Israel from falling into foreign hands.

About your question, what you do constitutes saving land and keeping it in Jewish hands. For this reason, it is permissible to plant non-fruit trees in these areas during the shemitah year. For an in-depth discussion on this topic, see responsa Netzer Matai (§28, can be found in Otzar Hahochma), who permits planting non-fruit trees during shemitah for forestry work (when many new immigrants worked in this field and were in dire financial straits). This permission is extended to any pressing need, especially when your actions involve mitzvat aseh (Ramban, additions 4), that we should not leave the Land of Israel in the hands of any foreign nation. In this case, since the prohibition against planting today is rabbinic, it is possible to be lenient.

I'd like to add the words of the Chazon Ish (Responsa and Writings §33, p. 67), who even permits plowing during the shemitah year to prevent non-Jews from taking over the land. See also Katif Shevi'it (chap. 42, p. 205), citing Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, who maintains that all possibilities for lenience should be employed when possible, "but if the land will be lost, G-d forbid, everything is permissible as long as it will remain in Jewish ownership."

For this reason, it seems that after all other possibilities are exhausted for taking over land (such as spraying, plowing with a closed disc, etc.), if there is no other way other than planting non-fruit trees, it is possible to be lenient. This is providing that all your actions will only be on behalf of taking over land. May you be generously rewarded for your efforts by the Master of the Land.