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Saving shemitah fruit for neighbors and grandchildren – winter 5783

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I have a pomelo tree in my yard. At this point of the year, I pick the fruit, put it in a crate outside and write that it's free for the taking. I was wondering if I could set aside fruit for my neighbors, adult children, and grandchildren, or is that acting like I'm the owner of the fruit?


Rabbi Moshe Bloom

Short Answer  

It is best to harvest the fruit right before the families you want to give the fruit to will be coming to visit. Put out the fruit and they can help themselves

If you are afraid the fruit will rot, it is possible to harvest the fruit, bring most of it inside, and leave a few fruits outside with a sign that there is more available inside.

If no one comes to claim the fruit, it will be there for your family and friends.

Expanded Answer

Shemitah fruit is supposed to be ownerless and available for all Jews.

It is forbidden to harvest large quantities to give to specific people such as neighbors, adult children, and grandchildren since this demonstrates ownership. During non-shemitah years this is precisely what tree owners do: they harvest and decide whom to give the fruit to. During shemitah (or for produce that belongs to shemitah) we are supposed to demonstrate that the fruit does not belong to us by providing access to all Jews.

There are, however, technical solutions to this issue.

After Rosh Chodesh Kislev of the eighth year, according to most opinions, it is no longer compulsory to allow others to access one's garden. It is possible to lock the garden and harvest large quantities of fruit and bring it outside. The obligation of hefker is lesser during the eighth year than during shemitah itself. 

The ideal solution is to harvest fruit and put it outside right before you know your neighbors, children, or grandchildren will visit. Then they will help themselves and enjoy the fruit when they come.

If they won't be able to come immediately, and you need to harvest the fruit to prevent it from rotting, certainly do so. Put a few fruits outside with a sign that there are more inside the house and that it is possible to contact you to bring them out.

Note that they are inside to prevent them from rotting.

As long of the sign is up outside, the fact that you did not put out all of the fruit outside does not nullify their ownerless status; people can still call and request the fruit which are not outside to prevent them from rotting. On the other hand, the fruits indoors will be there for your family or friends.

This ruling is based on the ruling of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who maintains that if leaving fruit outside will cause it to rot, it is possible to actively distribute it so that people will eat it. This effectively saves the shemitah fruit from going bad and does not constitute a manifestation of ownership, rather an act of saving the fruit from spoiling.

Note that the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that it is halachically preferable for the fruit to rot than for someone to distribute them and thus act like an owner.