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Shemittah in Chutz La’aretz

Rav Avrohom Yeshaya Cohen, Rosh Kollel of Kollel Ohel Yitzchok and Posek at The Bais HaVaad

Question: Most halachos of shemittah are applicable only in Eretz Yisroel. I don’t live in Eretz Yisroel. Does any aspect of shemittah apply to me?

Answer: You are correct that shemittah is primarily an agricultural mitzvah that only applies in Eretz Yisroel, but there is also another aspect of shemittah that applies equally in chutz la’aretz. That is the aspect of shemitas kesafim. The pasuk in Parshas Re’eh states that anyone who borrowed money before shemittah has his debt erased by the shemittah year. (According to most opinions, the debt is annulled at the end of the shemittah year.) There is an explicit prohibition for the lender to demand payment on such a loan.

The pasuk tells us that one must not refrain from lending money because the shemittah year is approaching. The Gemara in Gittin relates that Hillel saw that people were still hesitant to lend money in advance of a shemittah year so in order to solve this problem, he enacted the concept of pruzbul. A pruzbul is where  loans are given over to the authority of a beis din, who are allowed to collect the debts even after a shemittah year. The rules of shemitas kesafim apply both in eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, which is why people in both locations must write pruzbuls

There is an agricultural aspect of shemittah that is relevant in chutz la’aretz as well. In addition to the prohibition to work on the land during the shemittah year, there are halachos that apply to the produce itself. 

  1. Anything that grows in Eretz Yisroel during shemittah has a holiness known as kedushas sheviis, and must be treated in a very specific way. This produce must be eaten in the  proper way, cannot be destroyed, and one may not do business with it.
  2. Furthermore, if someone worked the field in Eretz Yisrael in a forbidden way during shemittah, any crops that grow as a result of this work are prohibited to be eaten at all. 
  3. There is yet another rule regarding vegetables that grow on their own during shemittah. These vegetables are known as sefichim, and they are Rabbinically prohibited to be eaten.

Someone who lives in chutz la’aretz must keep these halachos too; therefore, he must be aware that if crops grown in Eretz Yisroel are sold in his local supermarket, he should make sure they bear a reliable hashgacha before purchasing them.

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