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My Youth In Alabama

I was a six and a half year old boy living in Alabama [that is how I got the nickname "Ally". It is short for Alabama]. My father was a black sharecropper [today he is no longer black, he is African-American]. My dad said "Hey, let's go out to the field and plant some trees." I answered "Sorry Papa, but I can't. I am in my seventh year and the Bible says that in the seventh year you are not allowed to plant." "No son," my father replied "the Bible says that it is forbidden to work in the seventh year of the Shmittah cycle. It has nothing to do with your age ....." [Also Alabama is not in Israel, so Shmittah doesn't apply].

Of course I made up the whole story [except for the fact that I was once six and a half].

Anyway, while we are on the topic, what about hydroponics [the cultivation of plants by placing the roots in liquid nutrient solutions, rather than in soil]. Is it permitted to plant in liquid during the seventh year. Is that subsumed under the Torah prohibition of planting in the seventh year?

The Chazon Ish said that it is permitted!

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, the Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, took issue with the Chazon Ish. The Tosefta [a body of Tannaic literature, Maasros 3/8] explicity forbids "Matalya" during the seventh year. The Gemara in Avoda Zarah [38b] explains that "Matalya" means planting seeds in water [see there for an exact description]. The Chazon Ish was asked Rav Frank's question and was not fazed. But there is no record [that I have seen] of what he would answer. What would you say?

Please hurry up. Shmittah is coming close.

Many emphasize that the איסור עבודה on שביעית isn't just a focus on the person who is being עובד; rather, the איסור is for a person to take זרע and use the transformative power of the קרקע to grow and bear produce. It is the fact that the person is violating ושבתה הארץ, more so than anything else. This is to be compared with זריעה by כלאים and שבת, for example, which clearly have different emphases. In this sense, it is hard to say that growth in water should be an איסור עבודת שביעית, seeing as the קרקע is uninvolved.

In fact, תוספתא מעשרות ג:ז does not in fact declare it אסור מדאורייתא -
המטליא לא נהגו בה חכמים היתיר לא למעשרות ולא לשביעית.
For an איסור דאורייתא, the language לא נהגו בה חכמים היתיר sounds not only weak but wholly unnecessary. What's the ה"א to think they could be מתיר an איסור עבודת שביעית מדאורייתא such that we are told that they were נוהג not to do so?

What, then, is the איסור exactly? לפעד"נ that it's an איסור אכילה מדרבנן, as per below.

פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת שביעית פרק ו

ודע שכל מה שתצמיח הארץ בשביעית מותר באכילה מן התורה כמו שאמר הכתוב והיתה שבת הארץ לכם לאכלה וכו'. וכאשר היו בני אדם מערימין וזורעין התבואות בשביעית ואומרים שזה הזרע הצומח לא צמח אלא מהנשאר באדמה, או ממה שדרכו להצמיח פעם שנייה מן השרשים שנשארו באדמה, אסרו כל הזרעונים כגון התבואה והקטנית ודומיהם הצומחים בשביעית, והם הנקראים ספיחים. וכך אמרו ספיחים אינם אסורים מן התורה. אלא מדברי סופרים. כך לשון ספרא. ר"ל שאסורים באכילה. הנה נתבאר לך שהנאכל מפירות שביעית הם פירות האילן בלבד או ירקות וספיחים שחזקתן מן ההפקר שאין דרך בני אדם לזרען. אבל שאר ספיחים שדרך בני אדם לזרען אסורים באכילה. והוי זכור לכלל זה תמיד.

Hydroponically-grown foods are clearly דרך בני אדם לזרען; they cannot grow by themselves.

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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