[Avodah] re the beginning of a new Shemitah year.

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Thu Aug 26 08:31:02 PDT 2021

Over on the Torah Musings ezine, R Daniel Mann fields the question we
discussed of buying a minimum land for the sake of being yotzei shemittah.
What's the value qua owning land, what's the value as a means of enabling
shemiras shemittah by subsidizing the rest by real farmers.

I'm including in full.


(RDN is a dayan for Eretz Chemdah, edits their Chemdat Yamim, works
for YU's Gruss Kollel, and wrote 3 sefarim.)

Tir'u baTov!

Torah Musings

Buying Land for Shemitta
Posted by: [Rabbi] Daniel Mann
in Halachah, Magazine, Posts
Aug 25, [20]21

Question: A group provides the opportunity to buy agricultural land in
Israel for the Shemitta year. Is that worthwhile?

Answer: We start with an overview of the agricultural mitzvot of
Shemitta along with a brief analysis of the significance of obtaining
land ownership.

The Rambam (Lo Ta'aseh 220-223) lists four such negative commandments,
about: 1) working the land; 2) tending to the trees; 3) reaping the
produce in the normal way; 4) harvesting fruit of the trees in the normal
way. The prohibition of working the land applies even to one who does not
own the land. There is a machloket whether there is a Torah prohibition
on harvesting someone else's field (Chazon Ish, Shvi'it 12:5 is lenient;
Rav Auerbach, Ma'adanei Eretz 7:4 is stringent). In any case, the reward
for refraining from aveirot is a function of the availability of and
the temptation toward the aveira (see Kiddushin 39b with Rashi). One who
owns a distant, small piece of land is not tempted to work it. Just as we
would not suggest buying a donkey and bull to refrain from plowing with
them together, the above is not a reason to obtain land before Shemitta.

The positive mitzvot are more pertinent. There is a machloket Rishonim
whether the positive state of cessation from working the land (Rambam,
Aseh 135) is a function of an individual's work irrespective of ownership
(Rambam, Shemitta 1:1) or whether it is a landowner's responsibility
to ensure his field is not worked (Ritva, Avoda Zara 15b). A third
approach holds Jews responsible to save the land from being worked,
including by redeeming it from non-Jews who may work it (Netziv,
Vayikra 25:4). According to the Rambam, obtaining land is not a factor
in creating the positive fulfillment. According to the Ritva, buying
creates an opportunity to fulfill the mitzva. According to the Netziv
(whose opinion is not standard), the mitzva entails obtaining land that
would otherwise be worked.

There is also a mitzva to deal properly with the fruit of trees and
other things planted

before Shemitta, including treating them as ownerless (Aseh 134). While
certain elements of the halachot of what to do with the fruit can also be
fulfilled by non-landowners in Israel (beyond out present scope), buying
a field certainly enhances the buyer's ability to fulfill this mitzva.

Another gain of buying land is helping farmers keep Shemitta properly. Rav
Kook (see his introduction to Shabbat Ha'aretz) and all other poskim
who supported the heter mechira, did so for those who were unwilling
or unable (without extreme financial hardship) to keep the mitzva as
designed. Thus buying land from them helps interested farmers survive
without needing to rely on the reluctantly provided leniencies. This is
similar to giving ma'ot chitim to one who cannot afford mehadrin Pesach
provisions or donating to "halachically improve" a mikveh. (One who
rejects the heter mechira would view it as saving people from actual
sin.) If the farmer would anyway not work the land, but with financial
difficulty, buying from him is supporting a deserving person.

If one purchases the field at its value (including overhead), it is
proper to not use ma'aser kesafim money, which is not for personal
mitzvot one can afford (see Tzedaka U'mishpat 6:1). A donation (without
buying land, or the part of the price that is beyond the land's value)
to an organization that helps farmers may be taken from ma'aser money
(see ibid. 10).

While there are wonderful organizations to help with all sorts of tzedaka
and mitzva needs, sometimes there are people "in the field" who plan to
earn a lot of money in the process of providing a "quick mitzva fix."
We therefore recommend that one check that he is either paying a modest
fee for land ownership, if those elements speak to him, or better yet,
joining up with known organizations that help farmers and enhance the
observance of Shemitta, with or without technically buying a small plot
of land.

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