The Shemitta Etrog, After the Shemitta Year
BY RABBI YOSEF ZVI RIMON
Although the Shemitta year has ended, many of its laws continue to apply, even after the Shemitta year is over. As we approach Sukkot, it is critical to determine the status of etrogim that began growing during the Shemitta year.
The Shemitta sanctity of vegetables is determined by the date of harvest. This is why, from the very beginning of the Shemitta year, one must be careful when purchasing vegetables, because if they were picked after Rosh Hashanah, they have Shemitta sanctity. Regarding fruit, on the other hand, the critical date is that of chanata – when the fruit first begins to assume shape, or when it reaches a third of its growth. Therefore, the fruit that is brought to the market at the beginning of the Shemitta year does not have Shemitta sanctity, and it is only towards Pesach of the Shemitta year that fruit with Shemitta sanctity becomes available.
What is the status of an etrog? At first glance, it seems clear that an etrog is the fruit of a tree, and therefore Shemitta sanctity should apply to it only in the eighth year (because any etrog that is available for Sukkot of the seventh year had reached chanata during the sixth year). This is the position of the Ra’avad (Hilchot Ma’aser Sheni 1:5) and most Rishonim, based on the Mishnah in Bikkurim (2:6). The Rambam, however, rules that an etrog is treated like a vegetable, because an etrog needs extensive watering just like a vegetable (as indicated by the Gemara in Kiddushin 3a), and therefore the critical date regarding Shemitta sanctity is the date on which the etrog is picked.
According to most Rishonim, the etrog used on the Sukkot celebrated at the beginning of the Shemitta year does not have Shemitta sanctity. However, according to the Rambam, it does have Shemitta sanctity. In practice, despite the fact that strictly speaking we rule an etrog is treated like a fruit, we try to be stringent and assign it Shemitta sanctity according to the date of its harvest, as if it were a vegetable (see Chazon Ish, Shevi’it 7:10; Shevet ha-Levi, I, no. 175).
Strictly speaking, it is permitted to use a Shemitta etrog to fulfill the mitzvah of the four species, only that the sale of such an etrog raises certain problems and must be done through the Otzar Beit Din. This Sukkot, during the eighth year, etrogim do have Shemitta sanctity, and therefore must be sold through the Otzar Beit Din.
After Sukkot, the etrog should not be thrown in the garbage, but rather it should be eaten, or else placed in a bag and later discarded in a respectful manner.
When an etrog is purchased with kashrut certification, the certification presumably related to the Shemitta sanctity as well.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is Head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council. He serves as the Rabbi of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Rosh Yeshiva of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is the Founder and Chairman of Sulamot.