The Big Debate: Is Shmittah DÓraita or D’Rabbanan?

19 05 2014


Ok, this is a very important question, in relation to Heter Mechirah. Heter Mechirah only works if you say Shmittah is D’Rabbanan.

I’ll be writing a weekly Shmittah blog and posting them on the ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page I manage, on our website – and Tweeting them on @MyShteiblech .

Basically there is a 3-way argument:

1) Shmittah is D’Rabbanan:

Yerushalmi in Damai, Shviit, Gittin and Bavli in Gittin – D’Rabbanan. Why? Because 1) Shmittah is dependent on Yovel and 2) you need the majority of Jews living in Eretz Yisrael.

Ramban – the Jews have always kept Shmittah, but treated it as D’Rabbanan. Shmittah depends on Yovel. Also, all the Shvatim must be inhabiting the correct area for Shmittah to be DÓraitah.

Rav Kook-Shmittah has always been D’Rabbanan since Churban Bayit Sheni.

Raavad: In those areas that those who made aliyah with Ezra held on to it’s DÓraitah. In other areas, Shmittah is D’Rabbanan.

Rav Ben Tzion Aba Shaul – D’Rabbanan

Rav Kook – D’Rabbanan. But Rav Kook did say, each Shmittah you must decide if the Heter Mechirah is necessary. It’s not a blanket ruling for every Shmittah.

Ramban– the Jews have always kept Shmittah, but treated it as D’Rabbanan. Shmittah depends on Yovel. Also, all the Shvatim must be inhabiting their specific area for Shmittah to be DÓraitah.

2) Cases where Shmittah could be DÓraitah:

Sifrah in Behar -DÓraitah: Shmittah is not dependent on Yovel. Only Rebbe ( a daat yachid) says it’s D’Rabbanan , not the Chachamim who say it’s DÓraita.

Rambam in Shmittah VeÝovel 4:25 -Shmittah is always DÓraita. The Rambam held that Shmittah is independent of Yovel.
(Rambam says in other places it’s D’Rabbanan)

Netziv– No one says that Shmittah is just D’Rabbanan. It’s actually DÓraita. So, he didn’t hold of Heter Mechirah.

3) Shmittah is not even D’Rabbanan:

Sefer Ha’Trumot:
Shmittat Kesafim and Shmittat Karka are dependent on each other. No Shmittah without Yovel. If no Yovel, then no Shmittah even on a D’Rabbanan level.

Baal Hamaor/ Harazah (quoted by Rav Kook in Shut Choshen Mishpat Siman 58):
Shmittah nowadays is not even D’Rabbanan. Rav Kook mentioned this Baal Ha’maor and Razah a number of times in the context of Heter Mechirah. They hold there is no connection between Yovel and Shmittah.

So there we go, a brief overview of the 3 way discussion of whether Shmittah is:

1) DÓraita (Rambam, Netziv and Sifrah),

2) D’Rabbanan (Rambam elsewhere, Rav Kook, Rav Yisraeli, Ramban, Rav Ben Tzion Aba Shaul) ,

3) Not even D’Rabbanan (Sefer Hatrumot, Baal Hamaor and HaRazah quoted numerous times by Rav Kook).

Hope that was clear,

Benjy Singer.

Follow us on @myshteiblech .

Lag Ba’Omer: Try to focus on the light, despite the apparent darkness.

18 05 2014


Celebrating on Lag Baómer makes absolutely no sense.

Why? Because the three events we are commemorating are actually tragic and rather sad. The death of Shimon Bar Yochai, the death of the 24,000 students of Rebbe Akiva and the beginning of the Bar Kochba revolt.

Let’s not forget, R’Shimon Bar Yochai fasted on the Yahrzeit of his parents; the reason why the students of R Ákiva stopped dying is because there were none left-not due to any type of miracle; and, the Bar Kochba revolt was crushed with brutal force by the Romans.

So really, Lag Baómer should be a day of Aveilut-mourning and not Simcha at all?!

The message is clear and simple. Yes, you can focus on the darker, more depressing side of things, but you can also see the lighter, more positive and optimistic perspective at the same time:

1) R’Shimon Bar Yochai did die on this day, but just think about ‘Torat Hanistar’, he revealed and taught.

2) We can learn a lot from the bravery and heroism of the Bar Kochba revolters.

3) We learn from Chazal that the reason the students of R Ákiva died was because they didn’t respect each other. So, this lesson can empower us all to treat each other with more consideration, insight and sensitivity.

So, yes, we can view Lag Baómer as a tragic and rather depressing day. But on the flip side, if we change our perspective and think longer term, we can also see the light in the events, despite the more apparent darkness.

Lag Sameach!

Benjy Singer.
Founder of ‘My Shteiblech’.
Join the My Shteiblech facebook page and group and follow us on Twitter: @myshteiblech to keep in touch with what’s going on in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Also, check out our website:

Shmittah Lesson 2: What’s the Point?

11 05 2014

So, what’s the point of this whole Shmittah business?


I’ll be writing a weekly Shmittah blog and posting them on the ‘My Shteiblech’ Facebook page I manage, on our website – and Tweeting them on @MyShteiblech .

There are a plethora of reasons given. Some practical and others theological/ philosophical:

In Shemot 23 and Vayikra 25, the Torah suggests three essential reasons for this mitzvah: 1) To allow the land to rest, 2) recognizing Hashem as the source of material success, and that 3) we are all equals before Hashem – a lesson in equality.

The Sefer Hachinuch says that the purpose of the Shmittah year is to help us develop a pious character-to learn to give things up and that man is not in ultimate control. It’s a lesson in Emunah – that Hashem created the world and we need to have Bitachon in Hashem.

Rav Zvi Hirsch Kalishner wrote that the Shmittah year gave those who worked in agriculture a year to devote themselves more to learning Torah.

The Rambam writes in the Moreh Nevuchim 111:39,that ‘the laws concerning the year of Shmittah and Yovel are to teach us the importance of sympathy with our fellow man, and promote the well-being of mankind. ‘Shmittat Kesafim’ also falls into this category. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim also says, the purpose of the Shmittah year is to help the land and give it a year to replenish itself.

HaRav Kook, in Shabbat Haáretz states Shmittah makes time and space Holy, it is a Shabbat for the Land of Israel as its inhabitants celebrate every week. Shmittah reminds us of the national and collective nature of the Jewish People. We are One Nation, with One Torah, living in One Land. As we know, Ha’Rav Kook believed that there was an extra dimension to Judaism-that of the collective nation-and through Shmittah we feel connected to our nation.

Ha’Rav Kook supported the ‘Heter Mechira’-which we will discuss in a later blog, not only because he viewed Shmittah in our time as D’Rabbanan – Rabbinic, but also as he was concerned that secular Jews living in Eretz Yisrael would not treat the produce of the Shmittah year with appropriate care. Therefore, through the Heter Mechirah, the produce would not have ‘Kedusha’ and so this concern would be alleviated.

The Ramban writes that the punishment for not having appropriate awe and respect for produce of the Shmittah year is famine and death. Why is the punishment so harsh? As the whole essence of Shmittah, even if one holds like the majority do nowadays that Shmittah is just D’Rabbanan, is a lesson in Emunah-Faith. That G-d is in ultimate control of what happens down here on earth and our success and failures are ultimately not in our hands.

The Sfat Emet similarly writes that the by letting the land rest in the Shmittah year and relying on G-d’s goodness to provide for us, we are showing that true life comes when man stops striving for material gain-and rather strives for spiritual gain. The Sfat Emet writes that one must be balanced. Work is necessary to survive, but we must remember that it is G-d alone who really provides for us in response to our efforts.

I hope this was clear,

Benjy Singer.

Next blog topic- The big debate: Is Shmittah D’Oraita or D’Rabbanan
What are the implications – mainly for Heter Mechirah.