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Bikkurim During the Sh’mitta Year

May 22, 2015

During the Sabbatical year, no one truly owns the crops, and therefore, there is no one to designate the leqet, shich’ha, or pei’a for the poor. No one, except for the courts, may actually conduct a full scale harvest. These three particular gifts to the poor can only be given if the owner of the land were to harvest his crop on a large scale. Also, the usual rules of separating tithes and portions for the priest do not apply, and this true even with regards to the produce that one is entitled to take for himself and his family.

What about the commandment to designate bikkurim, the choicest first fruits, as a donation to the priests in the Temple?

Normally, the owner can choose to designate certain parts of his fruit crop as bikkurim as early in the season as he likes, and if he so chooses, he can designate his entire crop as bikkurim, but during the sabbatical year, it makes sense to say that he certainly can not designate even the greater part of his crop or else there will not remain for everyone else, who by the way, have equal rights to “his crops.” We should really ask, does he have the right to designate any of his crop as bikkurim, even the part of the crop that he can rightfully claim as a member of the public? Does the Torah’s commandment to bring bikkurim apply during the sh’mitta year?

According to the encyclopedic works that I have checked, the Talmud and codes are silent on this issue, and after contacting a number of scholars, I have also not been given a straight answer. This was to be expected, because bikkurim have not been a practical matter since the destruction of the Temple, and no one has given much thought to the matter. However, two later works address these questions. The first is the Minhath Hinnuch, written by Rabbi Joseph Babbad in the mid-19th century. There, he notes that Rashi to Exodus 23:19 is explicit in stating that the commandment applies during the sabbatical year, whereas Rashi to Y’vamoth 74a seems to say that the commandment does not apply. Here are the relevant passages:

The choicest of the first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Lord, your God; You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. Rashi: Even in the seventh year, the offering of bikkurim is obligatory. Therefore, it is stated here, too: “the first fruits of your soil.”

Y’vamoth 64a:

And they do not apply during the non-sabbatical years. Rashi: “They” refers to t’ruma and bikkurim, which are separated in every non-sabbatical year, as opposed to the second tithe, which is not separated in the third and sixth years.

It would be convenient to say that this matter is subject to a dispute among the rishonim, but the problem is that this is actually subject to a dispute by one rishon, with no others weighing in. The Minhath Hinnuch is also at a loss to find a source for Rashi’s claim that there is a commandment to bring bikkurim during the sabbatical year, suggesting that Rashi must have had some b’raytha which we do not. 

Rabbi Kasher, the author of the Torah Sh’leima we mentioned two weeks ago, found more sources that may shed light on this issue.

The R’em, Gur Aryeh, and others say that there are some versions of Rashi’s commentary to Exodus that do not have that line about bikkurim applying during sh’mitta. They thus claim that Rashi’s comments to Exodus are a misprint, and Rashi really holds like he wrote to Y’vamoth above, and which also makes more halachic sense.  

The Sh’vuth Y’huda explains that Rashi’s intention in his comments to Exodus is that just like the M’chilta mentions that the verse’s intention is to reinforce the commandment to have three annual pilgrimages and a weekly Sabbath (on Saturday) even during the sabbatical year, so too, we should not neglect to bring bikkurim during the sabbatical year.

The Tashbetz (Volume II, mark 247) agrees that the commandment to bring bikkurim applies during the sabbatical year.

Gur Aryeh 5:4 claims that the TY Pei’a 7:5 implies that there is a commandment to bring  bikkurim during sh’mitta

Rabbi Kasher then brings an idea offered by the Z’chor L’Avraham, an idea that resolves all the conflicts: When Rashi says that there is no commandment to bring bikkurim during sh’mitta, he means as we implied above: individuals do not bring bikkurim, because they have no where from which to take them, but when Rashi says that there is a commandment to bring bikkurim during sh’mitta, he is referring to the communal offering (Leviticus 23:17) for the Festival of Pentecost (Shavu’oth), which is also called bikkurim in the language of scripture and the Talmud. This seems to be the best answer, and fits the gist of MT T’rumoth 3:23:

When t’ruma and the tithes are separated, we separate them in the proper sequence. How? Before everything, one separates bikkurim. Afterwards, [he separates] the great t’ruma, then the first tithe, and then the second tithe or the tithe for the poor. If a person separated the second [tithe] before the first, or the tithes before the t’ruma, or t’ruma before bikkurim, his actions are effective despite the fact that he has transgressed a negative commandment.

That is, the personal bikkurim are only designated from crops that are subject to tithing, but not from sabbatical crops, which do not need to be tithed, but in the Temple, the communal offering in honor of the holiday is offered even during sh’mitta.

Update:

I recently saw the following suggested:

1. In the Book of Commandments, Maimonides does not mention that there is a distinction between ordinary years and sh’mitta years with regards to the commandment to bring bikkurim. Nahmanides makes no such gloss either.  The counter argument would be that the Book of Commandments is not the right venue for so much detail. In context, Maimonides was describing the usual commandment in most years.

2. In the Laws of Gifts to the Poor 6:5, Maimonides writes:

In the seventh year, all [the produce] is ownerless. There is no [obligation to separate] t’ruma and tithes at all, not the first tithe, nor the second tithe, nor the tithe for the poor.

Someone argued that because Maimonides did not also include bikkurim on this list of portions not separated in the seventh year, he held that bikkurim are separated during the seventh year. This argument is easily refuted, because if one reads this halacha in context, Maimonides is only discussing the manner of how one separates the second tithe for the poor during the third and sixth years, and therefore only needed to mention the other tithes that are relevant to that after the official conclusion of harvesting (g’mar m’lacha). Crops only become obligated in all of these tithes (t’ruma, the first tithe, the second tithe, the tithe of the t’ruma, and the tithe for the poor) when the gathering process is completed. There is another set of portions removed from the crop before the conclusion, including bikkurim and leqet, shich’ha, etc., that Maimonides has no reason to discuss in this context, but he did discuss in the five chapters that preceded this halacha.

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