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Blackberry bushes and laws for fruit trees


Rabbi Moshe Leib Halberstadt

Tammuz 26, 5770
I read in Leviticus 19 that people who plant a fruit tree ought to wait until the fifth year before harvesting the fruit-- and in that way the L-rd would bless the harvest. I planted some blackberry vines three years ago, and this is the first year they are really bearing anything. Here’s my question-- Am I adding to the Torah to consider my blackberry bushes a kind of fruit tree? Should I wait until the 5th year to harvest the berries? Will HaShem bless my refraining from picking the berries for two more years? Or am I being too legalistic? G-d said that about not picking the fruit from fruit trees out of respect for Him for the first five years. If He wanted to concept to extend to bushes or other fruit bearers (strawberries, etc.), He would have said so. The commandment says, "When you enter the Land.." and I am not in Israel. However, if this is a principle similar to letting the Land have its Sabbath rests-- a principle about what the land (or the blackberry bush) needs to be most fruitful and to demonstrate restraint, obedience, and trust, then I am willing. What do you think? How can I best honor HaShem with these berries? Leviticus 19: 23-25
The right way to serve G-d is to act as the Torah instructs us according to the rules of Halachah. The Mitzvah of Orlah: “When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit [from use]; it shall be blocked from you [from use] for three years, not to be eaten” (Leviticus 19, 23). This verse teaches us the prohibition of Orlah (fruits from the first three years of a tree's life), that one who plants a fruit tree counts three years from its planting and all the fruits it will bear within 3 years are forbidden to enjoy forever, including the fruit itself, the seeds and the peels (Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 294, 1). Reasons of the Mitzvah: Many reasons were given to this commandment; here are some of the reasons stated in the Midrash and by the Rishonim: 1. Passion restraint - Rabbi Judah Ben Pediya interpreted: Who will reveal the earth from your eyes Adam, you could not stand by the commandment for even one hour, And thy children wait for Orlah three years, as it is said "It shall be blocked from you [from use] for three years, not to be eaten” (Genesis Rabba 21). 2. Honoring G-d - honoring G-d from our first crops, from the fruit of the tree and from the crops of the vineyard, not to eat from them until we have brought from each fruit a praise to the Lord (Ramban ibid. and similarly wrote Rabbeinu Bachyey). 3. Preventing damage – the way of nature is that the fruit is very harmful to the body within three years because it has moisture that is affected by the absorption of the land. Not enough time has passed for it to be warmed up by the energy of the sun and warmed up by the energy the air. Therefore, the whole fruit is earthy and watery, the moisture will overpower it very much and will harm one who eats it (Rabeinu Bachyey ibid. and similarly wrote the Ramban). 4. Distancing from impure forces - according to Kabbala the impure forces control the tree the whole first three years, and one who benefits from them it is as if he is benefiting from the impure forces that are called Orlah (Radbaz, Taamei Hamitzot 198). (ספר הכשרות פרק טז הערה ב, וראה עוד בכרם ציון ערלה בראש הספר). Orlah in Israel and Abroad: The Mitzvah of Orlah applies in Israel as written in the Torah "When you come to the Land" (Leviticus 19, 23). Nevertheless we have a tradition - a Law of Moses from Sinai - that the Mitzvah of Orlah applies abroad as well, but there is a difference between the laws of Orlah in the land of Israel to its laws abroad. In the land of Israel it is a mitzvah from the Torah so even if we have an uncertainty whether it is Orlah, it is forbidden due to the rule of “Safek D'oraita L'chumra” (a Torah doubt is treated stringently). But outside Israel the Law of Moses from Sinai is that the laws of Orlah apply only on fruit that are for sure Orlah. But if there is no assurance that the fruits are Orlah, there is no need to check this and the fruits are permitted. (Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 294, 8-10). Orlah Year Count: These 3 years are not counted by the day but by the years of the world which start from Tishrei. Sometimes it is not more than two years and 44 days and sometimes it is more than 3 years. For instance if one planted before the 16th of Av which leaves 44 days until Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the month) Tishrei, [fourteen days for the absorption of the plant in the soil, and thirty days after the absorption to be considered a year because thirty days in a year are considered a year], once we reach Rosh Chodesh Tishrei a year is up and then we count another two years. If one planted on the 16th of Av or from the 16th of Av onward he is to count from the next Rosh Chodesh Tishrei three full years. After Rosh Chodesh Tishrei of the fourth year all the fruit which will ripen prior to Tu B'shevat are also considered Orlah even though they fully ripen later on. The fruits which ripen from Tu B'shevat of the fourth year until Tu B'shevat of the fifth year are called "Revai" (tree's fourth year fruits), and after Tu B'shevat of the fifth year they are not holy (Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 294, 4. Kerem Zion Orlah Chapter 9). Orlah in Tree Fruit: The prohibition of Orlah applies only on fruits that grow on trees, but not on seeds and vegetables, as it is said "and you plant any food tree" and whatever is considered a tree regarding the blessing Borei Pri Ha'etz (Who creates the fruit of the tree) – applies for Orlah. Some rules were said about this. (Kerem Zion Orlah 3, 1. and later in this chapter regarding the rules. See also Sefer Hakashrut, Chapter 16 note a). Strawberry is treated as a vegetable and Orlah does not apply by it (Mishpetei Eretz, Chapter 1, note 17). Fruit which grow on bushes some have the blessing Borei Pri Ha'adamah and are treated as vegetables where Orlah does not apply and some have the blessing Bore Pri Ha'etz and are treated as tree fruit where Orlah does apply. Orlah in Berries: Regarding berries, there are many species and many details, see Kerem Zion, Laws of Orlah 4, 8. And the Aruch Hashulchan 294, 18. Therefore, one should examine each specific species with local rabbis who specialize in this issue, to see whether it is considered a tree regarding the blessing and regarding Orlah. The Mishnah Berurah writes that fruit which grow on small trees even if their height is less than three Tefachim (Tefach is a unit of length, Tefachim is plural) such as Black Yagdes (blackberries in Yiddish), according to the Magen Avraham and a few other Achronim (leading rabbis of the last generations) one says on it the blessing Borei Pri Ha'etz, but the common custom is to say the blessing Borei Pri Ha'adamah, and their reason may be because the blackberries are not really considered a fruit (Mishnah Berurah 203, 3). From the words of the Mishnah Berurah it is clear that also according to the opinion of the Poskim (Halachic authorities) that its blessing is Borei Pri Ha'adamah, it can be considered a tree regarding Orlah, because he writes that their reason may be because the blackberries are not really considered a fruit, and not because the bush is not considered a tree. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes regarding the blessing of Black Yagdes: the Black Yagdes which the Mishnah Berurah wrote about that according to the Magen Avraham and a few other Achronim one says on it the blessing Borei Pri Ha'etz, but the common custom is to say the blessing Borei Pri Ha'adamah, that is only about the ones growing on small trees lower than three Tefachim which were common in our countries (Russia & Europe), but the local (America) Black Yagdes grow on trees much taller than three Tefachim and on these one should bless Borei Pri Ha'etz according to all. Also, on the Black Yagdes of our countries, even though the Mishnah Berurah wrote that the common custom is to bless Borei Pri Ha'adamah, and so it appears in the Chayei Adam, this practice was not spread in the whole world, in many places and also in our surrounding area people would bless Borei Pri Ha'etz like the opinion of the Magen Avraham. Therefore in a place where the custom is unknown one should bless Borei Pri Ha'etz. Also when there is a doubt whether they grow on trees shorter or taller than three Tefachim one should bless Borei Pri Ha'etz (Igrot Moshe vol. 1, 85). The Tevuat Yosef (on Orlah, p. 164) describes the differences between a raspberry and a blackberry, and he concludes that all would agree that one should bless on blackberries Borei Pri Ha'etz. From all the above and from additional inquiries I made it seems clear that the common "Blackberry" grown in Europe and America and very little in Israel, which is called in Hebrew " Pettel Shachor" or "Osnah" and in Yiddish "Black Yagdes" is considered as a tree regarding Orlah according to the opinion of the great Poskim. Therefore all the laws of Orlah should be applied. The Mitzvah of Neta Revai: "And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the Lord" (Leviticus 19, 24). This verse teaches us that in the fourth year to the planting of a tree there is a Mitzvah of Neta Revai. It is treated as fruit of Maaser Sheini that have to be brought and eaten in Jerusalem in purity or to be redeemed and bring the money to Jerusalem and buy with it holy things. Nowadays since we cannot eat it in Jerusalem according to Halachah because it can be eaten only in the presence of the Holy Temple, and because it is forbidden to be eaten while being impure, and presently we are all Tame Met (impure of the dead), the law is that we redeem the Neta Revai fruit on a coin worth a Prutah and may then enjoy the fruit. (The value of a Prutah is equivalent to -1/40 gram silver, the value of a Prutah varies according to the price of silver in the markets of the world. The price of silver is measured in a troy ounce, which its weight is 31.1034768 grams. In order to reach the value of the Prutah one should divide the ounce to 31.1 and the result divided to 40). The coin should be destroyed such as by throwing into the sea. (Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 294, 6. and Kerem Zion Orlah 18). Neta Revai Outside of Israel: There are different opinions whether Neta Revai applies only in Israel or also abroad. The Shulchan Aruch writes that the law of Neta Revai applies also outside of Israel. He also notes that some rule that it applies only in Israel, and others say that it applies outside of Israel only on a grapevine and not on other trees. The Shach writes on this: Therefore it seems that also in Revai of a grapevine and also of other trees it should be redeemed outside of Israel without a blessing. So in your case of blackberry abroad it is preferable you should be stringent and redeem them in the fourth year as Neta Revai (Yore Deah 294, 7. Shach 17. Sefer Hakashrut 16, 27, note 85). Summary: One should inquire about each specific species to see whether it is considered a tree regarding Orlah. Orlah applies on the common Blackberry bush for three years from the absorption of its planting in the ground. The three years are counted according to the Orlah year count. From Tu B'shvat of the fourth year until Tu B'shvat of the fifth year, it is preferable to be stringent and redeem the fruit on a coin worth a Prutah (its value nowadays according to the above calculation is about 1.5 U.S. cents), and then the fruits are permitted. The coin should be destroyed. After Tu B'shvat of the fifth year the fruits are permitted without any redemption. And thereafter if you still want to honor Heaven with them, you can always serve them to people who will recite a blessing on them and enjoy them.
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