Shiur #20: Sekhora

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

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This week’s shiurim are dedicated in memory of
Lillian Grossman z”l – Devorah Leah bas Shlomo Halevi
by Larry and Maureen Eisenberg

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Dedicated le-zekher nishmot Amelia Ray and Morris Ray
on the occasion of their eighth yahrtzeits
by their children Patti Ray and Allen Ray

 

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Having discussed the manner in which kedushat shvi'it fruit may be used, we will now focus upon the prohibition to engage in 'sekhora' (literally, commerce) with shemitta fruit.  The mishna in Shvi'it (7:3) cites the basic prohibition of sekhora with shemitta fruit.  The gemara in Avoda Zara (62a) derives this prohibition from the term "le-akhla," which implies that fruits should be eaten) and not used for profit. 

 

            A basic structural question emerges from the gemara's (Avoda Zara) derasha and from the accompanying commentary of the Ramban.  The gemara derives the issur of sekhora from the term "le-akhla" - to eat.  Is there any thematic connection between eating and not profiting?

 

            Upon first glance, no such connection should exist.  Shemitta fruit must be eaten or benefited from in specific manners.  (According to some, there is actually a mitzva to eat.)  Aside this requirement there exists an independent issur against treating this fruit in a business-like fashion (sekhora).  The gemara happens to derive the second issur from the word le-akhla, as well, but the two halakhot remain independent.  

 

            The Ramban, however, claims that the issur of sekhora evolves logically from the obligation to eat.  (The Ramban is actually the most prominent Rishon who recognizes a mitzva to eat shemitta fruit.)  Halakha prevents any act which will derail the eating process.  For example, the mishna in Shvi'it disallows the purchasing of non-edible items (clothing, non-kosher food) with shemitta fruit.  By converting shemitta fruit into clothing, a person negates the possibility of eating and instead purchases items for resell possibilities.  According to the Ramban, sekhora is forbidden because it does not directly foster eating or benefit.  In the world of commerce, substances are used for profit rather than for personal benefit.  Even if the sekhora does not actually cancel the potential for benefit, by redirecting the shemitta produce the possibility for eating/benefit has been affected.

 

            To summarize, it appears that there are two distinct ways to understand the prohibition of sekhora.  It might be seen as an independent prohibition stemming from the kedushat shvi'it.  Alternatively, commerce might be prohibited because it is seen as antithetical to eating or benefit - the preferred goal for shemitta fruit.

 

            This issue - latent in the cryptic derasha of the gemara - seems to be addressed by the gemara in Bekhorot (12b).  Firstborn male donkeys must be redeemed by offering a kosher animal to the Kohen in place of the donkey; this animal is ultimately offered as a korban.  The mishna rules that a safek bekhor (an animal with an uncertain status as a bekhor) is redeemed with a pure animal which is then retained by the owner and eaten.  The gemara inquires as to whether a shemitta animal (purchased with shemitta fruit) can be used to redeem a safek bekhor.  On the one hand, the shemitta animal is engaging in a form of business transaction (redemption of donkey bekhor).  On the other hand, this process does not eliminate the possibility of subsequently eating the shemitta article (as the current owner retains ownership and eats the animal used to redeem a safek bekhor). 

 

            Presumably, the gemara here probes our very issue.  Is business inherently forbidden with shemitta fruit, or is it prohibited only if it diminishes the potential benefit by redirecting the fruits to the world of commerce?  If the prohibition is based upon the latter formulation, then in this instance the redemption would not be forbidden.  Ultimately, the gemara claims that the redemption is permitted, suggesting that indeed, as the Ramban claimed, the prohibition of sekhora is not absolute but based on the redirection away from eating.

 

            A similar issue might be at play in the gemara in Kiddushin (52), which questions whether shemitta fruit may be used for Kiddushin, as this may be forbidden as sekhora.  If the prohibition of sekhora is formal, we might not prohibit this type of ceremony, which is not formally part of the commercial world of sekhora.  If, however, the prohibition stems from the disruption of eating and benefit, we might forbid Kiddushin.  In his comments, the Ramban also explains the mishna in Shvi'it (8;4) which disallows payment of debt with shemitta produce.  The Ramban traces this issur to the fact that the borrower does not receive any exchange for his shemitta produce (as the payment of the loan is unilateral).  Without any exchange, there is no item which can absorb the kedushat shvi'it and facilitate the type of benefit which is central to that kedusha.  Hence, unilateral transfer is equivalent to purchasing non-edible items with shemitta fruit, in that the potential for eating or use has been eliminated.  Similarly, a man who presents shemitta produce as Kiddushin does not receive something 'usable' in a shemitta manner in exchange; as such, this should be forbidden.  Ultimately, the gemara in Kiddushin rules that Kiddushin with shemitta is permissible, suggesting the formal definition of the prohibition of sekhora.  Interestingly enough, the Ramban himself cites a Yerushalmi in Shvi'it which forbids this use, and he explains that even the Bavli never intended to permit it in the ideal sense but rather to validate it bedi'eved.  Consistent with his explanation, the Ramban forbids any sekhora which will eliminate the potential for use.  In some cases (payment of debt, Kiddushin), the potential is actually eliminated since nothing is received in exchange.  In the classic case of sekhora, the benefit is symbolically canceled by redirecting shemitta from the world of eating and benefit to the antithetical world of commerce.