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It was 2 a.m. on Shavuos morning. Mr. Furst had just finished learning Mishnayos Bikkurim with his son. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine what it was like to bring bikkurim, as described vividly in the Mishnayos (ch. 3). He drifted off into a dream and envisioned himself in an orchard in Eretz Yisrael, with the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt.

Mr. Furst walked around his orchard and looked excitedly for the first fruits to appear on the trees. He had prepared red strings, which he would tie around the first fruits in anticipation of bringing the fruit to the Temple as bikkurim.

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It was the Shemittah year, so Mr. Furst left the gate to his orchard open. His neighbor, Mr. Deutsch walked into the field, also with red strings.

“What are you doing here?” Mr. Furst asked him.

“Well, what are you doing here?” Mr. Deutsch replied.

“I’m looking for the first fruits to bring as bikkurim,” Mr. Furst replied.

“Well, so am I,” replied Mr. Deutsch. “Since it’s Shemittah year, and produce of Shemittah is hefker (ownerless), you have no more rights to the fruit than I. If you can bring bikkurim, then so can I!”

Mr. Furst was stunned for a moment. “It’s not quite the same,” he replied. “You have no connection to the land. Even though the fruit is hefker, the land is still mine!”

Meanwhile, Mr. Schlissel, who wandered by, overheard the conversation. “I think that you’re both doing something unnecessary,” he said. “Since the fruit is hefker, neither of you should be bringing bikkurim! It’s like you just picked up fruit from the street. Would you bring bikkurim from that?”

Mr. Furst awoke, with the question etched in his mind.

At 3 a.m. Rabbi Dayan came to give a shiur. After the shiur, Mr. Furst approached him and asked:

“Are bikkurim brought during Shemittah? Who can bring them?”

“Produce of Shemittah is considered hefker,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Nonetheless, the land and the trees themselves remain the owner’s, but he is not allowed to lock his field or orchard and deny others access to the Shemittah produce.

“Chazon Ish (Orlah 11:18) writes that there is no obligation of bikkurim during Shemittah, since the fruit is hefker. Even if the owner subsequently possesses them, they are not considered fruit that comes from his land.

“Ohr HaChaim (Devarim 26:2) also writes that bikkurim does not apply during Shemittah. He explains that during the Shemittah year Hashem ‘reserved’ the Land for Himself, so that the phrase ‘that Hashem gives you,’ is not applicable then.

“Rashi (Shemos 23:19), however, cited by Tashbetz (2:247), writes that bikkurim does apply on Shemittah. Gur Aryeh and some other super-commentaries, though, note that this does not appear in all versions and may be a mistaken version” (see, however, Minchas Chinuch 91:2).

“Some explain Rashi’s rationale that it suffices that the owner of the land acquires the fruit from hefker, since he still owns the land. This is similar to the opinion of the Rambam (Bikkurim 2:14) that if someone acquired both the land and the fruits after they were already detached, he is obligated in bikkurim, since he is now the owner of both the land and the fruit” (Toras HaAretz 1:21; see however, Avnei Nezer, Y.D. #445).

“Others explain that the obligation of bikkurim begins at an early stage of the fruit, even before they become sanctified with kedushas sheviis. Therefore, when the fruit were declared bikkurim, they were not yet hefker and still belonged to the owner, even though they later became sheviis” (Har Zvi, Zeraim 2:45; Mishnas Yaavetz, Hil. Bikkurim 2:1).

“Another person cannot bring bikkurim from these fruits, though” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “Even if he picks the hefker fruit – the land is certainly not his!”

Verdict: There is a dispute whether bikkurim are brought during the Shemittah year, since the produce is hefker. When the Beis HaMikdash will be rebuilt, b’e”H, Sanhedrin will have to decide.

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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.