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Fruit Trees for the First Three Years (Orlah)

We just planted a few fruit trees in our back yard (we recently moved to California). Are there any issues with the fruit of the trees for the first three years? They were delivered as saplings (with the roots in bags of earth) which were probably a number of years old already.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There is a potential issue, although it would not apply in your situation. For the first three years of a tree’s life, its fruit are called orlah. We may not eat them or derive benefit from them in any other way – such as by feeding them to our animals or selling them to a non-Jew. They are rather left to decay in the field. (Note that this is one of the few agricultural laws which apply outside the Land of Israel, albeit with some leniencies.)

In the Land of Israel, this law applies even to replanted saplings – unless they were replanted together with enough earth to allow them to live for three years. Outside of the Land, it is sufficient if the trees are delivered with enough dirt for them to survive a few days. (It’s questionable if we may rely on this at the outset, but after the fact, you do not have to consider the fruit orlah.) If there is any doubt, you should ask the seller how many years old the saplings are.

Of course, if a fruit tree is planted from the seed, its fruit is considered orlah for the first three years.

If you do have a fruit tree for which orlah applies, the way to calculate the three years is a bit complex. We do not count full years, but the number of Rosh Hashanah’s which pass. Thus, if a tree is planted six months before Rosh Hashanah, its second year begins six months rather than a full year later.

However, there is a minimum amount of time which must pass before the first Rosh Hashanah to be counted as a “year”. This is a month and a half. The reason is because we assume two weeks are needed for a seed or sapling to take root, and another month must pass to minimally be considered a year. Thus in practice, a seed or sapling must be planted by the 15th of the month of Av for its first year to complete on Rosh Hashanah.

After the third Rosh Hashanah, the tree’s new fruit is not permitted immediately, but only the fruit which began forming after Tu B’Shvat. The reason for this is that although Rosh Hashanah is considered the “birthday” for trees, the birthday for fruits is later, on Tu B’Shvat. Thus, another 4½ months must pass for the fruit to be considered a product of the new year and permissible.

After the first three years, the Torah declares the fruit of the fourth year to be sacred, known as neta revai. In Israel in Biblical times, it (or its monetary equivalent) would be brought to Jerusalem and consumed there. Today in Israel, because of issues of impurity, such fruits are redeemed onto a coin which is later destroyed – either by throwing it into the Dead Sea or by grinding it up and scattering the particles into the wind or sea.

Outside of the Land of Israel, there are different opinions if fourth year fruit is sacred. In practice, Ashekenazi Jews are stringent to treat grapes as sacred but not other types of fruit, while Sefardic Jews are stringent with all types of fruit.

The simplest means of redeeming such fruit is by taking another fruit (it has to minimally be worth a few cents) and redeeming all the 4th year fruit on that. Bring the new fruit and say (in Hebrew or in English) “harei zeh mechulal al zeh” – “this is made profane on this.” Then the other fruit is destroyed. Note that because of the doubt if this law applies outside of Israel, a blessing is not recited.

See also this response regarding other issues of planting in the Diaspora.)

Enjoy your orchard!

(Sources: Leviticus 19:23-25, Talmud Kiddushin 38-9, Rambam Ma’achalot Assurot 10:17, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 146:14, 294:4,6, Shach 146:13, 294:17, Yabia Omer X 35.)

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