The Torah mandates that every seventh year is observed as a Sabbatical, when the fields are to be left fallow and all interpersonal loans are forgiven. This coming year, 5782 (which begins with Rosh Hashanah 2021 and concludes the following fall), is a Shemitah year.

The agricultural laws apply only to the Holy Land and fruit grown there. So what elements apply to those of us who live in the Diaspora? Here we present you with a quick overview of what Shemitah means to those of us living outside of Israel.

Read: What Is Shemitah?

1. Loan Amnesty: Make a Pruzbul

Even though the Torah specifically ties the agricultural elements of Shemitah to the Holy Land, the loan amnesty applies anywhere in the world.1 This applies to debts owed from one individual to another, but not to monies owed to the beit din, the rabbinical court.

This restriction is only Rabbinic, since the Biblical notion of Shemitah applies only when the majority of our nation dwells in the Holy Land.

Seeing that this Rabbinic injunction could shut the proverbial door to prospective borrowers, Hillel the Elder instituted the notion of Pruzbul, whereby the creditor transfers his debt to a beit din, thus allowing it to be collected during Shemitah.

No matter where you live, you can (and should) make a Pruzbul in the presence of a beit din. If necessary, you can even do it online. Many make the Pruzbul only toward the end of the Shemitah year. Others, including Chabad, make one (also) before the onset of Shemitah.

Make an Online Pruzbul Now

2. Fruit From the Holy Land

Unless you are sure you know what you are doing, it is advisable not to purchase (or accept as a gift) produce grown in Israel during Shemitah.

One may not do business with produce grown in Israel during Shemitah. Since the fruit is holy, it may not be wasted or destroyed, but its fruit must be used for food or other human pleasure. Neither is one allowed to hold onto it after the time that it naturally ceases to be found in the fields.

This applies to fruit imported from the Holy Land, such as Jaffa oranges or Galilee pickles. If you accidentally purchased some and are not sure how to proceed, contact your rabbi and discuss the particulars.

Some common issues you may encounter:

Wine: Israel produces many excellent wines. If you have a bottle of kosher wine from a Shemitah year, be sure not to waste any of it. So if you pour yourself a cup of wine for kiddush, make sure to drink the whole thing, even the drops that spill over onto your saucer.2 Since no grapes from the Shemitah year are still on the vine by Passover of the following year, this wine must be consumed by Passover of 5783.

Oil: Shemitah olive oil may be used for cooking and also for Shabbat lights (which are there to add to our Shabbat delight), but not for Chanukah lights, which may not be enjoyed. Additionally, one must take care to consume all Shemitah oil by Shavuot of the following year (5783).

Etrog: Many of us use a lulav, etrog and hadasim grown in the Holy Land (most aravot used in the US are grown here). For the Sukkot of the Shemitah year (which begins just two weeks after its onset), one should use an etrog that was picked prior to the start of the year or use one from the Diaspora. For the following year, there are unique laws that apply, which vary according to the arrangement made by the farmers. If you wish to use an Israeli etrog, ask the merchant how to proceed. Shemitah restrictions do not apply to the other three species, which are not edible.3

And of course, when visiting the Holy Land, only purchase food, even produce, from vendors with reliable rabbinic supervision.

Read: Shemitah Deserting the Farms

3. Learn Extra Torah

If you were a farmer in the Holy Land, you would suddenly find yourself with a lot of extra time on your hands. What would you do with it? You’d fill it with Torah study and other spiritual pursuits. We, too, can do the same. Shemitah is an excellent time to increase your daily Torah study and to add new classes to your routine.

Furthermore, as this year is referred to as a Shabbat, it is the perfect time to take a close look at our lifestyle and homes and make sure that everything is Shabbat-like: holy and spiritually refined. And like Shabbat, which is a day of pleasure, it is our responsibility to reach a state in which we enjoy these spiritual pursuits.

Read: The Convergence of Two Shabbats, Part 1 and Part 2.

4. Send Your Support

There are thousands of Jewish farmers in the Holy Land who gladly refrain from farming during this year. They will make very little profit, if any at all, and can certainly use any financial assistance we can offer. To help them, you can donate to Keren Hashviis, which supports farmers in the Holy Land.

Wishing you a meaningful Shemitah year!