Shiur #21: Definition of Issur Sechora

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

The previous shiur introduced the issur of sechora with shemitta produce and questioned whether it comprises an independent issur or involves merely diverting the fruit from benefit to business.  The next shiur will explore the particular details of the prohibition.


            The mishna in Shvi'it (7:3-4) allows one to employ shemitta fruit to purchase food for personal use.  If there are leftovers, they may be subsequently sold.  The mishna does not stipulate whether they may be sold for profit.  The Tosefta (cited by the Rash), however, quotes the dissenting opinion of Rebbi who claims that while these articles may be resold, they cannot be sold for profit; they must be resold at their original purchase price.  Most Rishonim claim that Rebbi argues with the Tana Kama, who allows profit-taking.  Potentially, this machloket might reflect a basic question about the prohibition of sechora: is profiting forbidden, or is conducting business forbidden?  In this instance, by selling the leftovers for profit the owner hasn't conducted commerce, since he originally purchased the produce for personal consumption.  Seemingly, he should be allowed to profit from the remainder.  Rebbi, who forbids selling for profit, probably envisions an issur in profit-taking from shemitta, even if actual business wasn't conducted. 


            This question might underwrite an interesting machloket regarding selling shemitta fruit by weight or size.  The mishna in Shvi'it (8:3) prohibits the sale by weight, size, or number.  The Rambam bases this prohibition on the issur of sechora.  By precisely measuring shemitta fruit, one subjects it to the conditions of commerce, which is forbidden.  The Yerushalmi(8:3) however, provides a slightly different view: they should not be precisely measured so that they are sold cheaply; generally, when things are sold in imprecise measurements, they are sold cheaply.  The Yerushalmi does not elaborate as to why it might be important to ensure that shemitta fruit is sold cheaply.  Some, in fact, trace the Yerushalmi back to the Rambam: if they are sold for high prices, it might too closely resemble commerce.  However, the Yerushalmi might be suggesting a completely different factor, namely, the problem with profit per se.  Whereas the Rambam prohibited precise measurements because of the resemblance to commerce, the Yerushalmi banned it because of the profit itself.  This dispute might recall the debate between Rebbi and the Chakhamim cited above. 


            Tosafot in Avoda Zara (62a) attempt to define the mishna's blanket prohibition against sechora.  The mishna in Shvi'it itself discussed dyeing with shemitta produce to earn money.  This is clearly forbidden, as it constitutes outright sechora.  When it comes to dealing in (purchasing or selling) actual, edible produce, the issur becomes more ambiguous.  Tosafot claim that buying and selling per se would not be prohibited, but buying in one city and selling in a different locale would be forbidden.  Evidently, they viewed the prohibition as related to commercial activity, and generally merchants transport purchased goods to a different location for resale.  The Ravya (in a responsum) forbids the sale of shemitta fruit in piecemeal fashion; they must be sold in bulk.  Evidently, the gradual sale of smaller quantities as well, too closely resembles commercial use and is therefore forbidden.


            A different Yerushalmi (7:3) might also shed light on this issue.  It cites the position of Rebbi Yossi bar Bon that although under normal circumstances shemitta produce may be sold it cannot be sold through 'paltar.'  Rebbi Yossi does not define this term but the Yerushalmi cites two opinions: it may not be sold in one permanent 'stand,' or it may not be sold in a continuous manner.  Meaning a person must either constantly reposition his 'shop,' or take recesses during which he doesn't sell.  These conditions would indicate an issur relating to commerce per se, independent of the profit factor.  By selling in either a permanent location or in continuous fashion, the person conducts commercial transactions with shemitta, behavior that is, in and of itself, forbidden, regardless of profit.  Keep in mind, though, that most Rishonim do not cite the Yerushalmi's definition, forcing them to arrive at independent perameters for the issur of sechora.


            The Rash, in his commentary to the mishna, suggests a different strategy for defining the issur of sechora: a person may not purchase cheaply and sell at a higher price for profit.  Seemingly, the Rash views the issur as relating to profiting from shemitta produce, and the manner of resale is less important than the profit margin. 



            The Yerushalmi poses an additional issue which might bear upon this discussion.  As we have seen, the mishna prohibits dyeing with shemitta produce for payment.  What about dyeing with shemitta for free, in a manner which will yield 'tovat hana'a' - non-monetary benefit?  For example, may one use shemitta produce to dye for someone who will then be indebted to him and, in the future, perform some reciprocal favor?  This question may be a function of the broader nature of the issur sechora.  If we prohibit commercial uses, we might not define the performance for tovat hana'a commercial since no formal payment is rendered.  However, if the profit per se is forbidden, we might ban any and every form of profit - even non-monetary ones.  Ultimately, this Yerushalmi prohibits dyeing for tovat hana'a; the Mishna Le-melekh (6:1) cites the Ran who argues and allows tovat hana'a.  Conceivably, the debate might revolve around our issue.