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What is orlah?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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A Jew may not derive any benefit from the produce of a fruit tree for the first three years after it is planted.1 This rule applies even outside of Israel. Any fruit yielded by the tree in these three years is called "orlah" -- "blocked" (prohibited).

In Temple times the fruit of the fourth year (or its value) was brought to Jerusalem and eaten there.2 The fruit of the fifth year (and on) were permitted for normal consumption.

It would be inappropriate to use the fruit for personal benefit before "inaugurating" the tree's fruit in Jerusalem
Nachmanides writes that trees in these formative years produce only an insignificant amount of low quality fruit. The first significant fruit of every tree -- the crop of the fourth year -- was brought to Jerusalem and eaten in sanctity as an expression of gratitude to G-d. It would be inappropriate to use the fruit for personal benefit before "inaugurating" the tree's fruit in Jerusalem. 

Outside of Israel, only definite orlah is forbidden. Any fruit which is safek orlah, there is doubt whether it is orlah or not, is permitted. In Israel, however, safek orlah is prohibited to this very day.

This is one of the reasons why it is so important to ensure that any produce that comes from Israel is certified to be Kosher, and orlah free.

Footnotes

  • 1. These years are counted from Rosh Hashanah (the 1st of Tishrei). If the tree is planted at least 45 days before Rosh Hashanah, that is considered its first year, and after Rosh Hashanah it enters its second year. If it is planted less than 45 days before Rosh Hashanah, it does not enter its second year until the following Rosh Hashanah. See Talmud tractate Rosh Hashana 9b. and Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De'ah 294:4
  • 2. In Israel until this very day, the fruit of the fourth year is redeemed for a coin etc. and that coin is thrown into the sea and the fruits are eaten. It is not clear if this practice applies outside of Israel as well, so consult your local Rabbi. (See Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De'ah 294:7)

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Daily Life » Eating
Mitzvot » Kosher » Miscellaneous

Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.