Permissible Uses of Shemitta Produce
Having discussed the question of whether there is an actual mitzva to eat shemitta fruit, we will now address the concept of "kedushat shevi'it" itself. Certain fruits or produce that grow during shemitta are endowed with kedushat shevi'it – a status which dictates the following four halakhot:
1) They must be eaten in a conventional manner and must not be abused or wasted.
2) They cannot be sold for profit.
3) After a specific item is no longer freely available in the field, it must be emptied from your house (bi'ur shevi'it).
4) The money which is rendered to purchase kedushat shevi'it itself retains the kedusha status.
We will begin by querying what types of produce acquire this unique status. The mishna in Shevi'it (8:2) announces,
"shevi'it produce can be eaten, drunk, smeared as ointment…similarly teruma and ma'aser sheni (which also possess kedusha and must be used appropriately). Shemitta fruit is different [than teruma and ma'aser sheni] in that it may be used to light a candle."
An earlier mishna (7:3), which allows a professional dyer to dye for himself but not for profit establishes dyeing as an additional use for shemitta produce.
The mishna does not provide the source for this list, but the gemara in Sukka (40a) derives this list from the verse in Behar (25:6), "Ve-hayta shabbat ha-aretz lachem le-akhla" (And the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat from). The Torah describes specifically "le-akhla," eating (and by extension drinking and smearing, which are derivatives of eating), and we may have limited benefit from shemitta produce in this manner. However the verse also allows 'lachem,' for your general use, which seems to extend the category of eating. As the gemara in Sukka concludes, any use which is akin to eating is permissible. Said otherwise, any use in which the benefit occurs at the point of consumption (which characterizes eating) is permissible, whereas any experience in which the benefit occurs after the item has already been consumed is forbidden. Consequently, shemitta fruit can be used to dye or to light a candle since the resulting benefit is immediate to the consumption. However, shemitta fruit cannot be used to heat a furnace since the benefit occurs well after the wood has been converted into coal.
The Yerushalmi in Shevi'it poses an alternate source for extending shemitta use beyond eating and drinking. The Yerushalmi (Shevi'it 7:1) cites the verse in Vayikra 25:7, Ve-livhemtikha ve-lachaya asher be-artzekha tihyeh kol tvu'atah le-ekhol" (For your cattle and the beasts in your land shall be all of its yield for food). The phrase "tihyeh" suggests a broader allowance for shemitta fruit beyond eating. Theoretically, these different verses or sources suggest slightly different views of this halakha. The first source provides the word "lachem" as an extender of eating. By writing the word "lachem," the Torah allows benefits which are analogous to eating. The second source doesn't see eating as the paradigm at all in allowing broader uses (within limits) for shemitta fruit. This difference can be appreciated in light of a machloket between Rebbi Yossi and the Chakhamim about which types of uses are permissible. Rebbi Yossi is much more lenient in allowing any benefit which is common. Arguing with the aforementioned position, Rebbi Yossi maintains that shemitta produce can be used to light a furnace but cannot be used to prepare medical solutions. In the case of the former, the benefit is "shaveh l'khol nefesh" (universally experienced), whereas medical substances are only employed by those who are ill. It is clear that Rebbi Yossi did not adopt eating as the paradigm or template upon which to establish the permissible forms of benefit. The question, then, is to understand the Chakhamim's position, which limits benefit from shemitta produce only to benefits which are simultaneous to consumption. Was this because they basically view shemitta produce as substances which must be either eaten or used in a similar way to consumed foods? Or did the Chakhamim as well sever themselves entirely from eating, using a more general yardstick – one which is defined more narrowly than Rebbi Yossi's, but still one which is not based on eating? This question would clearly depend upon the source for Chakhamim's definition- "lachem l'akhlah" or "tihyeh."
A possible consequence of this question might be found in the aforementioned Yerushalmi. The Yerushalmi asks whether "tzevuyi'in (dyeing substances) le-adam (human foodstuffs)" should possess kedushat shevi'it. One way to read the Yerushalmi is that the gemara is questioning whether it is permissible to divert edible food for the use of dyeing. Does halakha recognize eating as inherently superior and hence preferable to dyeing, or are eating and dyeing seen as equal uses of shemitta produce? If eating is the template of permissible uses and dyeing is merely a derivative of eating, we could well imagine a hierarchy which prioritizes eating – where relevant. If, however, through the word "tihyeh," the Torah invites all direct benefit (where the benefit occurs at the point of consumption), we might not assign priority to eating. The conclusion to this question is not completely clear from this Yerushalmi, although an ensuing Yerushalmi (8:1) suggests that food can indeed be used for dyeing at least for human needs. The Rambam (Shemitta ve-yovel 5:a) rules that foodstuffs may be used for dyeing.
An additional proof might be drawn from a mishna (8:2) which claims that materials which are normally eaten must be eaten, while those which are normally smeared must be smeared. How would the mishna rule about something which is both eaten and used to be smeared (an ostensibly parallel case to the aforementioned case of food which can also be used to dye)? The accompanying Yerushalmi (8:2) first speaks in general of not using foodstuffs for medical purposes. This halakha itself is understandable, since shemitta produce cannot be used for medical uses. (Even Rebbi Yossi, who allows general benefit, disallows medical purposes, since they are not universally experienced). The ensuing part of the Yerushalmi prohibits the use of wine of vinegar for smearing but allows the use of oil. Are we to infer from this Yerushalmi that eating is prioritized and anything which can be eaten must not be diverted for other erstwhile permissible functions? Or should we interpret this Yerushalmi as forbidding the smearing of wine on a head because such practice is so abnormal that it is a blatant form of medical application and forbidden for that reason? According to this latter approach, absence of the concern of medical treatment, shemitta food can be used for any of the permissible uses. Interestingly enough, the Yerushalmi forbids smearing wine for someone who has a headache (where the problem of employing shemitta for medical relief applies), whereas the Bavli prohibits smearing wine without qualifying it to someone who has a headache. The Rambam quotes the halakha in a universal context, suggesting that even someone without a headache may not smear these foods. However, the reason might be that as the foods are intended primarily for eating, any other use is deviant. In the aforementioned case of the Yerushalmi, we might still allow items which are used equally for food and for dyeing to be employed for dyeing without prioritizing eating.