SHEBI'IT ("Seventh Year"; "Year of Release"):
Treatise of the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Palestinian Talmud. It belongs to the order Zera'im, in which it stands fifth, and is divided into ten chapters, containing eighty-nine paragraphs in all. According to the Law in the Pentateuch, every seventh year must be a Sabbath of rest for the land, during which neither fields may be sown nor vineyards pruned, while it is also forbidden to reap or gather for the purpose of gain the produce that grows "of its own accord," which is to be eaten by the owner, his servants, and his guests, as well as by the poor (Ex. xxiii. 10-11; Lev. xxv. 2-7). The Law further states that in this year, or, more accurately, at the end of it (Sifre, Deut. 111 [ed. Friedmann, p. 97a]), every creditor must release any loan made to his neighbor (Deut. xv. 1-3); so that on account of this requirement the seventh year bears the name "shenat ha-shemiṭṭah" (year of release). Nine of the chapters of the treatise deal with the exact definition of the laws relating to the soil, while the tenth and last chapter contains the rules for the release of debts.
- Ch. i.: Concerning fields on which trees grow; what parcels of land are considered fields; and the length of time during which such lands may be cultivated in the sixth year.
- Ch. ii.: Concerning treeless fields; how long such lands may be cultivated, fertilized, and otherwise tilled in the year before the seventh year (§§ 1-3); how late in the sixth year crops may be planted, and how long those already planted may be tended (§§ 4-6); concerning fields of rice and millet, andthose in which beans, onions, and gourds are planted (§§ 7-10).
- Ch. iii.: The time in the seventh year after which preparatory work in fields, such as fertilizing, fencing, and removal of stones, may be done; concerning labor in a quarry and tearing down a wall, in both of which cases all appearance of work preparatory to cultivating the fields must be avoided.
- Ch. iv.: Concerning the clearing of stones, wood, and weeds from fields, this having formerly been permitted, although it was a sort of preparation for actual cultivation, while later it was forbidden on the ground that it frequently led to transgression of the Law (§ 1); cases in which, as a punishment for preparatory work done in the seventh year, the field may not be sown even in the eighth year (§ 2); a Gentile should be encouraged when engaged in tilling the soil in the seventh year; not so a Jew (§ 3); concerning cutting down and pruning trees (§§ 4-6, 10); the time after which one may begin to eat what has grown in the fields in the seventh year, and when one may take it home (§§ 7-9).
- Ch. v.: Observances necessary in the case of certain plants, such as white figs, arum, early onions, and madder (§§ 1-5); objects, such as agricultural implements, which may not be sold in the seventh year, and those which may not be lent (§§ 6-9).
- Ch. vi.: Distinctions between the provinces with regard to the seventh year, together with an account of the regions of Palestine which were settled by the first Hebrew colonies from Egypt, and those which were occupied by the Jews who came from Babylon under Ezra; details concerning Syria; forbidden exports from and imports to the land of Israel.
- Ch. vii.: General rules with regard to matters subject to the regulations of the seventh year; in connection with the prohibition against dealing in the produce of this year (§ 3), many other things are enumerated in which it is forbidden to trade.
- Ch. viii.: General regulations for the produce of the seventh year; how it may be sold without being measured, weighed, or counted; the course necessary in case the money received for the produce of the seventh year is spent in the purchase of land, cattle, or any other object.
- Ch. ix.: Herbs which may be purchased in the seventh year from any one; use and removal of the produce of the seventh year, and the division of the Holy Land with regard to removing such crops.
- Ch. x.: Concerning release from debt; debts which fall due in the seventh year and those which do not; arrangements and form of the Prosbul and cases in which it is invalid; the sages are well pleased with those who pay their debts even though the year of release would cancel them; likewise those who, though not obliged to do so by law, refund a loan received from a proselyte, as well as all those who fulfil their obligations even in cases where they are not legally bound to do so, receive the entire approbation of the Rabbis.
The Tosefta on this treatise is divided into eight chapters, and contains elucidations of many mishnaic laws. Especially noteworthy is the statement in viii. 1 et seq. that in ancient times it was customary to take the entire produce of the seventh year from its owner and to store it in the granary of the community, where it was divided every Friday among all the families according to their need.
The Gemara of the Palestinian Talmud discusses and explains the halakot of the Mishnah, and contains, besides, haggadic teachings and interesting accounts of events in the lives of many noteworthy men. Of these latter the following may serve as an example (35a): R. Abba bar Zebina worked in the shop of a Gentile tailor in Rome. One day his employer set before him meat from an animal which had not been slaughtered in the manner prescribed by the ritual, and threatened him with death should he decline to eat it. When, however, despite his threats, R. Abba would not touch the meat, the Roman admitted that he would have killed him had he eaten the meat, "for," said he, "if one is a Jew, one should be a true Jew, and should observe the principles of his religion."