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Garden-Grown Grapes

Q: In 2008 we purchased some “field-grown grapes” in planters with a closed bottom (e.g., no holes). We planted the grape vines in our yard in Illinois and this year (2010) we have some grapes. Are we permitted to eat them? Does the rule about letting the plant grow without eating the fruit apply here in Golus or just in Israel? As the grapes are ripe and our squirrels seem to have no reservations, halachic or otherwise, your prompt answer would be greatly appreciated.

A: We passed the question on to our resident scholar on the halachos of arlah, Rabbi Mordechai Millunchick, and this was his answer:

The laws of arlah, which prohibit the fruit of the first three years of a tree’s growth, apply both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz (outside of Eretz Yisroel). Regarding arlah in chutz la’aretz the halacha allows for certain leniencies some of which are applied in your situation.

The count of three years of arlah differs depending on when the vine (or other tree) is planted. There are three time periods with regards to the arlah count planted in 2008:

– Planted before August 15, 2008, arlah ends Tu B’shvat 5771 (January 20, 2011)

– Planted between August 16 and September 29, 2008 (the 44 days preceding Rosh HaShanah), arlah ends on Rosh HaShanah 5772 (September 29, 2011)

– Planted after September 30, 2008 (Rosh HaShanah), arlah ends on Tu B’shvat 5772 (February 8, 2012)

The above dates refer only to one who initially planted a tree from a seed or a bare-root tree (i.e. the dirt fell away from the roots when it was transplanted from its containers). You however purchased a grown vine. If you know how old the vine is, the years of arlah can be shifted accordingly. [This leniency only applies in chutz la’aretz; in Eretz Yisroel a tree planted in a closed container would need to restart its arlah years.] If you don’t know how old the vine is you may take the nursery’s earliest estimate of the age of the tree. The age of the tree would be determined from the time the cuttings were rooted. In all probability the vine was rooted at the beginning of the season, meaning that the years of arlah would not be affected and the above dates would apply.

We have now determined the end of arlah which means that any fruit that are on the tree on or before the given date, have the restrictions of arlah. Fruit that grow after this date are not arlah. However, for one year after the conclusion of arlah, the fruits are revai, fruits of the fourth year, and those fruits must be “redeemed”. [Please contact the cRc office for the specific text for redeeming revai fruit.] After the fourth year is competed (one Jewish year from the end of arlah) the fruit may be eaten and used without restriction.

You might be wondering what to do with your arlah fruit. The arlah fruits may be disposed of in any way, but they may not be composted or used in any other way that provides you with benefit. You may choose to leave the fruit on the tree if there is no concern that they will be eaten by humans. (Squirrels may eat arlah fruit). It is probably better for the tree if the fruit are removed from the tree so that the tree can send all its energy towards strengthening the vine.