31 Jan ILLICIT FRUIT EXPERIMENTS
In the first three years of a fruit tree’s life, its fruits are forbidden as Orlah (Lev. 19:23). Ramban (ad loc.)
explains that the first fruits must be brought to the Temple in thanks. During the first three years after
planting, a tree’s fruits generally lack the quality necessary for a Temple offering. Therefore, the fruits
during that period fall under a global prohibition. On Tu Bi-Shvat of the fourth year, the fruits move into
the next phase (Neta Reva’i), in which they are brought to Jerusalem. During the Orlah years, we not only
may not eat the fruits but also may not derive any benefit from them. What if horticulturists
study Orlah fruits — are we allowed to benefit from (the fruits of) their research?
I. Benefit From Study
Rav Ya’akov Ariel (Be-Ohalah Shel Torah 4:35) addresses this based on an actual case in Kibbutz Sa’ad.
Horticulturists examined Orlah for information on the effect of various sprays. His first point is that
benefiting from this knowledge is not the normal way of benefiting from a fruit. The Gemara
(Pesachim24b) says that the biblical prohibition against benefiting from something forbidden only applies
to the normal way of receiving benefit (derekh hana’aso). Commentators understand this in three possible
ways: 1) The benefit remains biblically forbidden but is not punished, 2) the benefit is rabbinically
forbidden, and 3) the benefit is permitted. Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 155:3) rules like the second
opinion. This would render the kind of benefit we are discussing rabbinically prohibited.
However, what are the scientists doing? In this case, they were examining the fruits under a microscope.
Is looking at something considered benefiting? The Gemara (Bava Kama 101a) says that if you color an
article of clothing with dye made from Orlah, you must burn the clothing. The sight of the Orlah-based
color is considered a benefit. However, in that case you are using the actual fruit, not just looking at it.
II. Seeing and Hearing
Another Gemara (Pesachim 26a) describes how repairs were made to the Kodesh Kodashim, the Holy of
Holies in the Temple. Workers were lowered while surrounded by screens so they could only see the
objects on which they were working and could not look around the holy area. The Gemara says that
normally there is no prohibition with seeing, hearing or smelling something from which we are forbidden
to benefit. However, in the Temple they added another layer of strictness.
This is challenged by a different Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 28a) which assumes that you are forbidden to
blow a shofar from an animal pledged as a sacrifice. The question is whether you fulfill the mitzvah
despite violating the prohibition. From the shofar ruling, it seems that you may not derive benefit by
Rav Moshe Ibn Chabib (Yom Teru’ah 26a s.v. Hadar) distinguishes between blowing a shofar and
looking or listening. Blowing is an active benefit, even if your primary benefit is hearing the sound. If you
actively benefit, then you violate the prohibition. Rav Ya’akov Ariel (ibid.) and Rav Shlomo Zalman
Braun (She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah, Rosh Hashanah, ad loc.) point out that he was preceded by
the Radbaz (Responsa 1:297) in this approach. In our case, the researchers measured and carefully
examined the fruit. They probably cut small slices and placed them under a microscope. This is all active
seeing and therefore constitutes a forbidden derivation of benefit, even if only rabbinically prohibited.
III. Is Knowledge Forbidden?
Rav Ariel quotes the Mishnah (Pe’ah 1:9) which forbids planting an Orlah fruit to grow a tree. The
Gemara (Avodah Zarah 48b) adds they if you violate this rule, the fruits of the new tree are permitted.
The reason is that zeh ve-zeh gorem, there are many elements that go into a healthy tree. The forbidden
seed is one but the water and soil are permitted. The tree grows from the force of both forbidden and
permitted items, which renders the tree permitted.
Similarly, Rav Ariel argues, the knowledge gained from examining Orlah fruit joins with knowledge
acquired through years of study. It is only one piece of a wide vision. Therefore, even if
the Orlah examinations are forbidden, the information can be used in the future as part of a portfolio of
Rav Ariel quotes his teacher, Rav Yitzchak Arieli (Torah She-Be- Al Peh no. 6 p. 48), who argues in the
context of cadaver autopsies that the information is not directly derived from the from the object. Rav
Ariel explains that the sight, the examination, spurs thought and analysis which leads to scientific insight.
The insight comes only indirectly from the object under examination.
Regarding the use of knowledge derived from immoral medical experiments, Rav J. David Bleich
(Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. 4 p. ), writes similarly: “One nevertheless searches responsa
literature in vain for a ruling to the effect that a person who has attended medical school and has illicitly
studied anatomy is subsequently forbidden to earn a livelihood by utilizing the knowledge and skill as a
surgeon…. Once such information has been assimilated, the prohibition has ipso facto been irreversibly
violated regardless of whether or not such information is subsequently put to practical use.”
Since the utilization of this knowledge is indirect, Rav Ya’akov Ariel permits use of the information
learned from examining Orlah fruits.