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In yesterday's Daf Yomi - Menachot 71a - and other places(*) in various Mishnayoth, there's mention of a cut-off date of 1/3 of the growth of produce - עַד שֶׁלֹּא הֵבִיאָה שְׁלִישׁ

From Rashi it seems to be when the produce is 1/3 grown.

The Rambam and Bartenura to that Mishna (10:8) explicitly say that it's until it reaches the last third.

והביא שליש ר"ל שלא נגמר השליש האחרון לגמר בישולו:‏

(For some reason, the 10th Perek of Mishnayos of Menachot is the 6th Perek in the Talmud. There are a few other cases of the order not matching.)

The רש"ש points this out in Menachot 71a and doesn't elaborate much, except to say that it seems from all other locations in Shas that we're referring to the first third.

At the end of 71b it discusses reaping before the crop reaches 1/3 and it's fit for human consumption, albeit unripe. But mostly the Mishnayot seem to imply that before the 1/3 it's used for animal fodder, and doesn't really impact the quality of the grain when fully regrown.

What happens to the grain at 1/3 - either the first or last 1/3 - that suddenly changes it from grass to produce?

Knowing the reality may solve the dilemma of whether we're discussing the first or last third. (Maybe this really a question for Gardening & Landscaping Exchange... but maybe somebody has some information from a Torah source.)

Torah sources or botanical facts appreciated.

(*) Other places that discuss 1/3:

שחת תבואה שלא הביאה שליש, וקוצרים אותה להאכיל לבהמות. ‏
Fodder is grain that has not reached a third of its maturity, and people harvest it to feed it to animals.

  • Challa 1:3 - וּתְבוּאָה שֶׁלֹּא הֵבִיאָה שְׁלִישׁ - where the Bartenura explains:

ותבואה שלא הביאה שליש. חייבת בחלה שאף היא באה לידי חמוץ, וכל דבר הבא לידי חמוץ לחם אקרי וחייב בחלה. ופטורה מן המעשרות, דבמעשרות כתיב (דברים יד) תבואת זרעך דבר שזורעים אותו וצומח, והאי אי זרעי ליה לא צמח:‏

Produce that isn't 1/3 grown. Is obligated in Challa since it can become leaven and thus is called bread. But is exempt from tithing since it is not yet capable of growing, of planted.

(This seems to give a great hint, for those of us who aren't city boys and have never seen produce grow.)

  • Pesachim 3:1 regarding וַעֲמִילָן שֶׁל טַבָּחִים the Bartenura says:

ועמילן של טבחין. [פת] שעושין מקמח תבואה שלא הביאה שליש בשולה, ומכסים בה את הקדרה לשאוב את הזוהמא:‏

Working dough of cooks is made from flour of produce that isn't 1/3 ripe and it's used to cover the pot to absorb odors.

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