Fig Tree in a Courtyard

Maaserot (3:8) | Yisrael Bankier | 2 months ago

The Mishnah (3:8) teaches that if one has a fig tree growing in their courtyard, they are able to eat one fig at a time without separating maaserot. If however they take two, maaserot would need to be separated prior to consuming the figs. We shall try to understand this Mishnah.

The Mishnah Rishona explains that the reasons for the distinction between taking one or two figs is the same as what we learnt previously in the case of mekach -- a sale (2:5). Recall that we learnt that a sale is koveah. In other words, after that sale one can no longer eat from the food, even as a snack, without first separating maaserot. The Mishnah taught that if one purchased figs from a fig tree, they can pick and eat them one at a time. If however the purchaser took two, then they would be required to separate maaserot. The Mishnah Achrona there explains that a mekach is only koveah for food that has reached gmar melacha (all the required work is complete). When taking the figs to eat them, combining two together (tziruf) is equivalent to forming a pile and therefore reaching gmar melacha. It would seem that our case of the chatzer is the same. A chatzer is also only koveah for food that has reached gmar melacha. Consequently, if one picks two figs from the tree at the same time, then they would need to first separate maaserot.

R\' Chaim (Beur Halacha 4:15) notes that the Chazon Ish also understands our Mishnah in this way. According to this understanding, it does not matter whether the fig tree was standing in the chazer or it was outside and figs were being brought inside. In both cases, one could only take one fig inside the chazer at a time.

R' Chaim however cites the Markevet HaMishnah who provides a different understanding. He explains that if one eats one at a time from the fig tree, it is as if the fig never entered the chatzer. Instead, it is considered as if one climbed into the tree and ate them there, which one is allowed to do. Accordingly, in this context (but not regarding a sale) even one fig is considered as if it has reached gmar melacha. That is because the only thing allowing its consumption is that fact that it is not considered as if it has reached the chatzer. It follows that one can only eat the single fix in this case, where the fig was picked from the tree that was growing inside the chatzer. If however the fig was brought into the chatzer from the field, even if it was only one fig, one would be required to separate maaserot before eating it. Put simply, in that case, a fig that has reached gmar melacha has reached the chatzer.

While the Mishnah Rishona's explanation may appear to the be the simpler way of understanding the Mishnah, we find the position of the Markevet HaMishnah in R' Chaim's commentary on the Yerushalmi.

The Yerushalmi (3:4) asks what the law is regarding a fig that fell from the tree. Can one take them back to the top of the tree and eat them there? We learnt that if one wants to eat figs that he is collecting, then once he takes as much figs as he needs, it is considered as if it has reached gmar melacha. R' Chaim explains that the Yerushalmi understands that if one is eating them immediately, even one fig is considered as if it has reached gmar melacha. Note, that this same Mishnah taught that eating while up in the tree is permitted. Therefore, the reason why in our case one can eat one at a time from the tree, is because it is considered as if it has not entered chatzer (as the Markevet HaMishnah explained). Consequently, the Yerushalmi asks whether the figs that fell into the chatzer can be retrieved.

We see clearly that that the R' Chaim understands that the Yerushalmi understood our Mishnah like the Markevet HaMishnah's explanation. For the sake of completeness, the Yerushalmi answer that the case of the figs that fell from the tree is equivalent to food that reached gmar melacha and was mistakenly brought into the chatzer. In that case, since they were brought inside in error, they can be taken out again and consumed there (as a snack).


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