Extending Tosefet Sheviit

Sheviit (1:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 years ago

Masechet Sheviit discusses the laws of the Shemittah year – the final of the seven-year cycle. The Masechet opens by discussing the prohibition of working the land during the shemittah year and how that prohibition extends into the sixth year. The Mishnah first deals with the sdeh ilan – orchard – and present the following debate. According to Beit Shammai one is allowed to plough the field as long as it benefits the fruit that grew in the sixth year. Beit Hillel however maintains that the limit is atzeret – the festival of Shavuot1. Ultimately the Mishnah explains that the timing for both opinions are very close to one another.

This Mishnah must be understood alongside another Mishnah we have learnt (1:4). There, the Mishnah debates that the source of the law of Tosefet Sheviit. R’ Akiva understands that it is based on the following pasuk, “be’charish u’v’katzir tishbot” (Shemot 34). The context of the pasuk is Shabbat. Since however, the Torah already taught the prohibition of melecha more broadly, it is understood that the pasuk must be referring to another Shabbat – the Shemittah year. However, with respect to Shemittah as well, there is already a source for the prohibition of ploughing and reaping during the Shemittah year. Consequently, R’ Akiva understands that the pasuk is coming to prohibit the ploughing whose harvest is prohibited and the harvesting whose ploughing is prohibited.

R’ Yishmael however disagrees that the verse is superfluous and connects it to another different law relating to Shabat. R’ Yishmael agrees with the law of tosefet sheviit, however he understands that it is a halacha le’moshe mi’sinai. Furthermore, he understands that the halacha was only during the time of the Beit HaMikdash. The Bartenura explains that this how Rabban Gamliel and his Beit Din was able rule against how Mishnah enabling one to work their field the entire sixth year. Normally a later Beit Din cannot overrule a law instituted by an earlier one unless it is “greater in wisdom and number”. The Gemara explains that Rabban Gamliel maintained the position of R’ Yishmael that the source of tosefet sheviit is a halacha le’moshe mi’sinai. Furthermore, it applied only during the time of the Beit HaMikdash and was for a period of thirty days prior to Shemittah. The debate in our Mishnah was regarding extending that on a rabbinic level, but was limited to the time of the Beit HaMikdash. Consequently, Rabban Gamliel understood that post-destruction since the core did not apply, neither does did the extension. In other words, he was not in conflict with a previous institution, but rather ruling according to the opinion of R’ Yishmael.

How do we understand the base halacha and the rabbinic extension? Rashi (Moed Katan 3b) explains that after the point that ploughing is no longer beneficial to the tree it is as if he working for the benefit of the produce of the Shemitah year. While we mentioned that according to R’ Yishmael that base halacha was thirty days (during the time of the Beit Hamikdash), Rashi (4a) comments that R’ Akiva, who bases tosefet sheviit on a pasuk, also understands that it is thirty days. Why? The Rash explains that the ploughing then is beneficial for the Shemittah year. The Tosfot (4a) add that even though thirty days was not explicitly stated, the actually time was left to the Chachamim to determine, based on when it would begin to be beneficial for the shemittah year (Maharsha).

The Igrot Moshe (YD 3:6) however asks that if prior to the thirty days it was not beneficial, what was the ground of extending tosefet sheviit to Shavuot? He first answers that it appears that according to the Rash and Bartenura that after Shavout since it is no longer beneficial for the sixth year, it appears as though one is preparing for the seventh, even though it is only really beneficial thirty days before. He finds that suggestion difficult, since if it is not beneficial for either year, why is he ploughing? He therefore suggests that according to this line of reasoning, perhaps after Shavuot it is beneficial, but only minimally. This benefit is not great enough to pass the threshold as understood by the Chachamim that was prohibited on a biblical level (crossed within thirty days prior to Shemittah)2.

1 See the Tosfot Anshei Shem that discusses why the Mishnah refers to the chag as Atzeret.

2 We have only cited the beginning of the Igrot Moshe who discusses Tosefet Shviit at length. He continues by citing another Rashi and presenting a different understanding of why m’deoraita, tosefet sheviit is thirty days. ע"ש


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