Trimming Branches

Sheviit (2:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 5 years ago

In the previous issue we discussed tosefet sheviit – the law that extends the prohibitions of the shemittah year both before and after it. During our study of the second perek this week we learnt that not all activity is prohibited during this extended period.

The Bartenura (2:2) explains that any activity that is required by the fruit of the sixth year is permitted, even during tosefet sheviit. If however that activity is simply for the benefit of the trees, then it depends on whether that activity is prohibited on a biblical level during the shmittah year. If it prohibited on a rabbinic level, then the Chachamim allowed it during tosefet sheviit.

In the Mishnah that follows, a number of activities are debated – “mekarsemin, mezardin, mefaslin” – activities that relate to trimming the dry branches, thinning a tree and pruning. The first opinion is that it is permitted up until Rosh Hashanah; R’ Yehoshua maintains that the pruning of the sixth year is even permitted into the shmittah year; while R’ Shimon argues that it must cease by Shavuot. What is the basis of this debate?

The Mishnah Rishona poses this question and explains that they debate in this Mishnah is not about how to categorise this activites, but rather the very rule that we cited from the Bartenura. The first opinion is that these two reasons, independently allow such activities, but only until Rosh Hashanah. This is consistent with the rule we cited from the Bartenura.

According to R’ Yehoshua however the two reasons can even justify these activities during the shemittah year, however both reasons are needed together. In other words, it must be for the benefit of the fruit of the sixth year and the activity must not be prohibited on a biblical level. The Mishnah Achrona uses this understanding to explain the unexpected language used when presenting the position of R’ Yehoshua: “just like the thinning and pruning of the fifth year, so too the sixth year.” In other words, just as the fruit in the fifth year is still on the trees in the sixth year, so too in the shemittah year, there will be fruit that remained on the trees from the sixth year. Since it is fruit from the sixth year and the activity normally rabbinically prohibited, it is permitted even in the shemittah year.

Finally, to explain the position of R’ Shimon. The Mishnah Rishona explains that R’ Shimon partially agrees with the first opinion, that any concession would only be during the sixth year. However R’ Shimon argues that these activities are only permitted while the tree still has fruit. If however it no longer has any fruit, then the work must stop by Shavuot.

The Mishnah Rishona uses this understanding to again, explain the wording of the Mishnah. R’ Shimon states, “the entire time that one is permitted to work the tree, one is permitted to prune them”. R’ Shimon could have more succinctly said, “one is not allowed to prune from the time working the tree is prohibited.” The Mishnah Achrona however explains that, based on the above explanation, that would be inaccurate, since it would imply that all pruning must cease at Shavuot. Since however the Mishnah records R’ Shimon’s opinion after R’ Yossi his comment is based on R’ Yossi’s which assumes the tree has fruit. Consequently, R’ Shimon argues that it is true that the fact that the tree has fruit permits work on the tree for a longer period, but no longer than any other work on the tree alone is permitted – until Rosh Hashanah – as stated in the previous Mishnah.

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