WHEN MAY ONE CUT FRUIT TREES? [Bal Tashchis :trees]




(Ravina): One who cuts good trees is lashed for "Ki Mimenu Sochel v'Oso Lo Sichros."


Bava Kama 90b (Mishnah): One may not cut down one's trees. If he does so, he is exempt. If others do this, they are liable.


91b (Rav): One may not cut a date tree that bears a Kav of dates.


Question (Beraisa): One may not cut a tree that bears a quarter Kav of olives.


Answer: The Shi'ur for olives is smaller, for olives are more important than dates.


R. Chanina: My son Shivchas died only because he cut a fig tree prematurely.


(Ravina): If the wood is worth more than the fruit, one may cut it.


Support (Beraisa): "Only a tree that you know" refers to a fruit tree (you may cut it when besieging a city). "That it is not a fruit tree" refers to a barren tree.


Question: If we may cut even fruit trees, why does the verse permit a barren tree?


Answer: We may cut fruit trees only if there are no barren trees there.


Suggestion: Perhaps one may not cut a tree even if its wood is worth more than its fruit (if barren trees are around)!


Rejection: "Only" excludes this.


Shmuel tasted wine in his dates, and found out that the trees are between vines. He commanded to uproot them, for they weaken the vines.


Rav Chisda saw date trees among his vines. He told his sharecropper to uproot them, because vines are more profitable than date trees.


Bava Basra 25b (Mishnah): Reuven must distance his tree 25 Amos from Shimon's pit. A carob or sycamore tree must be distanced 50 Amos.


If (the tree is too close and) the pit was there before the tree, Shimon may cut the tree without compensating Reuven;


26a (Mishnah): One must distance his tree or vine four Amos from Shimon's field.


If Reuven's roots are in Levi's field, Levi may cut them up to three Tefachim deep, lest they impede his plow. If Levi digs a pit, he may cut any roots he encounters.


Birds would go from Rava bar Rav Chanan's date trees to Rav Yosef's vines and damage them. Rava refused to cut his trees, for he kept the proper distance!


Rav Yosef: A greater distance is required between trees and vines.


Rava: I will not cut them! Rav forbids cutting a tree that produces a Kav of dates. Shivchas died for cutting a fig tree prematurely. If you want to cut, I permit you!


Tamid 29a (Mishnah): Any wood may be used for the Ma'arachah, except for olive-wood or grapevines. They usually used branches of fig, nut and pine trees.


29b (Rav Papa): Olive wood and vines have bumps (they do not burn nicely).


(Rav Acha bar Yakov): Olives and grapes are crucial to Yishuv (the settlement of) Eretz Yisrael, therefore we do not want to cut such trees.




The Rif (Bava Kama 32b) brings the Gemara in Bava Kama.


Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 6:8): (When besieging a city,) one may not cut trees outside the Medinah. We do not block the irrigation channel from them to dry them, for it says "do not destroy its tree." One who cuts is lashed. This is not only in a siege. Anywhere, one who destructively cuts a tree is lashed. We may cut trees if they are damaging other trees or another's field or because they (i.e. their wood) is very valuable. The Torah forbids only cutting destructively.


Source (Kesef Mishneh): In Bava Basra, we say that we cut a sycamore or carob tree harming a neighbor's field. These are not barren trees!


Rambam (9): One may cut any barren tree even if he does not need it. One may cut an old fruit tree that yields so little that it is not worth toiling for. If it produces a quarter Kav of olives or a Kav of dates, one may not cut it.


Kesef Mishneh: Do not learn from Bava Basra that one may not cut trees that damage others. Rava refused to cut for he held that he was far enough away.


Rambam (10): The Isur is not limited to trees. Anyone who breaks Kelim, tears clothing, destroys a building, shuts up a spring or destructively ruins food transgresses Bal Tashchis. He is lashed only mid'Rabanan.


Radvaz: Since he transgressed Bal Tashchis, why isn't he lashed just like one who cuts fruit trees? Really, one who cuts trees is lashed due to (the end of the verse,) "Ki Mimenu Sochel v'Oso Lo Sichros." Lo Sashchis teaches that one is liable only for cutting destructively.


Tosfos Yom Tov (Bava Kama 8:6 DH veha'Kotzetz): Rashi says that one who cuts fruit trees is lashed. This is difficult, for the verse discusses war. It is so the soldiers will have what to eat! In Makos we say that he is lashed for "v'Oso Lo Sichros." It seems that these words are extra, to forbid even not in war.


Rambam (Hilchos Isurei Mizbe'ach 7:3): All fresh wood is Kosher for the Mizbe'ach. They would not bring olive wood or vines, lest it detract from Yishuv Eretz Yisrael. They used to bring fig branches from forests not in settled places...


Be'er Sheva (cited in Mishneh l'Melech): The opinion (Tamid 29b) that is not concerned for Yishuv Eretz Yisrael permits even from fertile fig trees. We should forbid due to "Lo Sashchis"! If the Mishnah discusses a tree worth more than the fruit, why was the other opinion concerned for Yishuv Eretz Yisrael?! Perhaps it is permitted for a great Mitzvah like this.


Question (Mishneh l'Melech): What was his question? One may not cut an entire tree from its roots. For the Mizbe'ach, they merely cut branches!


Rosh (8:15): The Shi'ur for every tree is based on its importance. One may not cut a vine that produces any amount. One may cut a tree if he needs its place.


Tosfos (91b DH ha'Chovel): Why does the Mishnah say that one who cuts his own trees is exempt? He is lashed! We must say that even though he need not pay for damaging his own trees, and shows that he does not care about his money, others are liable. This is like R. Meir, who say that one can be lashed and pay for one Aveirah. Alternatively, he is exempt (even) from lashes when he was not warned.




Tur (CM 382): If one cuts his young trees, even though he may not do so, if others cut his trees, they are liable.


Question: The Mishnah says 'if he does so, he is exempt.' Why did the Tur omit 'he is exempt'?


Answer #1 (Bach 1): It was omitted due to a scribal error.


Answer #2 (Prishah 1 and Bach): He teaches that even if one regularly does so, and shows that he does not care about his money and transgresses "Lo Sichros", others who cut his trees are liable.


Taz (YD 116:6): I permitted one to cut trees in order to build a house, based on the Rosh who permits if he needs the place. Why did the Tur omit this?


Chidushei ha'Gershoni: The Tur alludes to it (in CM 382).


Tzemach Tzedek (ha'Kadmon, 41): If a tree damages more than its own value, e.g. through shade, one may uproot it. There is not a solid proof of this from Shmuel. There, the tree damaged so much that its dates received the taste of wine. Presumably, Shmuel oversaw his property and knew about the trees, but he did not command to uproot it until he tasted the effects. We can learn from Rav Chisda. It is permitted if he plants vines in place of the date trees, for vines are worth more.

See also: