Halacha for Tuesday 10 Tammuz 5777 July 4 2017

When Chopping Down Fruit Trees is Permissible

In the previous Halacha, we have discussed the root of the prohibition of not being destructive which primarily refers to the Torah prohibition to chop down a fruit-bearing tree or destroy it any other way. We have explained that just as it is forbidden to destroy a fruit tree, it is likewise forbidden to destroy other objects as well, such as breaking vessels, tearing clothing, and the like. Nevertheless, uprooting a fruit tree is more severe than destroying other objects, for there is no room for leniency regarding uprooting a fruit tree even when there is a necessity to do so besides for certain circumstances, as we shall now explain.

A Fruit Tree Which Harms Other Trees
The Torah only forbids uprooting fruits trees when this is being done in a destructive manner. Thus, when the tree is being uprooted in order to benefit other trees, for instance, if the fruit tree is growing in a place where it is obstructive to the growth and fruit-bearing of other trees, it is permissible to cut it down according to the letter of the law. Indeed, the Gemara (Baba Kama 91b) recounts that Shmuel’s sharecroppers brought him dates to eat and when he began to eat them, he tasted the flavor of wine in the dates. When he asked them why that was, the sharecroppers replied that the palm trees were growing among the grape vines. Shmuel understood that the palm trees were harming the quality of the vines and thus, he requested that his sharecroppers uproot the palm trees from among his grape vines. We see that it was permissible to uproot date-bearing trees because they were damaging other trees. The Rambam (Chapter Six of Hilchot Melachim) rules likewise that if the tree harms other trees, it is permissible to cut it down, for this is not being done in a destructive.

A Highly-Valuable Fruit Tree
Similarly, if the value of the tree rises such that the worth of the tree’s lumber is greater than that of the fruit growing on it such that selling the tree’s wood would be more profitable than tending to it and selling its fruits, it is likewise permissible to cut it down, for this is also not being done in a destructive manner. The Rambam (ibid.) rules likewise.

A Tree Which Does Not Produce an Appropriate Amount of Fruit
The Gemara proceeds to write that if the fruit trees do not produce the proper amount of fruit (as prescribed by the Gemara ibid) such that the investment in the tree is not worthwhile relative to the produce it yields, it is likewise permissible to cut it down (there are some more detailed laws in this case).

In the next Halacha, we shall, G-d-willing, discuss whether or not uprooting a tree in order to build a house is considered destructive and whether or not this poses a danger to the individual.

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