The Melakha of Planting

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


By Rav Moshe Taragin



In loving memory of Fred Stone, Yaakov Ben Yitzchak A”H
beloved father and grandfather,
Ellen & Stanley, Jacob, Zack, Ezra, Yoni, Eliana and Gabi Stone, Teaneck NJ



Shiur #23: The Melakha of Planting



The melakha of zeriya, planting, exhibits a unique dynamic. Typically, melakhot yield an IMMEDIATE result; the prohibited action yields an instantaneous effect. For example, tearing produces a torn item; plowing immediately produces a plowed field. Planting, however, creates no IMMEDIATE result or impact, as the planting process occurs over a period of time spanning from the original planting until the seeds actually take root. The only comparable melakha is the act of bishul, cooking, which also occurs over a period of time. In fact, many authorities compare the two and apply the halakhot of one to the other. In this shiur, we will primarily address the structure of zeriya.


An intuitive approach would suggest that the melakha consists of simply placing seeds in the ground. As long as there is potential for future growth, even though the seeds have not yet taken root, placing seeds in the ground constitutes a melakha, since that act TYPICALLY leads to growth. This is the approach of the Minchat Chinukh in his comments to Parashat Yitro. The mere action of embedding seeds in the ground constitutes the prohibition of zeriya.


Alternatively, we may claim that the entire process of planting, INCLUDING THE SEEDS TAKING ROOT, is part of the prohibition. Even though the final stage of rooting happens automatically, it is considered a consequence of the original act of placing seeds in the ground. Halakha provides ample precedent for attributing the “automatic” END of a process to someone who performed an earlier stage of that process. For example, if someone shoots an arrow that, in the course of its projection, tears clothing, he is considered as having torn the clothing himself. Similarly, we may attribute the final rooting to the original “planter,” even though he did not participate in the actual rooting process.


Thus, we may define the act of zeriya in two very different manners. Either the forbidden act consists of merely placing seeds in the ground, independent of the continuation of the process, or the prohibition encompasses the entire process, which is attributed to the performer of the ORIGINAL activity.


The nafka mina emerges in a situation in which the process was unnaturally interrupted. What would happen if someone planted seeds and subsequently removed them from the ground? Was the melakha of zeriya violated? This issue is debated between the Rashash (Shabbat 74), who claims that removing seeds eliminates the prohibition, and the Iglei Tal (se’if 8), who claims that the removal of the seeds would not affect the prohibition. Interestingly, the Rashash compares planting to baking; just as the gemara in Shabbat claims that one has not performed the melakha of bishul if he removes dough from the oven before full baking occurs, removing seeds before rooting has occurred, similarly, exempts one from the issur of planting.


Perhaps the Rashash and the Iglei Tal are debating the aforementioned issue. If the melakha is defined as “placement of a seed” in an environment of potential growth, the issur has been violated independent of the future interruptions of the process. Even if that process is interrupted, the issur has been violated, as the Iglei Tal argues. However, if the issur encompasses the entire process, which is attributed to the original planter, perhaps the removal of the seeds suspends the process and no issur is violated, as the Rashash argues.


A related question pertains to planting without intention to allow rooting. Even if seed removal would not suspend the prohibition, perhaps ORIGINAL INTENT to immediately remove the seeds would disable the issur. In fact, the Iglei Tal makes this very point. Even though he argues that seed removal WOULD NOT suspend the issur, original intent to remove seeds would avoid it. In order for the entire process to be “back-attributed” to the planter, the process must be “front-loaded,” or intended at inception. If it was not, the eventual rooting cannot be viewed as a natural continuation of the original planting. If, however, the issur is defined solely as placing seeds in an area of potential growth, perhaps the issur is violated even if the conclusion of the process was not intended. In fact, this is the position of the Minchat Chinukh, who argues that zeriya is violated even if the planter never intended the rooting of these seeds


Having inspected two situations in which the ensuing process may not be attributed to the planter, perhaps we can locate additional nafka minot. Would literal and formal planting be necessary to entail a violation, or is any act that facilitates ultimate rooting forbidden? Theoretically, if the issur covers the ENTIRE process of both placement and ultimate rooting, any form of placement of seeds would suffice to begin the overall process, which would then be attributed to the originator. If, on the other hand, the issur consists solely of planting of seeds in typical fashion with growth potential, perhaps only typical and classic ACTS of planting would be forbidden.


In a well-known piece, the Yerei’im (Yerei’im Hashalem siman 274) forbids scattering a large volume of seeds for birds. As the seeds may not be completely consumed, they may take root, and the violation of zeriya may be breached. Perhaps this position may be disputed. Although a process that will eventually LEAD to rooting has been initiated by seed-scattering, no actual act of planting, has been performed by merely scattering seeds; zeriya requires a classic planting activity.


An additional scenario that begins a process of growth but may not entail and act of planting concerns someone who places wheat-germ in water. The Rambam (Shabbat 8:2) forbids this activity based on zeriya. Once again, a process that yields growth has commenced, and the performer of the original act is in violation of zeriya. This is true if zeriya is defined as authoring an entire process of growth. If, however, the prohibition consists solely of an act of planting, perhaps this immersion in water is not defined as a classic act of planting and should not be forbidden.