Shiur #05: Tosefet Shvi'it - Truly an Extension

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


This week’s shiurim are dedicated in memory of Henry Lehmann z”l
by Richard Lehmann



Having assessed the novel position of Rabbenu Tam and examined it in the context of several mishnayot in Shvi'it we might return to explore the more conventional position regarding tosefet.  Assuming against Rabbenu Tam that tosefet entails some form of extension of the shemitta year, we still must pose the following question: What exactly was extended? Did the Torah demand that several shemitta prohibitions are stretched and apply even before the shemitta year begins? Or did the Torah mandate that the shemitta year itself commences prior to Rosh Hashana, and consequently the various issurim apply as well? Indeed, the first mishna in Rosh Hashana notes that the first day of Tishrei is the launch of shemitta, suggesting that the year itself only begins on Rosh Hashana and that the thirty days before constitute at most a non-shemitta period in which certain shemitta laws apply.  Alternatively, we might claim that the mishna spoke in universal terms: Shemitta generally begins on Rosh Hashana; during certain periods in Jewish history - namely, when the Mikdash was standing - it actually began a bit earlier.


            An interesting comment by Tosafot in Avoda Zara (50b s.v. u'mashkin) could potentially clarify our question.  As presented in the previous shiur, only avodot (forms of work) forbidden by the Torah are banned during tosefet shvi'it.  This accounts for a broad range of work which is permitted up until Rosh Hashana (see especially Shvi'it 2:2-6).  Tosafot in Avoda Zara take this concept one step further when they claim that only avot (forms of work described in the Torah) are forbidden during tosefet shvi'it but not toladot (variations on these forms of work).  As delineated in last week's shiur the only acts of work considered avot are planting and harvesting.  Pruning and collecting grapes, though forbidden by the Torah, are considered toladot - subsidiary forms of work.  According to Tosafot, these types of work are permissible during tosefet shvi'it.  Evidently, this Tosafot viewed tosefet shvi'it as an extension of shemitta laws.  Though shemitta has not yet begun, the Torah insists upon refraining from certain forms of work.  According to Tosafot, the Torah only imposed this stringency with regard to more severe forms of work (av) and not with regard to more lenient forms of work (tolada).  Had we understood tosefet as an extension of the actual year of shemitta, we would have difficulty distinguishing between avot and toladot during this period.


            Yet a different portrait emerges from a comment by Tosafot in Mo'ed Katan (3b).  The gemara cites a statement as follows: "We might have thought to administer the punishment of lashes for tosefet, yet a reason was provided against this."  The gemara subsequently analyzes this statement and suggests that it refers to tosefet shemitta, which we would think carries a penalty of lashes for its violation.  Ultimately (4a), the gemara provides reason for not imposing this penalty: Without a Beit Ha-mikdash, the tosefet period no longer applies.  Tosafot ponder the potential source for lashes during tosefet shvi'it.  After all, at most, tosefet for thirty days is derived from a pasuk in Ki Tisa, "In plowing and in harvest shall you rest" (34:21) which according to Rebbi Akiva refers to tosefet shvi'it.  This pasuk is phrased in positive terms about what should be done and not in the classic negative tense which would obligate lashes.  This pasuk cannot possibly be the source for lashes.  According to Rebbi Yishmael, the source for tosefet is not even an explicit verse but rather a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, (with no textual basis at all) a source which certainly cannot mandate lashes. 


            Tosafot respond that the Torah is informing us, through the verse in Ki Tisa (or theoretically the halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai), that shevi'it ITSELF actually commences prior to Rosh Hashana and that all the laws which pertain to shvi'it apply during this period as well.  Just as one who works during shevi'it receives lashes, similarly one who works during tosefet which is in effect part of shvi'it - would receive lashes, were it not for the gemara's ultimate conclusion that tosefet doesn't apply when there is no Mikdash.  Tosafot, both in their actual response and even more compellingly in the striking language they employ, clearly classify tosefet not merely as an extension of prohibitions but as a "premature" start to the actual shemitta experience. 


            A similar sense emerges from a provocative position stated by Rashi in Rosh Hashana (10b).  The gemara in Rosh Hashana (9b) rules that one cannot plant a tree within thirty days of the shemitta year.  According to most Rishonim, this prohibition is Biblical and included within the tosefet system.  Rabbenu Tam, of course, limits the tosefet prohibition to plowing and concludes (in Tosafot in Rosh Hashana 9b) that this prohibition to plant is of rabbinic origin.  The ensuing gemara (10b) cites Rebbi Elazar, who asserted that it takes a tree thirty days to "take" to land after it has been planted; before thirty days the tree has yet to take root.  Based on this the gemara comments that Rebbi Elazar would require a total of sixty days, rather than the thirty days mentioned earlier by the gemara. 


The Rishonim disagree about what area of halakha R. Elazar was discussing.  Most Rishonim claim that the sixty day period is only required for the laws of arla (the prohibition to eat a fruit of a new tree for its first three years).  The earlier gemara (Rosh Hashana 9b) had also mentioned that if the tree were planted more than thirty days before Rosh Hashana, the first year of arla is considered to have already elapsed (even though the tree has actually been planted for less than a year).  Regarding this halakha, most Rishonim claim, the gemara recognizes a need for sixty rather than thirty days.  The tree must take root (thirty days) and then stand a significant period after its absorption (a second thirty days) in order for the first year of arla to have transpired.  With regard to shvi'it, though, there does not seem to be a reason to demand this extended sixty day period.  As long as the tree were planted more than thirty days before shemitta, assuring that the absorption would not occur during shemitta itself, the planting should be permitted. 


            Rashi differs and claims that Rebbi Elazar would also demand that the planting of trees be scheduled sixty days before shvi'it.  Rashi does not specify why this extended period should be necessary.  The Ramban, though, articulates the rationale behind Rashi's position: As tosefet shvi'it is itself considered the start of shvi'it, the absorption of the tree cannot occur during tosefet shvi'it.  As this process takes thirty days to occur, the planting itself must occur thirty days before tosefet shvi'it, which is sixty days before Rosh Hashana.  Rashi's designation of tosefet shvi'it as part of shemitta is unmistakable.  If this period were not shvi'it (but merely a pre-shemitta time during which certain types of work were prohibited), it would be difficult to prohibit the "automatic absorption" of trees during this period.  There would be no reason to demand that all trees be absorbed by tosefet shvi'it and therefore forbid planting sixty days before shemitta.  Obviously, Rashi concurs with Tosafot in Mo'ed Katan that shemitta actually begins thirty days "early," and hence the tree must take prior to tosefet so that this process doesn't occur during tosefet which itself is considered shvi'it. 


            Having outlined the two different approaches to tosefet, we might return to the gemara in Rosh Hashana which searches for a source for tosefet Shabbat and Yom Kippur.  The gemara is particularly bothered by Rebbi Yishmael's prospects.  After all, he derives tosefet shvi'it from a parochial source (halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai), which could not possibly serve as the source of the tosefet experience in general.  The gemara searches for a verse for tosefet in general according to Rebbi Yishmael.  It ultimately locates a verse in Emor (Vayikra 23:32) which describes Yom Kippur as beginning on the ninth of Tishrei and ending the evening after the tenth.  This allusion evokes the notion of tosefet, which then can be applied to Shabbat and Yom Tov.  The gemara seems confident that Rebbi Akiva does not require a special verse and may derive general tosefet from his verse regarding shemitta.  Several Acharonim (see especially Rebbi Akiva Eiger and the Turei Even) question this assumption.  Since tosefet shvi'it only applies to agricultural work, how may we derive the prohibition against writing or lighting a fire on Shabbat from tosefet shvi'it?  Furthermore, how may we derive the prohibition of not wearing leather shoes during tosefet Yom Kippur from the notion of not plowing land during tosefet shvi'it?  Indeed, these questions forced the Ba'al Hama'or to claim that even Rebbi Akiva would eventually derive tosefet in general from the verse which the gemara presents according to Rebbi Yishmael.



            Most Rishonim, however, claimed that Rebbi Akiva would derive tosefet in general from tosefet shvi'it.  If tosefet entails an extension of prohibitions to a non-shemitta period, we might indeed have a difficult time expanding this concept to Shabbat or Yom Kippur, each of which consist of vastly different prohibitions - different from each other and certainly different from shvi'it.  If, however, the concept of tosefet implies a general extension of the year of shemitta itself (forcing the consequent application of prohibitions), we might easily apply this formula elsewhere.  Just as shvi'it begins early, so might Shabbat or Yom Kippur!! Obviously, "beginning early" means different things in different contexts.  But the basic concept is similar - stretching the actual time period and beginning it early.  The disparity in prohibitions would be incidental because they are manifestations of the basic halakha - the extension of the day/year - an extension which is structurally similar in all cases.