Shiur #10: Clearing Stones from a Field During Shvi'it

  • Rav Moshe Taragin



Dedicated by Aaron and Tzipora Ross and family
in honor of the
yahrzeits of our esteemed grandparents:
Neil Fredman (Shmuel Nachamu ben Shlomo Moshe HaKohen, 10 Tevet), Clara Fredman (Chaya bat Yitzchak Dovid, 15 Tevet), and Walter Rosenthal (Shimon ben Moshe, 16 Tevet).


Dedicated in loving memory of Richard J. Silvera A”H by his children
Hillel (’91), Albert and Michelle


 Dedicated by the Wise and Etshalom families in memory of Rebbetzin Miriam Wise, ז״ל,
Miriam bat Yitzhak and Rivkah, whose first yahrzeit is on 9 Tevet.
 יהי זכרה ברוך




The mishnayot in this section of Shvi'it describe the process of stone removal from a field.  Typically, stones are removed from a field as part of the overall process of plowing to prepare a field for planting.  Alternatively, stones may be removed for other purposes, such as quarrying a field for rocks, collecting rocks for construction, or preparing an area for construction.  Under which circumstances may these activities be performed during the shemitta year?


            Our examination of this issue will not follow the textual order of the mishnayot but rather a more logical sequence.  The seventh mishna of the third perek describes the types of stones which may be removed from a field.  A stone which will ultimately be removed by a "macharisha" (an instrument used to dislodge heavy stones) or an embedded rock which has become partially "revealed" may each be removed during shemitta.  This mishna implies that if the rock is completely submerged and is not earmarked for dislodging, it may not be removed during shemitta.  The mishna cites no source for this prohibition.  Our first instinct might be to prohibit this activity based upon "marit ayin" (suspicious activity).  Though no actual labor has been performed by merely removing a stone from a specific area, a bystander may misunderstand.  This view would clearly align this prohibition with the ban against piling fertilizer, which appears in the immediately preceding mishnayot in Shvi'it and which was also explained through the principle of marit ayin.  If these rocks were designated for removal, though, their clearing would not provoke the same degree of suspicion. 


Alternatively, we might contend that clearing certain types of stones is itself considered part of the plowing process and is fundamentally forbidden even without the marit ayin consideration.  However, if the rocks were designated for removal, they are no longer considered an integral part of the land and can be removed, since the land itself is not being affected.  Only transitory stones are being cleared.  An interesting term in the Tosefta captures this notion.  Whereas the mishna merely mentions the permissibility to clear stones which are earmarked for dislodging, the Tosefta actually classifies these stones as "avanim toshavot" – itinerant stones.  By appending this title, the Tosefta seems to be establishing some sort of reason for this leniency.  Since these rocks are transitory, they can be removed, since they are not an incorporated part of the field. 


This question -- the nature of the prohibition to remove stones in general and the leniency if those stones are designated for removal –- must be examined in light of another condition which is cited by the mishna.  Such stones can only be removed if they are large enough to require two people to carry them.  If they are smaller (they can be carried by a single person), they cannot be removed EVEN if they are earmarked for removal.  The mishna even allows removal of all the stones of the field, assuming the field contains at least two of these large stones.  Is removal of larger stones less likely to provoke suspicion? Or does the size of the stones contribute to their being a less integral part of the field, and hence we view the act of their removal not as a phase of the plowing process but merely as the collection of stones for alternate use? The mishna itself does not tip us as to the basis of this requirement.  The Rash, however, when explaining the allowance to remove all stones if the field contains at least two large stones, claims, "This entire process will no longer appear as plowing [since such large stones are removed]."  Though he doesn't comment upon the essential law (prohibiting removal of stones), his comments regarding this special exception indicate that he does recognize some marit ayin factor governing our situation.  It should be underscored that the Yerushalmi specifically argues with the Bavli and only permits the removal of the larger stones, but not of the smaller ones along with the larger ones.  Quite possibly this debate reflects our broader question.  If the size solves the marit ayin concern, we would be more flexible in allowing all stones to be removed.  By removing larger stones as well, the owner quiets all concerns that he might be plowing his field during shemitta.  Alternatively, if we are facing a more substantive issue - that removing small stones (even for ulterior motives) is legally considered plowing - we might allow removal of large stones but not concede the removal of the smaller ones. 


We might broaden this particular question by studying the laws of "avnei katef" (literally shoulder stones) listed in the ninth mishna in the third perek.  Here as well, the mishna dictates a minimum size to allow their removal.  Interestingly enough, the sizes required do not stack up.  Whereas only a stone which requires two porters may be lifted in mishna 7, Rebbi Meir allows avnei katef to be removed in mishna 9 as long as they can't be carried with one hand.  Evidently, the mishnayot are referring to different scenarios.  Most likely, the ninth mishna is referring to stones which are in no way attached to the land but merely lie upon the earth's surface.  As such, there is no concern with removal from a substantive standpoint (as part of plowing) since the land is not being worked.  The only problem surrounds the suspicion which might be provoked.  If these are larger stones that people will assume are intended for future use (rather than being cleared for the sake of the land), they can be removed.  That same mishna (at least according to the interpretation of the Rash) allows someone who works in construction to gather stones even if they are smaller than the sizes listed in the mishna.  Again, assuming the only problem to be marit ayin, we can afford to be more lenient with a builder about whom no suspicions of plowing will be raised, since everyone knows his intentions in collecting the rocks is to prepare for construction. 



In contrast, mishna 7 addressed stones which are attached to the land (remember that the mishna mentioned buried stones which are either partially revealed or designated for removal with a macharisha).  In this instance beyond the marit ayin concern lies a more essential problem; working the land by removing these stones will constitute halakhic plowing.  This can only be performed if the stones are so large that two people must carry them.