The relevance of Me’amer for city dwellers is the subject of this week’s article. Can fruit that fell from a backyard tree be gathered on Shabbos? Can one collect leaves or branches for a pet’s consumption? Can small branches be collected for outdoor barbequing on Yom Tov? And can decaying fruit be swept into a pile? If the pile was swept before Shabbos, but the wind or animals made a mess again, can the fruit be re-swept? Sacks of potatoes are synonymous with Pesach, and ripped sacks are common occurrences. Can the scattered potatoes be gathered from a yard or outdoor patio? And what if it happened indoors on Yom Tov, when the potatoes need to be cooked for the holiday meal?
Is Me’amer limited only to fruit, or does it also apply to other natural items such as stones, seashells, or sea salt? What about gathering eggs that were laid before Shabbos? Can a non-Jew be asked to gather the eggs? Of this and more in the coming article.
This week we will discuss an aspect of Hilchos Shabbos. Shabbos is a topic found in this week’s Torah readings both in Israel and around the world. The Torah reading in Eretz Yisroel is Emor, the parasha that lists the holidays on the Jewish calendar. The first of all holidays is Shabbos, as we read (Vayikra 23:3): “Six days, work may be performed, but on the seventh day, it is a complete rest day, a holy occasion; you shall not perform any work.” The Torah reading outside of Eretz Yisroel is Kedoshim, where we read (Vayikra 19:3): “Every man shall fear his mother and his father, and you shall observe My Shabbosos.”
The first Shabbos the Jews were commanded to keep was sadly desecrated by, according to one opinion in the Gemara (Shabbos 96a), the melacha of Me’amer – Gathering. This week we will focus on the details of this melacha, with prayer and hope that we speedily merit “If Yisroel will keep two Shabbosos properly, they will immediately be redeemed.”
Gathering — The Melacha
After cutting wheat in the field, the sheaves are collected into one pile for further processing. In order to be a Torah prohibition, the act of Me’amer must fulfill two conditions:
1) The produce must be gathered where it grew (Mishna Brura 340:37).
2) The gathered items must be plants.
The Mishna Brura (ibid) notes that this prohibition requires specific awareness because of the ease one can come to transgress it – even gathering a tiny number of plants can constitute a Torah prohibition. If the item gathered is consumed by humans the prohibition sets in from an amount the size of a dried fig. Therefore, as soon as one gathers two of almost all fruits, or a small number of nuts or olives, he has already transgressed the prohibition of Me’amer. When the item is animal feed, the deciding amount is a lamb’s mouthful, which also is a very small amount. And when gathering firewood, the amount is the amount of wood needed to fry a chicken egg.
Although this melacha appears to be relevant only to those living in an agricultural setting, without proper awareness we can easily transgress that same melacha that the first Shabbos transgressor did. For example, it applies to one who has a tree in his backyard, or lives on carob-lined street. Even if the fruit fell to the ground by itself, or was picked by the wind, it is muktze on Shabbos and moving it is prohibited. If the fruit fell or was picked before Shabbos, one may not lift up more than one fruit at a time. If two fruits are the size of a dried fig, lifting them together constitutes a Torah prohibition (and this was the first Shabbos desecration). If they are of a lesser amount, it is also a Torah prohibition, since one is not allowed to do do a prohibited act on Shabbos even if it smaller than the cut-off point (chatsei shiur). Therefore, one who wishes to eat fallen carob pods on Shabbos must lift up one and eat it, and only then lift up the second.
On Yom Tov, when cooking is permitted, people who wish to have a barbeque lunch cannot gather branches for firewood more than one at a time. One can, however, lift up one branch that has many branches connected and then break them up and use the pieces one at a time. In general, before having a Yom Tov barbeque it is important to learn all the relevant halachos to prevent violating unknown prohibitions.
Children who before Shabbos, designated sticks or pinecones for play on Shabbos in a yard may not lift up more than one at a time. Therefore, when they want to use these items for playthings (provided they were, indeed, designated for it before Shabbos) they must lift them only one at a time.
Cleaning the Yard
Is the prohibition of Me’amer relevant when gathering fallen fruit or leaves for disposal? Arugos Habosem (OC, Me’amer 4) writes that Me’amer only applies when collecting fruit for use. When the action is done in order to dispose of it, there is no prohibition of Me’amer involved. Piskei Teshuvos (340:31) rules accordingly, noting that there may be a prohibition of muktze involved. Only if one wishes to sit in his yard and the dirt bothers him, or if the produce was designated for use before Shabbos and now one wishes to dispose of it, is sweeping the yard permitted.
Additionally, sweeping a yard is only permitted when the area is tiled and there is no possibility of leveling the ground, which would be forbidden under the melacha of Choresh – ploughing.
Consider the following scenario: one has already gathered potatoes or oranges into a large pile, and since left outside, children came along and tossed them all over the yard again. Can the produce be regathered?
The Egli Tal (Me’amer 2) writes that once produce was gathered there is no additional prohibition of Me’amer in regathering even if it was scattered in the location it grew. According to his reasoning, just as there is no prohibition of grinding once an item is ground, and there is no prohibition of baking baked products, once something was gathered there is no prohibition in regathering it. However, Shevet Halevi (I, 78:2) disputes this reasoning, maintaining scattering produce where it grew cancels the first gathering, and regathering is prohibited. Nevertheless, if it was scattered in a different location from where it grew, regathering is permitted.
The Mishna Brura (340:37) writes that the prohibition of Me’amer does not apply where this fruit does not grow, or indoors. However, gathering produce may be prohibited under the prohibition of uvdin d’chol – weekday practices, which will be detailed below.
If the fruit fell from a basket or crate and is concentrated in one area in the yard without mixture of dirt and leaves from the yard, one is permitted to regather them back into their basket or crate. However, if they scattered all over the yard, regathering them is a rabbinic prohibition of uvdin d’chol — it appears to be a weekday job.
The Mishna Brura mentions a dispute in this case: according to the Beis Yosef the prohibition only applies to gathering fruit into a receptacle, and placing it in one’s arms or skirt is permitted. The Gra, though, maintains that even this gathering is forbidden. The Mishna Brura mentions that seemingly, the Shulchan Aruch changed his mind on this. Therefore, it is recommended to be scrupulous on the matter, and not regather scattered fruit into one’s arms or clothes.
The Ohr Letzion offers a solution: the fruit can be pushed into a pile with one’s foot because it is considered k’lachar yad (gathering in an unusual manner). Since the prohibition of Me’amer only applies to the place where the fruit grew, one can be lenient.
The above is true only if the fruit isn’t mixed with dirt or leaves from the yard. If they are mixed in, even where there is no prohibition of Borer (the fruit is intended for immediate use) all opinions agree that the a prohibition of Me’amer applies even when gathering into one’s arms or clothes.
The Ohr Letzion (II 43:7) adds that if fruit was scattered indoors, gathering it is permitted because the building is their receptacle, and they are halachically considered to be in one place.
Cut or Processed Plants
Another condition for the prohibition of Me’amer is for the fruit to be in its natural form (Aruch Hashulchan, OC 340:3; Tehila Ledovid, 340:8; Shvisas Hashabos, Me’amer, chapter 4:4; Shevet Halevi, VII chapter 97; Piskei Teshivos 340:32). However, once it has been cut or processed, the prohibition of Me’amer no longer applies. Therefore, one who peeled or roasted nuts under the tree on which they grew can collect them on Shabbos if they scattered.
Gathering Different Types
The Eglei Tal (Me’amer, halacha 3:4) debates the permissability of gathering several kinds of fruit together – if the fruit is to be used together, does the prohibition of Me’amer apply? The Aruch Hashulchan (340:3) sees no prohibition involved in collecting several kinds of fruit together. However, the Ketzos Hashulchan (146:49, footnote 17) writes that if it is accepted to gather them together (such as in creating a flower arrangement) it is prohibited. The Igros Moshe (OC IV 73) rules that if the collection is for creating a fruit platter or flower arrangement and one is careful to place each piece in its place, there is no Me’amer involved because Me’amer is defined as gathering things into one pile, not turning the gathered items into a creation with a specific spot for every item.
Halacha often refers to plants as gidulei karka – things that grew in the ground. What qualifies as gidulei karka? The Nishmas Adam (17:2) writes that the definition changes for every melacha. At times, only plants will qualify, and at others, even animals, fish or dirt can be considered gidulei karka.
For the prohibition of Me’amer, the Pri Megadim (OC 340:5) defines it as products in their natural habitat. Therefore, rocks in a quarry qualify for the prohibition of Me’amer, as does salt in a salt mine. (Salt sourced from the sea in saltworks, though, does not.)
Cut mushrooms are a category of their own. Since mushrooms live technically in the air, is their bed considered their home for the melacha of Me’amer? The Ketzos Hashulchan (146:23) notes a dispute if mushrooms qualify as gidulei karka for Me’amer or not. Therefore, if you find disconnected mushrooms (edible, of course) lying near a tree, you should only collect them one at a time. The same is true for produce that grows in a non-perforated planter (which has no connection to the ground). While some maintain that they qualify as gidulei karka, others maintain that they don’t. Therefore, one who wishes to gather cherry tomatoes that fell from a homegrown tomato plant should do so one at a time.
Salt in Saltworks
Saltworks are where sea salt is harvested, primarily from dried sea brine. Gathering products in their natural habitat, while not a Torah prohibition, is a rabbinic one. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 340:9) writes that collecting salt in saltworks is prohibited, and the Mishna Brura explains that it is rabbinic prohibition, because salt, is not considered gidulei karka (footnote 37).
Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchaso (15:39) notes that gathering seashells is forbidden on Shabbos despite not being gidulei karka. The prohibition here, too, is rabbinic, because while seashells doesn’t grow on the seashore, it their natural place and gathering them is forbidden, just like gathering salt.
Ketzos Hashulchan (146:49, footnote 22) and Shevet Halevi (IV 39) write that practically, only plants are considered gidulei karka for the prohibition of Me’amer. Eggs, in this case, are not considered gidulei karka and the prohibition of gathering them is similar to the prohibition of gathering sea salt (rabbinic). Therefore, where one is concerned that the eggs may break, a gentile can be told to gather them on Shabbos just as any rabbinic prohibition can be requested of a gentile where a significant loss is concerned.
The melacha of Me’amer includes many resulting prohibitions which are called tolados – ‘offspring’ of the prohibition. These will be discussed Be’ezras Hashem in next week’s article.