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Q&A From the Bais HaVaad Halacha Hotline

Prune Jews

Rav Aryeh Finkel

February 24, 2022


Q  I own an apartment in Eretz Yisrael. When we visit, I tend to the esrog tree in my garden, clipping off extra branches, which enables the tree to properly nurture the fruit. May I do this during Shmitah?

A The halachos of Shmitah are complex. Here is a basic outline, but specific questions should be presented to a knowledgeable rav.

First, know that any fruit that grows during Shmitah is hefker. You must openly display this by leaving the gate open, indicating that you’re not retaining ownership of the fruit. Only then may you take the fruit for yourself. According to several Rishonim, fruits that were guarded by their owner on Shmitah are forbidden to be eaten; the Chazon Ish (Shvi’is 26) rules this way.

Regarding pruning, the Torah (Vayikra 25:4) states, “And in the seventh year…your vineyards you shall not prune.” Although the Torah only speaks of vineyards, many authorities maintain that this applies to all trees (see Or Sameiach Hil. Shmitah 1:15), but others limit the de’Oreisa prohibition to the grapevine (see Chazon Ish ibid. 21:15). Still, all authorities agree that there is at least a deRabanan prohibition to prune any tree.

Whether the issur is de’Oreisa or deRabanan has halachic implications. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 6b) offers a general rule for hilchos shvi’is, that one may perform work on a tree for the purpose of ukumei (preservation or maintenance), but not for the purpose of avruyei (improvement). Accordingly, twigs or branches that hinder the tree’s proper development may be pruned to preserve its value—though some authorities advise doing so with a shinui—but it is forbidden to prune branches to enhance the fruit or to boost the tree’s growth. But this rule only applies to melachos deRabanan; melachos de’Oreisa are forbidden even for ukumei. So according to the Chazon Ish, one may prune an esrog tree for ukumei, because that is not a melachah de’Oreisa (see Derech Emunah Hil. Shmitah 1:10). But according to those who say the issur de’Oreisa of pruning applies to all trees, doing so for any purpose is forbidden.


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