Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fear of cutting down fruit trees

NYTimes In certain Orthodox Jewish communities, from Borough Park to Monsey, N.Y., rabbis say, there is a strong aversion to chopping down fruit trees, which results from some combination of biblical verses, Jewish law and mystical documents that prohibit destroying them wantonly. In New York City, where space is tight and the option to build out in another direction generally does not exist, that means friendly neighborhood foliage can present an especially hard challenge.

“It’s an extraordinary reminder of the kind of spiritual consciousness people need to be able to sustain, particularly in urban settings,” said Rabbi Saul J. Berman, an associate professor of Jewish studies at Yeshiva University. “You see this tree and the way it’s being guarded, and suddenly you realize there’s something going on here besides just human needs.”

This broader consideration, however, does not always come cheaply, as Mr. Wieder can attest to, or easily. 

Others have wrapped more than just a staircase around a tree in the name of keeping it alive — like, for example, an entire building. 

At Shloimy’s Bake Shoppe on 12th Avenue in Brooklyn, where flaky perfection can be found in the form of hand-rolled rugelach, there is a glass enclosure toward the back, right behind a giant oven and stacks of baking trays. Inside this glass box, which is open to the sky, is a berry tree. 

“When we bought this place, we thought we would build all the way back, and then it became summer,” said Joe Leiberman, whose family owns the bakery. “We saw it was a fruit tree, and we changed all the plans.” 

Interpretations may vary, but several rabbis, including Rabbi Berman, Rabbi Mayer Schiller and Rabbi Gavriel Zinner, who has written more than two dozen books on Jewish law and tradition, say this practice emerged from a passage in Deuteronomy: Even in wartime, one should not chop down your enemies’ fruit trees. There are also Talmudic sources, some said. And a mystical document called the Will of Rabbi Yehudah HaChosid, which dates back nearly 1,000 years and tends to hold more sway in Hasidic communities, took it further. 

“He very cryptically asserted that it’s really dangerous to cut down a fruit-bearing tree because you’re tampering with God’s property,” Rabbi Berman said. “And if you want to tamper with God’s property, be cautious.”


  1. What does rabbi yehuda hachusid say about tampering with little boys.?

  2. What is the problem? In Monsey, the goyim know that if they buy the trees from the Jews they can cut them down. The same thing is true here.

    There are various klalos for cutting down a Jewish fruit tree which has not been sold. This article distorts the facts and tries to play up heeby jeeby in order to discredit Orthodox Jews.

  3. Torah forbids cutting down a fruit tree under certain conditions:

    1) that you go to war against an enemy city
    2) it is a long siege

    the purpose declared in the torah is that Israel can benefit from the fruit during the siege

    This has nothing to do with gardening or farming practices. If in peacetime a fruit tree is not required, or not giving fruit, there is no torah issur on cutting it down.

  4. It's forbidden even when not at war. If a fruit tree is not required you may not cut it down. You may cut it if it is damaging other trees, damaging another's field or its value as wood is greater than its value for fruit. Not needing it is not a valid reason.

    רמב"ם הלכות מלכים פרק ו

    הלכה ח
    אין קוצצין אילני מאכל שחוץ למדינה ואין מונעין מהם אמת המים כדי שייבשו, שנאמר לא תשחית את עצה, וכל הקוצץ לוקה, ולא במצור בלבד אלא בכל מקום כל הקוצץ אילן מאכל דרך השחתה לוקה, אבל קוצצין אותו אם היה מזיק אילנות אחרים, או מפני שמזיק בשדה אחרים, או מפני שדמיו יקרים, לא אסרה תורה אלא דרך השחתה.


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