- Question: [Wednesday, 17th Elul, 5781]
We live in Eretz Yisrael and need to uproot a tree that has roots interfering with the underground piping. I wanted to know if we must get this done before Shemita, or may do so also during Shemita.
It is permitted to uproot a non-fruit bearing tree during Shemita for non-agricultural purposes, such as for the purpose that you stated. However, if the tree is a fruit tree, then certain limitations apply which have nothing to do with Shemita, and is relevant to the general prohibition against uprooting a fruit tree. Practically, in a case such as yours, you may uproot even a fruit tree, although it should be done through a Gentile, and possibly may not be done during Shemita, depending on the stage of the growth of the fruit, as will be explained. Alternatively, it should be uprooted with its soil and replanted elsewhere, although in such a case this must be done before Shemita due to the planting prohibition. Another issue with uprooting a fruit tree during Shemita is the fact that by doing so you are destroying Shemita produce and hence one may only do so if the tree has grown its fruit at least 1/3 of their growth, or if the tree has not yet begun to produce any fruit. Even in a case of a non-fruit bearing tree, during Shemita, you may only uproot up to two trees which are next to each other, and not more.
Explanation: There is no intrinsic prohibition involved in uprooting trees during Shemita as the action of uprooting a tree and throwing it out is not of any agricultural benefit. It is however forbidden to do so with intent of agricultural benefit such as for future growth of produce in the field, and therefore the sages prohibited one to uproot three or more trees that are next to each other, being that when one removes the roots of three trees it has agricultural benefit to the land. Rather, in such a case although one may cut the wood one must leave the roots in the ground. If, however, they are not next to each other, than this is not an issue. The above is regarding a non-fruit bearing tree, however, a fruit bearing tree has the additional issues mentioned above for which reason it may be forbidden to uproot them during the year, or during Shemita.
Sources: See regarding the issue of cutting more than two trees which are next to each other: Rambam Shemita 1:18; Derech Emuna 148; Halichos Hasshevi’is 12:1; See regarding the issue of destroying Shemita produce when destroying a fruit tree during Shemita: Rambam Shemita 5:17; Derech Emuna 128; Halichos Hasshevi’is 34:2-4; See regarding destroying fruit trees: https://shulchanaruchharav.com/halacha/destroying-a-fruit-tree/