- Question: [Tuesday, 27th Marcheshvan 5782]
I live in Eretz Yisrael and have a lot of dead leaves on my plants and trees. I would like to know if I can take them off during Shemita?
It is forbidden to remove dead leaves or branches from a plant or tree during the year of shemita within the Halachic borders of Eretz Yisrael, if you intend to benefit the plant or tree or its fruits in the process. If, however, you have no agricultural intent to do so, and your intent is simply to beautify the tree or plant which you feel looks unbefitting due to the dead leaves that are on it, then it is disputed if you may be lenient to do so, and while those who are lenient have upon whom to rely, it is best to be stringent. If your intent is to make use of the leaves for some purpose, such as to start a bonfire, then certainly it is allowed.
Explanation: It is forbidden to do any agricultural work during the year of shemita within the Halachic borders of Eretz Yisrael, to any plant or tree. Thus, we find that the sages forbade one from removing various blemishes from a plant or tree being that it is considered agricultural work. Accordingly, the Rambam likewise rules that it is forbidden to cut dead leaves and branches from a tree. From other Rishonim it is implied that this prohibition only applies when done specifically for the sake of benefiting the plant or tree, such as so it doesn’t hold so much weight and can grow more easily, or to allow the sun to shine more brightly on the healthy parts. If, however, there is absolutely no agricultural intent involved in one’s removal of the branches or leaves, such as he wants to use them for a certain purpose, then certainly it is permitted to be done. Where the question comes up is regarding when one’s purpose in removing the dead branches and leaves is for the sake of beautifying the plant or tree so one’s garden looks beautiful and up-kept. Practically, this matter is a general debate in the Poskim of today, with some siding that whenever agricultural work is forbidden it includes even for beauty purposes, and others siding that beautification is not defined as agricultural work, as agricultural work is specifically when it helps the growth of the produce and only when that is one’s intent.
Sources: Mishneh Shevi’is 2:2; Rambam Shemita 1:5 “and do not remove the dry leaves and branches”; Rash Shevi’is 2:2 that one does so for the sake of lightening the weight on the tree, thus implying that this applies only when one has an agricultural intent in doing so; Tosafos Harosh and Meiri Moed Katan 3; Halichos Hashevi’is 8:12; Regarding if doing for the sake of beauty is considered agricultural work see: Derech Emuna 1 Tziyon Halacha 95 and Mishpitei Aretz 4:23 [forbidden]; Shemita Kehilchasa 1:11; Shut Pela Hayoeitz [stulman] 62; [permitted]; Halichos Shevi’is 7:6; 10:6-7