This article is an excerpt from our Sefer
Destroying a tree:
A. Destroying a fruit bearing tree:
The prohibition and danger: It is Biblically forbidden to unjustifiably destroy a [healthy] fruit bearing tree due to the prohibition of Bal Tashchis, as explained above. Furthermore, in addition to the prohibition of Bal Tashchis associated with destroying a fruit bearing tree, there is likewise a danger involved in doing so. [This prohibition due to Bal Tashchis, and danger, applies both in Eretz Yisrael and in the Diaspora. Likewise, the prohibition applies to all trees, whether owned by a Jew, gentile or public property.] This however is with exception to those cases that the prohibition of Bal Tashchis does not apply [as explained next], in which case the danger likewise does not exist. [Some Poskim however learn that some danger exists even in those cases in which the prohibition of Bal Tashchis does not apply. Some Poskim suggest that to avoid this danger even in the permitted cases, he is to ask a gentile to uproot the tree to avoid any possible danger. Other Poskim add that to avoid this danger even in the permitted cases, one should sell his tree to a gentile through a Kinyan Kesef and Shtar, and then have the gentile uproot it. When the cutting of the tree is needed for a Mitzvah purpose, such as to expand a Shul, then even a Jew may cut it.]
The permitted cases: [The following are the permitted cases in which the prohibition of Bal Tashchis and Sakana does not apply, although some rule that some level of danger still remains, as explained above:] It is permitted to destroy a fruit tree for a bodily or material benefit, as explained above. For example, if a fruit bearing tree weakens one’s land and damages other trees that are better than it, then it may be cut down. [Thus, if a tree is causing damage towards crops of greater importance, such as vines, it is permitted to cut down that tree.] Likewise, if one needs the space of the fruit bearing tree in order to build there, or if one wants to cut it down because it darkens one’s window, then it is permitted to cut it down. [If, however, it suffices to cut off the branches that are darkening the window, rather than tear down the entire tree, then one must do so, and it is forbidden to cut down the entire tree.] Likewise, if the tree’s [wood] can reap more money in use for building than it can reap in fruit production [then one may destroy it]. This ruling applies by all other cases of destruction [that one may do so for a positive purpose]. [Some Poskim rule that in all cases of allowance, if one is able to uproot the entire tree with its soil and re-plant it elsewhere, then he is required to do so, rather than destroy the tree. In all the above cases of allowance, one must be certain that the benefit achieved through destroying the tree is greater than the loss of the tree. If one is in doubt, it is forbidden to do so. ]
B. Destroying a tree that cannot bear fruit:
It is permitted to cut down any tree which cannot bear fruit. One may cut it down for even no purpose at all.
Old fruit tree: Likewise, an old fruit tree which only bears a small amount of fruit and is thus no longer worth the trouble to care and garden it, it is permitted to cut it down [for even no need at all]. The same law applies to destroying all other items of similar scenarios [in which the item either serves no benefit or its benefit is so minimal that it is deemed worthless]. An olive tree which produces a ¼ of a Kav of olives, and a palm tree which produces a Kav of dates, are [considered useful fruit bearing trees and are hence] forbidden to be cut down.
It is Biblically forbidden to destroy or damage a fruit bearing tree without justifiable reason, and doing so is considered a danger. [Even when a justifiable reason is applicable, some Poskim maintain that the danger still somewhat applies. To avoid this danger according to all, even in the justifiable cases, one is to ask a gentile to cut the tree rather than have a Jew cut it down. If, however, one needs to cut if for the sake of a Mitzvah, then in the justifiable cases, one may have a Jew cut it down.] It is permitted to cut down a non-fruit bearing tree for even no reason at all.
The justifiable reasons: It is permitted to cut down a fruit bearing tree in any of the following cases:
1. The tree is weakening one’s land and is damaging other trees that are better than it.
2. One needs the space of the tree for building purposes.
3. The tree is blocking the sun from one’s window, [and it does not suffice to simply trim the branches].
4. The wood of the tree is worth more than its fruit production.
*[In all cases of allowance, one is to initially have a gentile cut the tree to avoid all worries of danger, and if one is able to uproot the tree with its roots and soil, and replant elsewhere, then he is obligated to do so.]
May one ask a gentile to cut down the fruit bearing tree?
In all cases that it is forbidden due to Bal Tashchis and Sakana for a Jew to cut it down, it is likewise forbidden to ask a gentile to cut it down. However, in those cases that it is permitted to cut down the tree, and one simply suspects for the aspect of danger, then it is permitted to ask a gentile to cut it down.
May one uproot a tree together with its roots/soil for the sake of replanting elsewhere?
Some Poskim rule it is permitted to uproot a tree together with its roots and soil with intent to replant elsewhere, even if there is no justifiable reason for doing so. Other Poskim however rule that one is never to uproot a tree, even with its soil with intent to replant elsewhere, unless one of the above justifiable reasons are applicable, such as one needs to use its space, in which case if one is able to uproot the tree with its soil one is required to do so, rather than destroy the tree. Practically, one may be lenient through a gentile.
May one cut a branch off a fruit tree?
Some Poskim rule it is forbidden to break a branch off from a fruit bearing tree [without one of the above-mentioned justifiable reasons]. Other Poskim however rule it is permitted to be done [in all cases]. Other Poskim are lenient for the sake of a Mitzvah. Practically, one may be lenient for the sake of a Mitzvah through asking a gentile to cut it off. [Thus, if one needs to cut branches for Sechach, Sukkah or Shavuos decorations, ideally one should cut the branches of a non-fruit bearing tree. If this is not available, then he is to ask a gentile to cut the branches.]
Pruning branches off a tree for maintenance purposes: It is permitted to prune branches off a fruit tree for the purpose of benefiting the health of the tree, so it grows healthy fruit, in accordance to the directives of a professional gardener. However, it is forbidden to prune the branches simply for beauty purposes, to beautify the tree. Furthermore, even when pruning for purposes of maintaining the health of the fruit tree, it is best for it to be done through a gentile, such as a gentile gardener, as stated above.
Cutting branches that encroach into one’s property or public area: One whose neighbor’s tree is encroaching into one’s property, then if it is getting in the way of one’s use of the property. The same applies towards a privately-owned tree which encroaches onto the public pathway, that its branches may be cut to allow for smooth transit. Nonetheless, it is best to have the branches cut by a gentile, in as stated above.
Is a fruit tree that its fruit is not generally eaten by the populace considered a fruit tree in this regard?
Yes. Thus, fruits that are not eaten due to infestation problems, or due to being of low quality, such as wild apples and pears, nevertheless contain the above-mentioned prohibition.
Is a tree that did not yet begin to produce fruit considered a fruit bearing tree?
 Admur Shemiras Guf Venefesh Bal Tashchis Halacha 16-17
 Admur ibid Halacha 16-17; Bava Kama 91b-92a; Bava Basra 26a; Makos 22a; Pesachim 50b; Semak 229; Rambam Melachim 6:10; Tzava of Rav Yehuda Hachassid 45 and Sefer Chassidim 53; Taz Y.D. 116:6; Beir Heiytiv 116:8; Pischeiy Teshuvah 116:6; Taz ibid writes that this law is omitted in Tur and Shulchan Aruch, however see Tur Y.D. 349-350; C.M. 383; See also Avodas Hagershoni Y.D. 116 and Shvus Yaakov 1:159 who question this assertion of Taz; See Shivim Temarim 53
 It is clearly evident from Admur ibid that cutting down a tree is Biblically forbidden due to Bal Tashchis, and so is understood from Makos ibid and so rules Sheilas Yaavetz 1:76; Gilyon Maharsha Y.D. 116; Rambam Sefer Hamitzvos ibid; Tosafus Bava Metzia 32b; See Shivim Temarim 53
Other opinions: Some Poskim imply that destroying fruit tree is only forbidden due to Sakana, and not due to Bal Tashchis [Taz Y.D. 116:6; The Poskim ibid question this ruling of the Taz; See Gilyon Maharasha ibid; Shivim Temarim ibid]
 Admur ibid Halacha 17; Taz ibid; Rav Chanina in Bava Basra 26a; See Shivim Temarim ibid; Sefer Chassidim ibid does not state why it is forbidden and makes no mention of danger
 Setimas Kol Haposkim; Shivim Temarim ibid p. 59 in his final conclusion, unlike his initial attempted understanding
 Admur ibid Halacha 14 regarding Bal Tashchis; Sheilas Yaavetz 1:76
 Admur ibid Halacha 17; Binyan Tziyon 1:61; Avnei Tzedek Y.D. 42-2, brought in Darkei Teshuvah 116:51; Shivim Temarim ibid p. 60a that so is implied from Gemara and Poskim; See also Michaber C.M. 155:26; Mishneh Bava Basra 27b regarding the allowance to cut the branches of a neighbors tree that is encroaching into one’s property, and interferes with one’s desired use, and no mention is made that by a fruit tree, one must beware due to the danger involved
Other opinions: See next!
 Sheilas Yaavetz 1:76, brought in Darkei Teshuvah 116:51, that so is intent of Sefer Chassidim; Toras Chaim on Bava Basra ibid and so learns Makor Chesed 62 in Bava Basra ibid; Shivim Temarim ibid and Makor Chesed 62 that the novelty of the Sefer Chassidim ibid who recorded the prohibition of cutting a fruit tree, is to teach us that the danger applies even in the permitted cases; Shivim Temarim 53:17 that one does not see a Siman Bracha even in the permitted cases, and so is implied from Pesachim 50b; See Igros Kodesh 7:264 who hints to this ruling of Sakana even in the permitted cases, even though it is clear that according to Admur it is allowed. In that letter the Rebbe instructed the asker to be stringent [despite Admur’s leniency] being that in the past a negative occurrence happened to him as a result.
 Sheilas Yaavetz ibid; Shivim Temarim 53:16 that doing so avoids the leftover danger in the permitted cases, even according to Rebbe Yehuda Hachassid; Chaim Sheol 1:22 and Kaf Hachaim 116:84 that even in the permitted cases it is best to cut it through a gentile
 Beis Shlomo Y.D. 1:191; Zera Emes 2:53, brought in Darkei Teshuvah 116:51
 Sheilas Yaavetz 1:76; Ikarei Hadat Y.D. 14:2 and 8; Shivim Temarim 53:16
 Tzemach Tzedek chapter 41, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 116:6
 Admur ibid; Taz ibid; Rosh on Bava Kama 91b; Kneses Hagedola 116:31; Chaim Sheol 1:22; Chasam Sofer 102; Chochmas Adam 68:7; Bashamayim Rosh 334; Pischeiy Teshuvah ibid; Aruch Hashulchan 116:13; Kaf Hachaim 116:84
 Admur ibid; Chavos Yair 195; Lechem Hapanim 116:3; Beis Lechem Yehuda 116:4; Chaim Sheol 1:22; Kaf Hachaim 116:85
 Chavos Yair 195; Lechem Hapanim 116:3; Beis Lechem Yehuda 116:4; Chaim Sheol 1:22; Kaf Hachaim 116:85
 Admur ibid Halacha 16
 Chasam Sofer 102, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah ibid
 Chasam Sofer ibid, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah ibid
 Admur ibid Halacha 16; Rambam Melachim 6:9; Rabbeinu Yerucham 21; Bava Kama 91b; See Shivim Temarim 53:17
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule it is forbidden to cut down even a tree that does not bear fruit, for absolutely no need at all. [Kehilas Yaakov, brought in Darkei Teshuvah 116:51]
 Shivim Temarim 52:16; Poskim in Darkei Teshuvah 116:51
The reason: As throughout the entire Torah, whatever is forbidden to be performed by a Jew is forbidden to ask a Gentile to perform on one’s behalf. [Poskim ibid; See Admur 243:1; 343:5; 450:20; Ribis 72; Sheila Usechirus 29; Michaber C.M. 338:6 [regarding muzzling animal]; Beis Shmuel E.H. 5:16; Beir Hagoleh; Shach Y.D. 141:17 and 23; Question brought in Bava Metzia 90a -see Biur Hagr”a 5:32]
 Shivim Temarim 52:16; See Shut Beshamayim Rosh 334, brought in Pischeiy Tesahuvah ibid, regarding if one needs the space of the tree that “Through a gentile one is not to be stringent at all”; Poskim in Darkei Teshuvah 116:51; Sheilas Yaavetz ibid; Chaim Sheol 1:22 and Kaf Hachaim 116:84 that even in the permitted cases it is best to cut it through a gentile
 See Pischeiy Teshuvah 116:6
 Sheilas Yaavetz 1:76, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah ibid; Shvus Yaakov 1:159; Chaim Sheol 1:23; Kaf Hachaim 116:86
 The reason: As the prohibition only applies against destroying the tree and when one uproots a tree with its roots and soil, it is as if the tree is still planted in the ground, as is evident regarding the laws of Arla. [Yaavetz ibid]
 Chasam Sofer 102, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah ibid
 Chaim Sheol ibid; Kaf hachaim ibid
 See Darkei Teshuvah 116:51; Piskeiy Teshuvos 629:12
 Beir Sheva, brought in Mishneh Lamelech Issurei Mizbeiach 7:3; Mahariy Besen 118; Beis Yitzchak 1:144
 See Mishneh Lamelech Issurei Mizbeiach 7:3 in length; Beis Yaakov 140, brought in Darkei Teshuvah 116:51; Sheilas Yaavetz 1:76
 The reason: As the prohibition only applies to destroying the entire tree. [ibid]
 Divrei Chaim Y.D. 2:59; Beis Yitzchak ibid; Dovev Meisharim 1:134; Har Tzevi 2:102
 Har Tzevi 2:101-102; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:376; Piskeiy Teshuvos 629:12
 This follows the ruling of Admur ibid that one may cut down a fruit tree if it is causing damage to other fruits trees of greater value. Thus, certainly one may prune a branch off the tree for the sake of having the rest of the tree grow healthy fruit, as certain branches suck out an exorbitant amount of the trees energy and prevent it from developing good quality fruit.
 Michaber C.M. 155:26; Mishneh Bava Basra 27b
 Michaber 155:27; Mishneh Bava Basra 27b
 Neta Shoreik 42 and Avnei Tzedek 42-2, brought in Darkei Teshuvah 116:51
 Erech Shaiy, brought in Darkei Teshuvah 116:51