God vs The Multiverse

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Half a Tree (Part 6: More Philosophy)

After we wrote the last post that was based on the philosophical explanation of orlah by the Ramban on Vayikrah 19:23, we thought about a question on his approach from one of the basic halachos of orlah.  The Rambam writes in 10:1-2
כל שהוא חייב בערלה יש לו רבעי. וכל שפטור מן הערלה אינו חייב ברבעי שנאמר שלש שנים יהיה לכם ערלים וגו' ובשנה הרביעית...נטעו שלש שנים לסייג ומכאן ואילך למאכל אין לו רבעי. שכל שאין לו ערלה אין לו רבעי
The institution neteh revai is contingent on the prior existence in the fruits of the tree as orlah.  If the tree was never subject to orlah (i.e. you had intent for a fence for the first three years, and only in the fourth year did you change your mind for food), then the tree is exempt from neteh revai.

This seems backwards according the way we understood the Ramban (that the prohibition of orlah is an accidental result of neteh revai).  We could understand if the halacha was that if there was no neteh revai then the tree would be exempt from orlah, but the other way doesn't seem to make sense.  In so far as neteh revai is the primary institution, it should still exist even if the tree was never subject to orlah!

We think that this problem can best be solved by first defining the halachic structure that underlies the relationship between orlah and revai.  They are two independent mitzvos (irrespective of their intimate philosophical connection), so how are they halachickly bound to each other?

It would seem that the way revai is contingent on orlah is through the entity of the fruit.  Namely, the entity upon which revai exists is the fruits of a tree that went through the prohibition of orlah.  How does this work?

The fruits of revai are viewed by the halacha as being the first fruits of the tree.  How is this true when the tree, in fact, produces fruits before the fourth year?  The answer lies in the verse, as explained by the Ramban.  The verse says that the tree should be "closed" for three years.  The Ramban says that it is as if the fruits are closed on the trees, and have not yet blossomed. This is because the fruits of the first three years are defined as waste products, and not food.  Only in the fourth year are they considered to open up and blossom.  It is those fourth year fruits, which are viewed by the halacha as the first fruits of the tree's life, that are obligated in revai. You use these first fruits to eat in Jerusalem and praise Hashem.

Conceptually, the prohibition of orlah is a necessary prerequisite for the institution of revai to exist.  If the tree never went through orlah, its fruits in the fourth year are not considered its first fruits and are therefore not subject to revai.  This is why the Ramban compares the mitzva of revai, which is the first fruits of a tree's life, to bikkurim, which are the first fruits of every individual crop year.

It would seem that our understanding of the Ramban in the previous post was erroneous.  The prohibition of orlah is not an accidental result of revai; it is not simply wrong to eat the fruits for the first three years because it is before you have brought them in the fourth year to Jerusalem.  (We made a mistake in comparing this prohibition to eating before making a bracha, which is a comparison the Ramban himself does not explicitly make.)  Rather, the prohibition of orlah is a necessary prerequisite in order for the fourth year fruits to be defined by the halacha as the first fruits of the tree and thereby subject to institution of revai.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Half a Tree (Part 5: Philosophy)

The basic idea that emerges from this sugya is that the definition of a fruit tree in the framework of orlah is not absolute, but is defined relative to man. We think that this idea naturally points to the essential philosophical reason behind the prohibition of eating fruits from a tree in the first three years after it was planted.  (This philosophical idea is stated by the Ramban on Vayikrah 19:23, as well as being implicit in the psukim themselves.)

If the primary reason for the prohibition was that the Torah believed there was something intrinsically harmful (whether physically or spiritually) about fruits in the first three years, it should have chosen an absolute definition of a fruit tree.  If there was something intrinsically bad about eating them, then they should've been prohibited even if you plant the tree as a fence. Apparently, this is not the reason.

Rather, the idea of orlah is tied to the positive idea of bringing the fruits to Jerusalem in the forth year and eating them there before God (the institution of neteh revai).  It is  prohibited to derive benefit from them during the first three years because it is improper to benefit from the fruits before first bringing them before God.  Essentially, the Torah is saying that you first have to recognize the true source of your blessing of fruits of the land, and only afterwards is it permissible to enjoy them.  This philosophical idea is similar to the basis of the requirement to recite a blessing before benefiting from anything in this world, as well as the concept that underlies the mitzva of giving the first fruits of every year's crop to Hashem (bikurim).

You might ask a simple question:  Why not just bring the first year's fruits to Jerusalem?  Why did the Torah prohibit the first three years, and only command bringing the forth years fruits?

The Ramban provides a very compelling explanation.  Almost all fruit trees do not produce good fruits for the first three years after they are planted.  The fruits are small, have a poor taste and smell, and are inferior to the fruits that the mature tree will produce.  As such, it is inappropriate to bring these sub-par fruits to be eaten before Hashem. The Torah therefore commanded us to wait until the forth year before the fruits could be brought.

When seen in this light, the prohibition of orlah is almost an accident of the fact that you have to wait four years to get fruit that is appropriate to bring to Jerusalem.  If fruit trees generally produced good fruit after two years, the Torah would have said to bring the second year's fruit and only prohibited the first year's fruit.  The essence of the prohibition is eating the fruits before first recognizing the true source of the good that Hashem has given us in the land of Israel and its fruits.

This explanation might sound troubling because of the fact that the prohibition of orlah applies even outside of Eretz Yisrael, where there is no institution of bringing the fruits that grow there to Jerusalem.  How are we to understand this prohibition in light of the Ramban's explanation? We hope to answer this question at the end of our next series of posts on the halacha of orlah outside of Eretz Yisrael.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Half a Tree (Part 4: More Svara)

We explain the conceptual basis for the machlokes between TK and RY about how the prohibition of orlah is formulated:

TK:  When you have a tree which is a fruit tree relative to man, then its fruits are subject to the prohibition of orlah.  If so, there's no such thing as a half of a tree.  A tree is a singular entity.  If you plant a tree, half for fruits and half for a fence, it is either entirely a fruit tree or not a fruit tree.

It would seem that since the inherent nature of the tree is that it produces fruits, and you do want its fruits (albeit only on half), it is defined as a fruit tree and all the fruits are therefore prohibited.  It is only excluded from being a fruit tree if you completely remove it from being defined as a fruit tree relative to you, by planting it for the exclusive purpose of something other than fruits.

RY: The law of orlah is not inherently one of trees, but is one of fruits.  Namely, fruits which are produced by the מלאכת האדם (human productivity) of planting fruit trees are included in orlah.  Wild, spontaneous fruits are not.

If so, when a person plants a tree, half for fruits and half for a fence, then the fruits which emerge on the "fruit side" are resultant from the human productivity of planting fruit trees and are included in orlah.  However, the fruits which emerge on the "fence side" are not.  They are a spontaneous, accidental result of fence building.

The main idea is that since, according to RY, we are not defining the tree in its own right, but are looking at the fruits of the tree, there is no problem in looking at half of the fruits of the tree in one way and the other half in another way.  This is in contrast to the TK who views orlah as being predicated on the tree itself, and is therefore forced to define the entire tree either as a fruit tree or as something else.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Half a Tree (Part 3: Svara)

The halacha of orlah applies to trees which have the property of being "fruit trees". We will investigate this property by first distinguishing between two types of properties:

(A) a property intrinsic in an object.  For example, we can talk about a dog being a carnivore.  The property of eating meat has to do with the inherent characteristics of the dog.

(B) a relative property of an object as it exists relative to man.  For example, we can talk about a dog having the property that it is a pet. The concept of a pet has no meaning independent of a relationship to an owner.  A pet exists under man's care, while a stray dog does not.

These same two possibilities can be applied regarding how the Torah defines a tree as a fruit tree, and thereby subjects it to the prohibition of orlah.  If it were defined based upon the intrinsic properties of the object (A), then all trees which grow fruit should be included, irrespective of why man planted it.  But this is not the halacha.

Rather, a fruit tree is defined relative to man (B).  It is a tree which man utilizes for producing fruit. Thus, if a person plants a fruit tree for a fence, it is not defined as a fruit tree relative to man, but as a fence which happens to grow fruit. Such a tree is not included in the prohibition of orlah.

With this in mind, we're ready to take up our second question from the previous post and define the machlokes.  Besides for trying to understand the conceptual basis for the machlokes, we asked specifically about the position of RY.  If you plant a tree, half for fruits and half for a fence, is it a fruit tree or not?  How can orlah apply to only half of a tree?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Half a Tree (Part 2: Questions and Methodology)

In approaching this area, we have two questions:

(1) Why is it relevant whether you plant a fruit-tree for fruits or for a fence?  Either way, it is still a fruit tree and should come under the prohibition of orlah. What insight does this give us into the nature of the prohibition of orlah?

(2) In approaching the machlokes, the opinion of RY seems especially difficult to define.  How can a tree be half chayav and half pattur in orlah?  This seems to be an awkward formulation.

Which of these two questions should be approached first?

Often, one has a tendency to jump right to defining the machlokes; however, this is frequently a methodological error. Without first understanding the basic law in the area, that orlah depends upon one's mindset regarding the tree, it seems premature to define RY's position or the machlokes as a whole, which are detailed applications of this basic law.

Let us therefore first try to answer question (1) and then move to the second question.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Half a Tree (Part 1: Facts)

In Vayikra 19:23-25, the Torah tells us about the institution of orlah.
כג) וְכִי-תָבֹאוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, וּנְטַעְתֶּם כָּל-עֵץ מַאֲכָל וַעֲרַלְתֶּם עָרְלָתוֹ, אֶת-פִּרְיוֹ; שָׁלֹשׁ שָׁנִים, יִהְיֶה לָכֶם עֲרֵלִים, לֹא יֵאָכֵל.  כד) וּבַשָּׁנָה, הָרְבִיעִת, יִהְיֶה, כָּל פִּרְיוֹ קֹדֶשׁ הִלּוּלִים, לַיהוָה.  כה) וּבַשָּׁנָה הַחֲמִישִׁת, תֹּאכְלוּ אֶת-פִּרְיוֹ, לְהוֹסִיף לָכֶם, תְּבוּאָתוֹ:  אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם 
When you plant a new fruit tree in Eretz Yisrael, you are prohibited from eating the fruits it produces for the first 3 years.  These prohibited fruits are called orlah.

The first mishna in Orlah qualifies this halacha:
א,א  הנוטע לסייג ולקורות, פטור מן העורלה.  רבי יוסי אומר, אפילו אמר הפנימי למאכל והחיצון לסייג--הפנימי חייב, והחיצון פטור
If you plant a fruit tree for a different purpose then for growing fruit (i.e., as a fence or for the purpose of using its wood as beams), then the fruits are exempt from the prohibition of orlah, and you are therefore allowed to eat them.  (If you later change the way you relate to the tree, it becomes prohibited - see Rambam, 10:2).

There is a dispute between the Tanna Kamma (TK) and Rabbi Yosi (RY) about what happens if you plant a tree, half for fruits and half for a fence (i.e., the outer and inner halves):

TK: All the fruits are prohibited, as you can not say that the tree is entirely for a fence. 

RY: Only the outer fruits are prohibited, while the inner fruits are permitted. 

The Rambam (10:3) holds like RY and explains that the reason is "because the matter is contingent on the mind of the person who plants the tree."
נטע אילן וחשב שיהיה הצד הפנימי שלו למאכל והחיצון לסייג. או שיהיה הצד התחתון למאכל והעליון לסייג. זה שחשב עליו למאכל חייב בערלה. וזה שחשב עליו לסייג או לעצים פטור. שהדבר תלוי בדעתו של נוטע
We would like to first  understand the basic halacha that the prohibition of orlah goes by the mind of the person who plants the tree, and then give a svara for the machlokes.  What questions should we ask in approaching this area?