Bava Batra, Chapter Two, Mishnah Seven

 

Introduction

Mishnah seven deals with distancing trees from the city.  In modern times we think of trees as beautifying a city.  However, in ancient times trees were not commonly found inside the city itself.  Furthermore, it was considered aesthetic for there to be empty fields surrounding the city.

 

Mishnah Seven

1)                     A tree may not be grown within a distance of twenty five cubits from the town, or fifty cubits if it is a carob tree or a sycamore tree.

a)                                           Abba Shaul says:  “Any tree that bears no fruit may not be grown within a distance of fifty cubits.”

2)                     If the town was there first, the tree shall be cut down and no compensation given; if the tree was there first it shall be cut down and compensation given.

a)                                           If it is in doubt which was there first, the tree shall be cut down and no compensation given.

 

Explanation

According to the anonymous opinion in section one, a regular tree must not be grown within a distance of twenty five cubits from the city, nor a carob or sycamore tree within fifty cubits. Since carob and sycamore trees have thick branches, they must be kept further away.  Abba Shaul, section 1a, distinguishes between fruit and non-fruit bearing trees. Non-fruit bearing trees must be kept fifty cubits away, and assumedly, fruit bearing trees can be planted closer, as was stated in the previous clause.

In section two we learn that if the offending tree was planted before the town was built, the tree will still be cut down, but compensation will be given to its owner.  If the city was built first, the tree is cut down and no compensation is given.  Since it was planted illegally, the owner does not get compensation when it is uprooted.  Finally, if we are unsure which existed first, the town or the tree, no compensation is given, since as we have learned many times, in Jewish law the burden of proof is on the plaintiff.  In this case the tree owner is the plaintiff suing the city for compensation.  If he cannot bring proof that his tree existed before the city, he does not receive compensation.

 

Mishnah Eight

1)                     A permanent threshing floor may not be made within fifty cubits of the town.

2)                     One may not make a permanent threshing floor within his own domain unless his ground extends fifty cubits in every direction.

a)                                           And he must distance it from his fellow’s plants and ploughed land so that it will not cause damage.

 

Explanation—Mishnah Eight

Sections one and two state that a threshing floor may not be placed less than fifty cubits from another person’s property or from the town.  The reason for this prohibition was explained in the introduction.

Section 2a also restricts a person from placing a threshing floor close to his neighbor’s plants or ploughed land.  Again, the chaff can be damaging to plants and can spoil ploughed land.

 

Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Why does Abba Shaul allow fruit bearing trees to be planted closer to the town?

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