|Tractate Peah, Chapter 2
From when can we burn stubble2 [that is left] in the fields [after the harvest, and it is not considered stealing from the poor]?3 In an orchard4 [the poor can collect stubble] until [the holiday of] Shavuot5 [and then it is permitted to burn it]. In a grass field6 [the poor can collect stubble] until [the holiday of] Rosh Hashanah7 [and then it is permitted to burn it].8 [And] in a field dependent on irrigation,9 [the stubble can be burned] right away. [These are] the words of Rebbi Yehuda. And the Chachamim (Sages) say, “In a grass field [the poor can collect stubble] until [the holiday of] Shavuot10 [and then it is permitted to burn it]. In an orchard [the poor can collect stubble] until [the holiday of] Rosh Hashanah [and then it is permitted to burn it], because of theft from people and animals.11 [And] in a field dependent on irrigation, [the stubble can be burned] right away.”12
מסכת פאה פרק ב
מֵאֵימָתַי שׂוֹרְפִין קָשִׁין שֶׁבַּשָּׂדוֹת? בשדה אילן עד עצרת, בשדה לבן עד ראש השנה, בִּשְׂדֵה בֵּית הַשְּׁלָחִין מִיָּד, דִּבְרֵי רבי יְהוּדָה. וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמרים בְּשָׂדֶה לָבָן עַד הַעֲצֶרֶת, בִּשְׂדֵה אִילָן עַד רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה מִפְּנֵי גֶזֶל אָדָם וּבְהֵמָה, בִּשְׂדֵה בֵּית הַשְּׁלָחִין מִיָּד.
1. The Tosefta states a new law regarding the cutoff dates of when the planting of the fields for the following year takes priority over the access of the poor to the crops of the previous year. This Tosefta is not related to any Mishna.
It should be noted that there is a lot of controversy among the commentators about how to interpret this Tosefta due to its obscure language. Some, like the Gra (Vilna Gaon), have chosen to significantly alter the wording of the Tosefta based on logic without any manuscript reference. Others, like Chasdei David, have stated that this Tosefta is completely out of place and it is really talking about burning of stubble during Shmitta (Sabbatical Year) and not during a regular year. As will be seen from my interpretation of this Tosefta, I have shown that in fact it is talking about gifts to the poor and fits very well into the context of this chapter. Textual emendations based on logic are not necessary to put this Tosefta in its proper context as long as it is understood against the background of agricultural practices of the ancient Land of Israel.
2. Stubble is dried-up stalks, mainly of grain, left standing in the fields. Sometimes it is used by camels to supplement their regular meals, but mostly it is used as fuel for burning something. It cannot be used as food for regular domestic animals, because it is too hard. The Hebrew word for stubble is קש, as opposed to straw, which is תבן. Stubble should not be confused with straw since straw is stalks that have been cut into small pieces by the threshing process and is used as roughage for domestic animals. See The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 1915 (entry Straw, Stubble).
Stubble gets naturally left in the fields since only the top part of the stalks gets harvested. The bottom portion of the stalk remains attached to the ground and becomes stubble.
Stubble left in the field after harvest. Photo: H. J. Sydow.
There are a few reasons why the owners of the field would want to burn stubble and not just let it wither away over the winter or simply plow it under. Stubble is considered to be residue of the previous harvest and it impedes seeding operations during the planting of the next year’s crop. Also, if the stubble is not removed it aids in the growth of weeds causing damage to the new crop. See William Schillinger, “Direct Seeding into Heavy Irrigated Stubble Instead of Burning Proposal”, Washington State Department of Ecology, 2003, http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/air/aginfo/research_pdf_files/schillingerproposal.pdf, accessed on August 18, 2010. Also, some research have shown that stubble that is just plowed under and not burned causes disease in the new crops. See Roy Dell Wilcoxson, Eugene Eino Saari, Barbara Ballantyne, “Bunt and smut diseases of wheat: concepts and methods of disease management”, CIMMYT, 1996, p. 56. Although, nowadays farmers look for alternative methods to burning stubble mainly, because the smoke from the fires causes a lot of pollution, stubble burning has been a traditional method of getting rid of stubble for thousands of years.
Indian farmers burning rice stubble after the harvest in November 2003. Photo: USDA.
3. Since stubble is only fit to be burned, the poor would collect it from the fields in order to use it as fuel in their homes. Although stubble does not fall into any official category of gifts for the poor based on Torah law, it appears from this Tosefta that it was something that was considered to be of value to the poor and was officially left for them to collect up to the time of the planting process for the following year. The Rabbis were very careful in making sure that the poor get their fuel and forbade the owners of the fields from getting rid of it too early. Hence this law is of rabbinic origin.
4. You may wonder why there would be stubble in an orchard since only trees grow there and not grass. The answer to this question is that cover crops are necessary to be planted in between the rows of trees in order to keep the fertility of the soil and reduce soil erosion. This even remains a common practice today. For examples of how and which cover crops are used in olive orchards see Paul M. Vossen, “Organic Olive Production Manual”, ANR Publications, 2007, pp. 41-43.
A vineyard in Sonoma County, California with cover crops planted in between rows of grapevines. Photo: Lore Sjoberg.
5. Shavuot occurs in the beginning of the summer, exactly 7 weeks after Pesach, and signifies the beginning of the fruit harvest, as was celebrated during the Temple times by the ceremony of the bringing of the Bikkurim (First Fruits) to the Bet Hamikdash (Temple). See Devarim 26:1-11.
The reason Rebbi Yehuda holds that the owner may begin burning the stubble of the cover crops starting on Shavuot is because Shavuot was the end of the harvesting season of the cover crops themselves, which usually were either some kind of grain or legumes. The cover crops are either cultivated and harvested for the sake of the crop itself or mowed and then dumped around the trees as fertilizer to prevent growth of weeds. See Paul M. Vossen, “Organic Olive Production Manual”, ANR Publications, 2007, p. 42. Even though the harvest of the fruit in the orchard just began, since the harvest of the cover crops was over, Rebbi Yehuda permitted burning of the stubble that remained after the cover crops were mowed.
6. Literally: white field. Since grass fields did not have any trees that would create shadows they were called “white fields” referring to their brightness in the sun and them being shadelessness. See Marcus Jastrow, “Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature”, 2nd Edition, 1926, p. 690, entry לָבָן II.
7. Rosh Hashanah occurs in the beginning of the fall, on the first of the month of Tishrei, towards the end of the fruit harvesting season. See Vayikra 23:24 and Bemidbar 29:1. However, it does not signify the end of the fruit harvest. The end of the fruit harvest is celebrated during the holiday of Sukkot, as explicitly stated in the Torah (Vayikra 23:39), which begins on the 15th of Tishrei, two weeks after Rosh Hashanah. It is not clear why Rebbi Yehuda chose Rosh Hashanah and not Sukkot as the cutoff date for burning the stubble. I would like to suggest that since the rainy season in the Land of Israel officially began on the 15th of Tishrei (see Talmud Bavli Taanit 2b), on the first day of Sukkot, Rebbi Yehuda wanted to give two weeks to the owners of the fields to be able to burn their stubble while the weather was still nice. It should be noted that during most years Sukkot falls out during the end of September or the beginning of October, which is when the rain just begins to fall. For the description of Israel’s rainy season see Efraim Orni, Elisha Efrat, “Geography of Israel”, JPS, 1973, pp. 146-147.
A more difficult question to answer is why Rebbi Yehuda chose to prohibit burning of the stubble until the end of the fruit harvesting season and not just until the end of the grain and legumes harvesting season which occurs on Shavuot. It seems to me that since grain fields were the main source of stubble, which was an important source of fuel, Rebbi Yehuda wanted to leave ample time for the poor to collect it. Since it was not critical for the owner to burn the stubble immediately after the grain harvest, because the planting of next year’s crops does not begin until the fall, Rebbi Yehuda felt that it was proper to leave the stubble for the poor at a minor inconvenience for the land owner.
8. I have chosen the reading of the statement of Rebbi Yehuda from the Erfurt manuscript, since it makes sense agriculturally. In the Vienna manuscript the reading is as follows:
בְּשָׂדֶה לָבָן עַד הַפֶּסַח בִּשְׂדֵה אִילָן עַד רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה מִפְּנֵי גֶזֶל אָדָם וּבְהֵמָה
In a grass field [the poor can collect stubble] until [the holiday of] Pesach [and then it is permitted to burn it]. In an orchard [the poor can collect stubble] until [the holiday of] Rosh Hashanah, because of theft from people and animals, [and then it is permitted to burn it].
Besides the fact that this reading does not flow with the statement of the Chachamim in terms of the order of the fields and the fact that he is not arguing on them regarding the orchard, it also does not make any sense agriculturally. In the Land of Israel the grain harvest would begin on the 2nd day of Pesach with the Omer sacrifice and would conclude on the holiday of Shavuot. This grain harvesting season is emphasized in the Torah. See Vayikra 23:10-22. It would not make any sense to begin burning the stubble on Pesach since that is when the harvest just started. The farmers could only start burning the stubble after Shavuot when the grain harvest was over and they could begin planting the crops for the following year.
9. In ancient Israel most farmers relied on rain. They did not have the means to irrigate their fields by bringing water from some kind of a reservoir. The few exceptions to this were fields on the shores of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and on the banks of the River Jordan where the farmers were able to divert the water into a canal that passed through the field. In rare cases the fields were irrigated from a water reservoir where rain water was collected. A field that needed irrigation besides regular rainfall was considered to be a lot more sensitive and doing anything to prevent irrigation of that field would pose high risk to the success of the crops. Therefore the Rabbis allowed the owner to burn the stubble immediately so that he can begin the irrigation of the field for next year’s crops.
Vineyard on the Carmey Avdat farm in the Negev desert, Israel irrigated by flash floods using ancient Nabatean methods from the Talmudic era. Photo: carmey-avdat.co.il
10. The Chachamim are of the opinion that the farmer is allowed to burn the stubble as soon as the harvesting season is over, regardless if he is going to start planting next year’s crops right away or not. In a grass field, where the produce is either grain or legumes, the harvest is over on Shavuot and therefore he can burn the stubble right after Shavuot. This allows the owner to start working on preparing the field for next year’s crop immediately after the harvest is over.
11. The Chachamim explain their opinion regarding orchards, because it is inconsistent with their logic in their previous opinion. Since they hold that the owner is allowed to burn stubble as soon as the harvest of the crop is over they should agree to Rebbi Yehuda that since the cover crops in an orchard are harvested until Shavuot the owner should be allowed to burn stubble from Shavuot on. However, the Chachamim disagreed with Rebbi Yehuda in this particular case, because they felt it would be a waste of stubble at that point in time since the farmer did not need to plant next year’s cover crops until he harvested the whole orchard. This is what they meant by saying that it would be “theft from animals and people”. Since the stubble could be used by people for fuel and animals, such as camels, for food, it would be a waste to burn it early. Since the fruit harvest ended on Sukkot, the Chachamim really should have only allowed burning the stubble after Sukkot. The reason that they allowed it from Rosh Hashanah was so that the farmer would have enough time to burn his stubble before the rains began, as I already explained in note 7.