Tractate Peah, Chapter 3
A [single]2 olive tree that [has been placed in the field to find its optimal growing spot with the intention to possibly be re-planted3 and it itself comprises the middle row of] three rows [of plants], [the] two [other rows on the sides of it being] rectangular plots [of grain], that has been forgotten is not [considered to be] Shikcha (forgotten sheaves), [and therefore the farmer may go back and harvest it when he remembers about it].4 When do we say that [in order for this olive tree not be considered Shikcha it has to be located in between two rows of grain, and not just by itself]? When he (i.e. the farmer) does not recognize it [as a portable tree whose location is being selected before it is permanently planted in the ground].5 But if he recognizes it [as a portable tree whose location is being selected before it is permanently planted in the ground] he may run after it even [if it is standing in a pot all by itself, even if it is as far as] one hundred Amot6 [away from any other rows of grain] and take it, [because such a tree is never considered Shikcha, due to its special status of being located for the optimal spot in the field.]7, 8
מסכת פאה פרק ג
הַזַּיִת שֶׁהוּא עַל שָׁלֹש שׁוּרוֹת שֶׁל שְׁנֵי מַלְבֵּנִין וּשְׁכָחוֹ, אֵין שִׁכְחָה. בַּמֶּה דְבָרִים אֲמוּרִים? בִּזְמָן שֶׁאֵין מַכִּירוֹ, אָבָל בִּזְמָן שֶׁמַּכִּירוֹ רָץ אַחֲרָיו וְנוֹטְלוֹ אַפִילו מֵאָה אַמָּה.
- This Tosefta, its parallel Mishna (Peah 7:2), and the discussion about them in Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 7:2, Daf 32a) are written in a very short form, which has caused great confusion among all commentators. There is a variety of explanations of how to read them and what they mean, all of which are flawed, either due to non-flowing text or misinterpreted words or simply not making any sense agriculturally. For some examples, see Pnei Moshe and Rash Sirillio on the Yerushalmi (ibid.), the Rambam in his commentary on the Mishna (Peah 7:2) and in the Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 5:25), Rash Mishantz (Mishna Peah 7:2), and Cheshek Shlomo and Tosefta Kifshuta on this Tosefta.
- Since the word הַזַּיִת (Hazayit), “the olive”, is written with the definite article “ה”, it implies that the subject that is being discussed is a single olive tree and not a group of trees, like many commentators have thought.
- Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 7:2, Daf 32a) quotes Rabbi Yochanan, also known as Rav Yochanan, who explains that the Tosefta and its parallel Mishna (Peah 7:2) are both talking about a tree that is being moved around, implying that the tree is planted in a particular spot with the intention of possibly being transplanted into a different spot in the field. The reason why a farmer might do this is to make sure the spot where the olive tree is planted has good drainage. “Olive trees are very sensitive to over-irrigation, and will not perform well in water-logged soil. Water-logged soil is a result of poor drainage, causes poor soil aeration and root deterioration, and can lead to the death of olive trees.” See Zeev Wiesman, “Desert Olive Oil Cultivation: Advanced Bio Technologies”, Academic Press, 2009, p. 101. So if a farmer is not sure if some areas of his field get flooded and water-logged he may move the tree around the field to see how the water drains, before he decides to keep it there permanently. I was not able to find an ancient source that would verify that this was a technique actually used in the Roman Empire, but based on this Tosefta and Yerushalmi it is plausible. It should be noted that although trees can go into shock due to transplanting it is possible to transplant them without causing shock, as long as it is done properly.
- The following diagram illustrates how the olive tree is located relatively to the rows of grain.
- If the tree has already been planted in the ground and looks like any other tree, the farmer may have either forgotten that originally he put it there in order to test the spot, or it may have been put there by a field worker and now the owner of the field does not realize why that tree was put there in the first place. So finally, when he remembers that it was planted there only to test the spot and not as a permanent location he may go back and harvest it, providing that it is located in between two rows of grain as shown on the diagram above in note 4.
- 100 Amot is used here as an example of a large number, but it is not a specification of distance. Regardless of what the distance is between the tree and the rows of grain, the farmer may still go back and get it. For the description of the Amah see above Tosefta Peah 1:10, note 5.
- If the farmer always knew that the tree was planted in that location in order to test the spot, and he simply forgot to harvest it, then he is allowed to go back and harvest that tree regardless of the tree’s surroundings. And even if the tree is sitting in the middle of the field by itself without any grain around it, as shown on the diagram below, the farmer may go back and harvest.
- The reason that a tree is planted in the midst of a field with other crops is due to a common technique called Intercropping. The most common goal of intercropping is to produce a greater yield on a given piece of land by making use of resources that would otherwise not be utilized by a single crop. Intercropping reduces pests that affect the crops and plant diseases due to increased spacing between plants, while controlling land erosion, improving soil fertility and reducing weeds through allelopathy, which is a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms. See George Ouma and Jeruto,P, “Sustainable horticultural crop production through intercropping: The case of fruits and vegetable crops: A review”, Agriculture and Biology Journal of North America 1 (5): pp. 1098–1105. Our Tosefta describes two specific techniques of Intercropping, called Row Intercropping and Strip Intercropping. Row Intercropping is growing two or more crops together at the same time with at least one crop planted in rows. Strip Intercropping is growing two or more crops together in strips wide enough to separate crop production, but close enough to interact with each other.
I have chosen to explain this Tosefta according to a relatively recent commentary on the Yerushalmi, called Zahav Haaretz, by Rabbi Dov Malachi Englander (Volume 1, Peah 7:2, Siman 42, p. 65-66), printed in Jerusalem, 1944. I have found that his explanation is the only one that correctly translates the obscure words in the text, and fits linguistically and agriculturally, as well as makes sense.Mishna Peah 7:2 says that an olive tree that is located in between two rows of rectangular plots of grain is not considered to be Shikcha if it was forgotten. Our Tosefta expands on that law and clarifies some details.
A lone tree growing in a field in between rows of crops in near Michaelstone-Y-Fedw, South Wales, UK on June 18, 2011. Photo: Martyn Smith, Flickr.
Cork Oaks (foreground), vineyards and olive trees (background), growing in a wheat field near Elvas in the Alentejo region, Portugal on September 15, 2013. Photo: Alves Gaspar, Wikimedia Commons. Notice the trees are far apart from each other and would be considered lone trees in a wheat field as described in our Tosefta.
The various techniques of intercropping were well known to the ancient Greeks already in the 4th century BCE and the Romans. See Theophrastus, Inquiry into Plants, VIII.II.9-10, and Columella, On Agriculture, II.2.24, as explained in K.D. White, “Roman Farming”, Cornell University Press, 1970, ch. 2, pp. 47-49. As evident from this Tosefta they were commonly used in the Land of Israel as well during the Greek and Roman periods.