Monday, November 10, 2008

Women Plowing during Shemitah

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The Gemora in Moed Katan presents a dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Elozar whether one would incur the thirty-nine lashes if he would plow during Shemitah.

Rashi (2b) states that there is a positive commandment which forbids plowing on Shemitah. It is written [Shmos 34:21]: From plowing and harvesting you shall desist. The point of contention between the two Amoraim is if there is a negative commandment as well.

The Rambam in Hilchos Shemitah rules that one who plows during Shemitah does not incur the thirty-nine lashes. Kesef Mishna explains: Since in our Gemora, it was left ambiguously regarding which Amora held what, we cannot administer the lashes when there is uncertainty.

Sha’ar Hamelech in the beginning of Hilchos Shemitah writes that the Yerushalmi in Shabbos (7:2) states that Rabbi Yochanan is the one who maintains that he does not receive the lashes and the rule is that when Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Elozar argue, the halacha is in accordance with Rabbi Yochanan.

Minchas Chinuch (112) comments that women are obligated in this mitzvah even though it is a positive commandment that has a time element to it and the principle is that women are exempt from any positive mitzvah which is governed by time. He explains that this is applicable only regarding a positive mitzvah that is incumbent on the body of the person and not a mitzvah like Shemitah, which is a mitzvah that is dependent on the land (mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz).

Proof to this is cited from the Ritva in Kiddushin (29a). The Gemora rules based on a Scriptural verse that women are not obligated to perform a circumcision on their sons. Tosfos asks: Why is a verse necessary; circumcision is a positive mitzvah which is governed by time since the mitzvah can only be performed by day, and women are exempt? The Ritva answers: Any mitzvah which is not related to the person themselves; this principle does not apply. The mitzvah of milah is to perform the circumcision on the son and therefore women would be obligated if not for the special verse teaching us otherwise.