A Matter Of Intention?
‘The Primary Labors Are Forty Less One…’
Two of the 39 forbidden melachos listed in our mishnah are zore’a (sowing) and ofeh (baking). Some authorities note that there is a significant distinction between these two melachos and the other 37. With regard to other melachos, the intended result occurs immediately at the moment the labor is performed. In contrast, sowing and baking each involve a prolonged process. In other words, it takes time for a seed to germinate and for bread to bake. (See Rosh Hashana 10b, where the Gemara states that it takes a minimum of three days for seeds to take root. Also see Menachos 69, where the Gemara views freshly-sown seeds as if they are merely sitting in a vase.)
The Gemara (supra 3b) states that if one places bread in an oven on Shabbos and removes it before it bakes, one is exempt from a chattas offering because the melachah did not come to fruition.
Viewing The Interrupted Act
The Rashash (novella to our daf) makes two observations. First, he contends – based on this Gemara that one is exempt if one removes the bread before it bakes – that if one sows on Shabbos and subsequently removes the sown seeds before they take root, one should be exempt from a chattas. Second, based on the fact that one who sows on Shabbos is liable even though the seeds did not take root on Shabbos, the Rashash deduces that one who placed bread in an oven – even though it will not finish baking on Shabbos – is immediately liable provided one does not remove the bread before it is baked. In other words, one is liable at the moment one performs a melachah even if the melachah is one that comes to fruition at a later time.
What Constitutes Completion
The Minchas Chinuch (mitzvah 298) disagrees on both counts. He maintains that the very fact that one is patur if one places bread in an oven and then removes it before it finishes baking is proof that only upon completion of the baking process do we consider the melachah completed. One is not immediately liable as the Rashash suggests. It also follows that there is no chattas liability if one placed bread in an oven on Shabbos afternoon which will not finish baking until after Shabbos since the melachah was not completed on Shabbos.
Sowing, on the other hand is different, says the Minchas Chinuch. One is immediately liable for sowing seeds (unlike baking bread) – even before the seeds germinate.
The Iglei Tal (to the Minchas Chinuch) disagrees with this last point. He asserts that even though the melachah is complete when one plants the seeds, there still must be intention for them to germinate. In other words, if one places them in the ground with the intent to remove them, one is patur because temporarily placing seeds in the ground does not constitute an act of sowing.Rabbi Yaakov Klass and Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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