6. Me'amer: Gather 'Round
The prohibition of gathering together things that grow.
Till now, we've discussed three relatively familiar kinds of agricultural labor: plowing, planting, and reaping. Our next labor category is less well-known. The melacha of Me'amer,1 which means 'gathering' or 'bundling,' was performed after wheat was harvested. After the sheaves of wheat were removed from the soil, they were bundled together. In this way, they could be moved more easily.
How does this melacha apply today?
The action underlying Me'amer is to gather together or combine items that grow in the soil. (By "in the soil" we mean something that literally grows in the ground, or on a tree, which itself grows in the ground).
To start with a straightforward scenario: Our buddy Joshua has an apple tree in his backyard and apples have fallen off onto the ground.2 Many of them are in good condition, so he gathers them up in a basket and brings them inside to eat. This is considered Me'amer.
We see from this example that:
Me'amer refers to gathering for a useful purpose. In other words, if you are collecting something only to throw it out – raking leaves comes to mind – then you have not done the melacha according to the Torah. (However, the Sages did prohibit doing this.)3
The items need to be assembled closely together (according to some rabbinic authorities).4 This is why the basket is important, since it accomplishes that closeness. If you gather the fruits up with your hands, you may not have done an act of Me'amer, since the objects you're carrying are just loosely resting on each other.5
Limitations on this Melacha
An action is not considered Me'amer unless four conditions are met. Me'amer only applies to items that:
- grow from the ground
- are gathered in the place that they grow
- are in their original state; and
- have not previously been gathered
Condition #1 is familiar to us from previous lessons. The common situations of Me'amer involve items like fruits, vegetables, and grains. Interestingly, some authorities hold that naturally occurring rocks and minerals are also considered as "growing from the ground" for purposes of Me'amer. This would include items like diamonds and other precious gems.6
Our example of Joshua's apples shows how condition #2 works. He gathered up the fruits from under the tree, which is where they grow. In contrast, if you had a bag of apples you'd bought at the supermarket (before Shabbat), and the apples spilled out onto the floor, you could gather them up again. This is because the fruits are no longer in the place where they'd grown.7
By "original state" (condition #3) we mean that the item hasn't been physically changed from the form in which it grows. Let's take the example of wood. Wood comes from the ground, and is thus subject to Me'amer. However, once it is changed into a specific item, it is no longer in its original state, and Me'amer doesn't apply. For instance, if your child owns a set of wooden toys, you may help him or her clean them up on Shabbat.8
Finally, we have condition #4, reflecting the idea that, once an item is gathered, the halacha does not consider any further gathering to be significant. Now, this is true only if the two acts of gathering are essentially the same. When would you have two gatherings that are not the same? A frequently cited example is stringed figs. When we buy figs today, often they are strung together in a circular shape. This stringing was done after the figs were initially gathered from the trees they grew on. The stringing is considered a second 'bundling' that is different from the original one. Therefore, we are not allowed to string figs (or other fruits) on Shabbat.9
Despite these limitations, the issue of Me'amer may still come up today. In addition to the cases we've mentioned, here are a few other scenarios that involve this melacha:
Making a bouquet of flowers – since flowers grow in the ground, 'bundling' them together in a bouquet would be Me'amer (on a rabbinic level).10
Re-collecting produce – Our initial case of Me'amer was gathering apples that had fallen from a tree. We then said that, once something had already been gathered, it could be re-gathered on Shabbat.
So, if Joshua had prepared a basket of apples in his yard prior to Shabbat, and the apples then rolled out of the basket, he should be able to gather them up. This is generally true, with some conditions: (a) Joshua should gather up the fruits he needs for Shabbat only; (b) he should gather them up by hand, and not use a basket or other container. These limitations were put in place by the Sages because they felt that doing otherwise would be too similar to work activities that a person performs during the week.11
- Rabbi Dovid Ribiat, The 39 Melochos, vol. 2, p. 305-313
- Rabbi Shimon Eider, Halachos of Shabbos, ch. VII
- Pronounced meh-ah-MAYR. In the spelling of Me’amer, the apostrophe is used to separate between the two vowel sounds.
- We will assume that the apples fell off before Shabbat. If they fell off on Shabbat, they would also be considered muktzeh – that is, restricted from being used on Shabbat. (Orach Chaim 322:3 with Mishnah Berurah 7)
- Talmud – Shabbat 103a.
- One of the things that makes halacha fascinating – although sometimes confusing – is that there are various scholarly opinions. In the course of this series, we will sometimes mention that a position is taken by a majority of authorities, or by “some” authorities. This means, of course, that other authorities do not agree with this approach. Generally, the halachic bottom line follows the opinion of the majority.
- Ketzot HaShulchan146:49. Nevertheless, there may be other halachic reasons not to gather items by hand. See 39 Melochos, p. 306.
- 39 Melochos, p. 310.
- Orach Chaim 340:9.
- Aruch HaShulchan 340:3. Although the toy is recognizably made of wood, the wood is not in the same form that it was when growing on the tree.
- Orach Chaim 340:10 with Mishnah Berurah 38; 39 Melochos, p. 310.
- Ketzot HaShulchan – Badei Shulchan 146.
- Orach Chaim 335:5 with Mishnah Berurah 18, Biur Halacha s.v. Echad. For a fuller discussion of the issue of re-collecting produce, see 39 Melochos, p. 311-12.