Me'ammar (Part 1) Defining the Melakha

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon


By Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon


Shiur #35:

Me’ammer, Part I


I) Defining the Melakha


We began this series by looking at the latter melakhot of the bread-making process.  We now come full circle by looking at the final step of producing grain, immur (bundling); the melakha is known as me’ammer.  Both terms come from the word omer, meaning “sheaf.”  After ketzira (reaping), the cut stalks of grain are collected and tied in sheaves; fruits, on the other hand, are gathered into baskets and boxes.  Regardless of the species, these actions fall under the heading of me’ammer.


The Mishna (73a) counts me’ammer as one of the thirty-nine melakhot.  The Me’iri (ad loc.) explains:


Me’ammer — this is gathering the sheaves after the harvesters have left them in their place, piling them in one place and binding them; the same applies if one gathers stalks one-by-one and makes sheaves of them.  This is true of all similar actions.


Thus, one who gathers stalks into sheaves is liable because of me’ammer.


At first glance, this melakha is puzzling.  Generally, a melakha is defined solely as an action which is creative or improves the item itself.  With me’ammer, no new action is done to the item; one only moves things from one place to another, gathering them into one spot.[1]  In order to grasp the basis of the prohibition of me’ammer, we will delve into the different aspects of this melakha.





The Gemara (73b) quotes a dispute as to whether the prohibition of me’ammer is limited to items which grow in the ground, known as giddulei karka.


Rava said: “He who collects salt out of a salina is liable because of bundling.” 


Abbayei said: “Bundling applies only to that which grows in the ground (giddulei karka).”


In this case, a person gathers salt from a salina, an area of land encrusted with crystalline salt, the result of the evaporation of seawater.  Rava is of the opinion that one who does so on Shabbat is liable because of me’ammer, while Abbayei believes that the prohibition of me’ammer applies only to giddulei karka.  Abbayei holds, apparently, that since the melakha of immur in the Mishkan was specifically performed on giddulei karka, one is only liable because of me’ammer only when working with giddulei karka. 


Halakhically, the Or Zarua (Vol. II, Ch. 57) and the Me’iri (73b) follow the view of Rava, that one is liable for the melakha of me’ammer even when not dealing with giddulei karka; the Rambam (8:5) and the Rosh (7:2), on the other hand, follow the view of Abbayei, that immur of non-giddulei karka is not forbidden on a Torah level.[2]  However, the Rambam (21:11) notes that Abbayei concedes that immur of non-giddulei karka is rabbinically forbidden, since this act is similar to me’ammer. 


The Shulchan Arukh (340:9) rules in accordance with the Rambam, that immur of non-giddulei karka is rabbinically forbidden:


It is forbidden to gather salt from the salt works, as this is similar to me’ammer.


Therefore, it is rabbinically forbidden to gather eggs from the chicken coop and put them in a vessel (Eglei Tal, Me’ammer 6; Ketzot Ha-shulchan Ch. 146, Baddei ha-Shulchan 49:22).[3]




Many Rishonim add another condition for liability: one cannot violate me’ammer unless one collects the items in their mekom giddul, literally the place where they “grew” (this may be figurative if we apply me’ammer to materials other than plants).  Some bring a proof to this from the Mishna in Beitza (31a):


One may bring in wood from that which is gathered in the field, and even from that which is scattered in the enclosure. 


In other words, on Yom Tov, one may bring firewood in from the field only if it had been previously gathered, before the holiday; while from the enclosure (karpef), which is an outdoor fenced-in area, it is permissible to bring in wood on Yom Tov even if it is scattered.  Tosafot (s.v. Min ha-karpef) question this: why is gathering wood from the enclosure not forbidden because of me’ammer?  They explain that the prohibition of me’ammer is applicable only in the mekom giddul of the items:


This is perplexing, as this should be me’ammer, which is a primary melakha!


One may say that immur is only applicable in the place in which they grow.


This limitation is also cited by the Rashba (Beitza 33b, s.v. U-vilvad) the Ritva (73b, s.v. Abbayei) and the Ran (Beitza 19a, Rif, s.v. U-mi’kol Makom); they add that because of this concern, the above-mentioned passage in Shabbat talks about one who gathers salt from a salina, i.e., the place in which salt is naturally dried, its mekom giddul, and not from another place.[4]


Why should the melakha of me’ammer apply only in the mekom giddul?  An answer may be derived based on the Gemara in Beitza (13b).  There the Gemara deals with another type of melakha — not the forbidden labor of Shabbat, but the act which renders produce “done” for the purposes of taking tithes.


What is their completion for tithes?  …it is once one raises a heap.


However, for Shabbat, one is not liable for raising a heap… It is thoughtful labor (melekhet machshevet) which the Torah forbids.


The Gemara determines that gathering produce into a heap is considered pivotal and decisive for the purposes of tithes, but this action is not forbidden on Shabbat by Torah law, since this is not considered melekhet machshevet.  Rashi (s.v. Ela Mai) explains:


Even though this is considered melakha for tithes, for Shabbat, it is melekhet machshevet which the Torah forbids — namely, skillful labor. This is because of the juxtaposition of Shabbat to the construction of the Mishkan in Vayakhel, and regarding the latter it says “melekhet machshevet.” 


In other words, the juxtaposition of the passage of Shabbat and the passage of the construction of the Mishkan (Shemot 35:1-3 and 35:4 ff. respectively) teaches us that one is liable on Shabbat only for acts of creation and skill.  Piling things in a heap is not an act of skill or creation, and therefore it is not forbidden on Shabbat.   


However, it would appear that raising a heap is exactly what is done in the melakha of me’ammer — what is the difference between the melakha of me’ammer, which is forbidden by the Torah, and raising a heap of produce, which is not forbidden, since there is no improvement or creation in it? 


Rashi (ad loc.) adds a phrase to resolve this difficulty:


For the issue of Shabbat, once one has brought the onions into the house, there is no melakha in raising a heap. 


In other words, the melakha of immur is done in the field, and it is there that raising a heap is considered a melakha, while the Gemara in Beitza deals with someone who gathers fruits or vegetables in the house, and there raising a heap is not considered a melakha.  Rashi accepts the view of Tosafot which we mentioned, that there is no liability for me’ammer except in the mekom giddul, and from his words it arises that immur not in the mekom giddul is not included in the prohibition, since there is no improvement or alteration of the produce itself.[5] 


However, this very distinction still requires some explanation: if raising a heap in the house is not considered melekhet machshevet, since there is no improvement or alteration of the produce itself, why is raising a heap in the field considered melekhet machshevet?  How does gathering produce in the field constitute an act of creation or improvement?


One may explain that immur in the mekom giddul has greater significance, since it constitutes the completion of the melakha of ketzira.  True, the scythe has severed the connection of the stalks to the ground; however, as long as they are scattered throughout the field one cannot do anything significant with them.  Only after the gathering may one move the stalks on to threshing, milling, etc.  This is true of other produce: the harvesting becomes more significant after one gathers the produce into one place.


If so, the basis of the melakha of me’ammer is gathering produce after ketzira, which completes the harvesting and gives it significance.[6]  As such, the prohibition applies only when the produce is located in its mekom giddul, right after the ketzira.  If the produce was harvested and gathered previously and then scattered after reaching the house, the re-gathering is not deemed significant and is not included in the melakha of me’ammer.




The Tosafot Rid (73b) writes:


Me’ammer — this means gathering stalks behind the harvester and making them into a sheaf…  You may find it difficult: if so, should one be liable, because of me’ammer, for collecting scattered fruits in one’s own courtyard?!


Answer: There is no me’ammer except at the time that it is detached from the ground, which is at the beginning of its collection; gathering fruit which has already been collected and later scattered is not me’ammer.


This statement implies that even if fruits are still in their mekom giddul, if they have already been collected and are then scattered again, there is no act of me’ammer in collecting them again.  (This stands opposed to the implication of Rashi, that only in the house is there no prohibition of me’ammer, but in the field there remains a prohibition of me’ammer, even if the fruits had been already gathered and were then scattered again.)  


What is the reason? The Eglei Tal (Me’ammer 2:3) understands that just as ein tochen achar tochen (literally, “there is no grinding after grinding” — i.e., once a substance has been ground, there is no significance to breaking it down again) similarly ein me’ammer achar me’ammer.


However, this understanding is unprecedented.  When it comes to tochen, we can understand that once something attains the status of tachun (ground), even should it later become a mass again, it does not return to its initial state, and the prohibition of tochen is not applicable to it.  (If the original act is totally voided, and the matter actually returns to its original state, there may indeed be a prohibition of tochen; see our shiur on this topic.)  When it comes to me’ammer, on the other hand, when fruits are gathered and then scattered, the scattering presumably nullifies the previous immur entirely!  


It makes sense that the view of the Rid is based on the conceptualization of the melakha of me’ammer as the conclusion of the act of ketzira; therefore the prohibition only applies at the initial collection of the fruits, following the ketzira.  After the fruits have already been gathered, the melakha of ketzira is complete, and from this point onward, even if they may be scattered and collected again, this is not conceived as a continuation of the ketzira, even if the fruits are still in the field.  (The Eglei Tal himself suggests a similar approach, ibid. 8; see the Shevitat Ha-shabbat, Ma’aseh Choshev, 14b, who proposes a somewhat different approach.)




The Arukh Ha-shulchan (340:3) adds that there is no prohibition of me’ammer for items which have already been processed — i.e., ground or cooked:


It is obvious that me’ammer applies only to grain or produce which has been neither baked nor cooked, nor have they been ground, so that they are still in the state in which they were harvested or detached.  Were this not true, it would be forbidden on Shabbat to leave loaves together in a given spot or to leave a number of fruits next to each other!  Certainly, this prohibition applies only when they are being picked from the field, the gardens or the trees — not when they are in the house, and all the more so not after grinding, baking or cooking. 


The innovation here is that even if a person, for example, cooks the fruits in their mekom giddul, there is no prohibition in gathering them after cooking.  In light of what we have written above, the logic is that the prohibition of me’ammer applies only to immur which comes after the ketzira and completes it; clearly, we cannot speak of completing the ketzira after the produce has already been ground or cooked.

[1]     The melakha of hotza'a (transporting) also does not change the body of the object, merely its location; indeed, the Gemara (96b) seeks out a separate source for this melakha and does not derive it from the acts of constructing the Mishkan, and the Rishonim explained that the Mishkan serves as a source only for creative, constructive melakhot, while hotza’a is an “inferior melakha” which yields no lasting alteration or improvement, and therefore it requires an explicit source (Tosafot 2a, s.v. Pashat is one source for this notion).

[2] The Or Zarua rules like Rava, because in every dispute between Abbayei and Rava, the halakha follows Rava, except for six specific named cases.  The Maggid Mishneh and Kesef Mishneh (ad loc.) explain the view of the Rambam in the following way: his text read “Rabba” instead of “Rava”, and thus he rules like Abbayei against Rabba.  (Nevertheless, there are those who believe that even in a dispute of Rabba and Abbayei, the halakha follows Rabba, as he was Abbayei’s teacher, and the halakha does not follow a student against his master). 

[3]  However, in a case of significant loss, the Shevet Ha-Levi (Vol. IV, Ch. 39) allows a Jew to have a non-Jew collect eggs, since the prohibition is only rabbinic in nature, and a Jew is allowed to ask a non-Jew to violate a rabbinic prohibition on Shabbat in order to prevent significant financial loss.

[4]  The Maharach Or Zarua (Responsa, Ch. 214) rejects the proof from this Gemara: “Perhaps collecting stubble in a courtyard is not immur, as it must be akin to immur of stalks, that one gathers them together and binds them; alternatively, they lie together so that the wind will not scatter them and so that people and animals will not scatter them — this happens when they are loose, and they are easily lost in various ways when the stalks are separate.  However, sticks in the courtyard, which are gathered solely for immediate kindling, are not gathered per se; it is simply burdensome to kindle every stick and throw every stick individually into the flames, and it is not for the sake of improving and maintaining the sticks that one gathers them.  Thus, this is not me’ammer.” 

In other words, the melakha of me’ammer applies only when the gathering helps to keep the stalks from being lost and the like, but when one gathers fruits or sticks together only because it is convenient to use them en masse, such an act is not included in the prohibition of me’ammer (Rav Mordecai Benet writes the same in his analysis of the melakha of me’ammer in his work Magen Avot).  According to this, the basis of the prohibition of me’ammer is the improvement of the produce by gathering it; this act of collection allows them to be better preserved.

However, the other Rishonim apparently do not understand it in this way.  These Rishonim allow gathering wood from an enclosure on Yom Tov only because this is not their mekom giddul, and it is implied that were it not for this reason, we would forbid it because of me’ammer, even though one does not improve the wood by gathering it.

[5]  This is how the Ketzot Ha-shulchan (Ch. 146; Baddei Ha-shulchan, 49) explains why the melakha of me’ammer specifically is limited to its mekom giddul, while the act of disha (threshing) or the melakhot of zoreh, borer and merakked (winnowing, selecting and sifting) are not limited in this way: “Disha and borer are actions which are done to the grain itself; disha causes the husks to come apart, and through zoreh and borer and merakked, the refuse is separated and the item undergoes a change.  This is not true of me’ammer, in which one does not do any action to the item itself and one does not alter it, and which melakha should it be?  …rather, all melakhot which were done for the Mishkan are forbidden on Shabbat; as it is the way of the harvester to do immur afterwards, and this is what was done for the Mishkan, the immur is considered a melakha which is forbidden on Shabbat.  Therefore, we need it to be specifically similar to the act which was done for the Mishkan, in which the immur was at its mekom giddul, as is the way of the harvesters.  However, gathering scattered fruits outside their mekom giddul is not similar to what was done for the Mishkan, so it is not in the category of the melakha at all.”   

[6] This explanation fits with Abbayei’s view, that me’ammer applies only to giddulei karka.  According to the view of Rava, that there is a prohibition of me’ammer in gathering salt and other items as well, but only in their mekom giddul (“from a salina”), the melakha of me’ammer is not specifically a completion of the act of ketzira, but every gathering of something from its mekom giddul, which completes its gathering and furthers its utilization.