Reaping, the av melachah of kotzeir, is forbidden on Shabbat and includes any activity which uses a tool to detach a plant, branch, or fruit from its source of growth. Inhibiting or preventing growth is not included. For example, neither taking flowers out of a vase nor shutting off a sprinkler system is included in kotzeir, even though both actions prevent further vegetative growth. Simply put, kotzeir has nothing to do with stopping something from growing; it is the simple act of severing a plant from its source of growth.1

The Jerusalem Talmud2 understands that kotzeir can be applied to humans and animals as well. For example, shearing wool from a sheep removes the wool from its source of growth, as does cutting one’s hair and nails. Halacha does not accept this definition in its final analysis, and although shearing wool and cutting nails are forbidden on Shabbat, they fall into the category of gozez (shearing), rather than kotzeir.

Kotzeir in the Mishkan

Kotzeir was done when they picked the herbs to make dyes for the Mishkan3 and cut wheat to produce flour for some of the sacrifices and for the lechem hapanim, the showbread, which was baked in the Mishkan on a weekly basis.4

Toladot of Kotzeir

  • Lifting a perforated flower pot from the soil it was resting on.5 Since the plant was deriving nourishment from the ground, when one picks it up it is as if he or she has detached it from its source of growth.
  • Shaking a tree to cause its fruit to fall.6 This only resembles the av melachah since it isn’t the regular way of picking fruit.
  • Picking a fruit or vegetable with one’s hand, if it is normally cut with a tool. Since the av melachah of kotzeir involves using a tool to reap, picking with one’s hand is a toladah.7

Rabbinic Enactments

The Sages forbade certain activities which could lead a person to transgress the melachah of kotzeir.

  • Making use of trees, including climbing, sitting, or leaning against a tree. Even placing an object on the tree is forbidden. If a person left an item on a tree, he or she should not remove it on Shabbat. Someone who deliberately climbs a tree on Shabbat is forbidden from coming down until Shabbat ends, unless it is absolutely necessary.8
  • Smelling fruit which is still attached to the tree. This restriction does not extend to flowers, since one can fully enjoy a flower by smelling it while it remains attached to the ground. Fruit, however, one may be tempted to pick and eat.9
  • Eating fruit that fell from a tree on Shabbat.10 The concern here is that one may absent-mindedly pick fruit off the tree while collecting the ones on the ground.11
  • Using and riding an animal on Shabbat.12 The main concern here is that while riding a horse one might break off a branch from a nearby tree to use as a prod. Although this concern only arises when dealing with animals that can be ridden, the Sages forbade the use of all animals on Shabbat to avoid confusion as to which animals are forbidden and which are permitted. Use of an animal in this context includes anything from riding in a horse-drawn carriage to covering an animal with a blanket. For practical guidance, pet owners should consult a rabbi to determine exactly what may and may not be done for the animal on Shabbat.

Common Activities to Avoid

  • Climbing trees.
  • Picking flowers.
  • Lying in a hammock or swing which is attached directly to a tree.
  • Playing in a tree house.
  • Picking up fruit that is lying on the ground under a tree.