Binding or gathering produce, the av melachah of me’amer, is forbidden on Shabbat.1 In the Mishkan, me’amer involved gathering produce in the field after it was cut. Since the acts which are forbidden on Shabbat are derived from the way the melachot were done in the Mishkan, there are a number of restrictions to this melachah.

  • Gidulei Karka - The produce must have grown from the ground. One only transgresses the biblical prohibition of me’amer if he gathers produce which grew from the ground,2 including non-food items like twigs or herbs.
  • Makom Gidulo - The produce must be gathered where it grew. Me’amer only applies when the produce is gathered at the location of growing, because the normal time for gathering and binding produce is when it is still in the field. There are, however, other forms of me’amer that come into play even after the produce has been harvested, which are considered toladot. Generally speaking, me’amer is not an issue at all indoors, since it is normal for the house to be swept and for things to be organized. Such activities, therefore, have no semblance of a melachah.

One is not liable for gathering produce which had been previously gathered.3 The logic for this is that once the produce has been collected it is considered removed from its place of growth. Thus, even if scattered again, one who collects it is not considered to be collecting it from its place of growth.

Me’amer in the Mishkan

The herbs and plants used in the dyes needed for the Mishkan were gathered after being cut.4 Additionally, the wheat for the flour used in some of the sacrifices and for the lechem hapanim, the showbread, was gathered after being harvested.5

Toladot of Me’amer

Although the classic method of me’amer involves collecting produce while it is still in the field, there are other forms which are done indoors. Since they only resemble the way me’amer was done in the Mishkan, they are considered toladot.6 For example, piercing holes into dates and threading them onto a string. The dates have been gathered together, and even though it’s being done indoors, since that is the place it would normally be done it is still considered me’amer. A more practical example would be making a fruit kebab out of whole, uncut fruits. Pressing fruits together to form a solid mass (such as a ring of pressed figs) is another toladah.7

Rabbinic Enactments

The Sages extended the prohibition of me’amer to include the gathering of any items, even if they did not grow from the ground. Nevertheless, like the Biblical prohibition, the gathering is forbidden only at the place the items were produced. For example, packaging items at the plant where they were produced.8

The Sages also forbade gathering produce which is widely scattered in a backyard or field, even if it did not grow there and there is no issue of me’amer.9 (If the produce is not widely scattered, it may be collected, provided it is not mixed with pebbles and dirt, which could present an issue of borer, selecting, another melachah.) Maimonides attributes this prohibition to the concern that people might pack the fruits together tightly, which is an act of me’amer even if it is not done in the place where the fruits grew.10 Others explain that in order to preserve the sanctity and holiness of Shabbat, the Sages forbade certain activities which involve too much physical exertion. This activity is one such example.11

Common Activities to Avoid

  • Gathering sticks in the garden to form a pile.12
  • Collecting fruits that fell from a tree and placing them in a basket.
  • Making a fruit kebab with whole, uncut fruit.