י״ט בשבט ה׳תשע״ז (February 15, 2017)

Bava Batra 24a-b: Treeless Beauty

What type of aesthetic city planning is recommended by the Torah?

The Mishna on today’s daf discusses cases where a person is limited in the kinds of building that he can do on his property if it may disturb the needs of the larger community. For example, the Mishna forbids erecting a permanent threshing floor within 50 amot of the city because the chaff that is scattered by processing the grain will disturb the residents of the city.

The Mishna also forbids planting trees near the city, which is explained by Ulla in the Gemara as a concern with noyei ha-ir – the beauty of the city. Part of the attractiveness of a walled city is having its walls exposed on the outside.

The Gemara asks why this explanation is necessary, given the biblical principle that the cities of the Levites are surrounded by an empty area of 1,000 amot and a further 2,000 amot that are left available for planting vegetation (see Bamidbar 35:1-8), and explains that we might have thought that there were exceptions to this rule, but the concern with noyei ha-ir trumps any possible exceptions.

The Ramah suggests that the concern with keeping cities beautiful by leaving an open area around them applies both to cities in Israel and in the Diaspora (in his Mirkevet HaMishne Rabbi Shlomo mi-Chelm suggests that this would only apply to cities where the majority of residents are Jewish). His proof is that the Gemara does not simply respond to the question that was raised by saying that Ulla’s explanation was necessary for Diaspora communities where the biblical requirements do not apply. The Ramban disagrees, arguing that our concern with making sure that our cities are beautiful is limited to Israel, where we have a special relationship with the country. The Sema argues that the Shulḥan Arukh accepts the Ramban’s position since this law does not appear in the Shulḥan Arukh – a work that does not include laws whose only application is in Israel.

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