Lawn Care

Shimon from Arzei Habira asks:

We
have a large lawn in front of our apartment. The grass is already very high. Our
children are unable to play on the lawn. I am also worried about snakes hiding
in the grass. The top of the grass turns brown in the midday heat. May I cut the
grass? If this is permitted, how should I cut it?

It is forbidden to perform agricultural work during the sh’mittah
year. The Torah directly forbids
some types of work; others are only rabbinically prohibited. One may perform
rabbinically prohibited types of work in order to prevent a plant dying or
incurring significant damage (which is either irreversible or would be expensive
to rectify). In addition, if the state of the plant creates a risk of danger to
people, appropriate action should be taken to avert the danger. Obviously, one
should try to minimize sh’mittah
violation while carrying out such work. Accordingly, if the high grass creates a
fire hazard or provides a hiding place for dangerous snakes, one may cut the
grass. However, it is preferable that (a) any such work should be done by a
non-professional (not a gardener), (b) the grass should not be cut to its usual
height, and (c) a scythe or shears should be used, rather than a lawn mower. If
the perceived danger is to the grass, the laws are different. Firstly, it is
important to clarify whether turning brown at midday is really a sign of
imminent withering. With certain varieties of grass, such reaction is normal and
does not indicate danger of dying. An expert gardener should be consulted. It
could be that all the grass needs is some water! If cutting is required to
prevent dying or significant irreversible damage, the above rules should be
followed. One should note that the opinion of the Ohr Sameach (Sh’mittah
ve’Yovel
1:15) is that even trimming grass is a Torah
prohibition (the Netziv
disagrees). Accordingly, trimming would only be permitted if there was a risk of
danger to people, not if the grass would otherwise die.