TREES, LAWS CONCERNING:
Cutting down fruit-bearing and useful trees is forbidden by the Mosaic law. In time of war the fruit-trees about a besieged city may not be injured or used to build defenses; for war is waged against foes, and not against the life-preserving works of nature (Deut. xx. 19-20). The Rabbis regard this as an admonition against any kind of waste or wilful destruction. The prohibition is technically known as "bal tashḥit" (thou shalt not destroy; Shab. 129a). Some authorities, however, permit the cutting down of fruit-trees when the site is needed for a dwelling ("Ṭure Zahab," to Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 117, 6).
A tree which extends into the public road may be cut to allow a camel and its rider to pass beneath (B. B. ii. 14). Trees were often used to mark the boundary between fields belonging to different owners. The fruit of a tree belongs to the owner of the land in which the tree is planted, though the branches extend over other property. If the trunk of the tree is in two properties, the two owners become partners in the tree and divide the fruit (B. M. 107a; "Yad," Shekenim, vi. 9). One who purchases three trees in one field may claim the right to as much ground around the trees as is necessary for the gatherer and his basket (B. B. 82b); one who purchases less than three trees has no claim to ground. An adjacent owner can not object because the roots of a tree are in his ground. He may, however, cut the roots when they are in the way of his plow or if they enter his well. When there is no fence between two separately owned fields, one must not plant trees nearer than 4 ells from his neighbor's boundary-line (B. B. 26a). Enough space must be left on either side of a river to allow a rower room to run his boat ashore (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 155).