Leket, Shikhhah, and Pe'ah

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LEKET, SHIKHHAH, AND PE'AH (Heb. לֶקֶט, שִׁכְחָה, וּפֵאָה; "gleanings, forgotten produce, and the corners of the field"), talmudic designation of three portions of the harvest which the farmer was enjoined to leave for the benefit of the poor and the stranger. Pe'ah ("corners") and leket ("gleanings") are enjoined in Leviticus 19:9–10, while shikhḥah ("forgotten produce") and leket, in Deuteronomy 24:19–21 (see also *Poor, Provision for). Leket refers to the ears of corn which fall to the ground during the reaping. It was usual for the reaper to grasp the ears of corn with one hand and to cut them with the other. If during the reaping one or two stalks fell to the ground because the reaper was not holding them, he was not to gather them but leave them for the poor (Lev. 19:9–10). Corresponding to leket in grain is peret in the vineyard. Thus if during the vintage one or two grapes fell to the ground, they constituted peret for the poor (Pe'ah 6:5). The olelot ("small clusters with few grapes") in the vineyard also belonged to the poor (ibid. 7:4), in accordance with the verse, "Thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger."

Shikhḥah applies to one or two sheaves forgotten in the field by the harvester. The owner may not take them, but "it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow" (Deut. 24:19). The biblical precept of shikhḥah refers to cut sheaves, but the sages extended it to apply also to the standing corn which is forgotten in the reaping (Sif. Deut. 283; Pe'ah 6:7). Shikhḥah also applies to trees so that if the harvesting of one or two trees was overlooked, they are shikhḥah (Pe'ah 7:1). The Bible (Deut. 24:20) specifies only olive trees: "when thou beatest thine olive trees thou shalt not go over the boughs again, it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow." The word aḥarekha ("to go over again") was taken to refer to shikhḥah, but it was made to apply to all trees (Ḥul. 131a). Pe'ah, according to the Bible, applies only to the corner of the field left by the reaper, but it was extended by the rabbis to include the fruit of the trees (Sifra, Kedoshim 1:7; Maim., Yad, Mattenot Aniyyim 1:2). According to biblical law, the command to give the gifts to the poor applies only in Ereẓ Israel, since the Bible says, "And when ye reap the harvest of your land" (Leviticus 19:9); the rabbis, however, applied it to outside Ereẓ Israel as well (Hul. 137b), and according to Maimonides (ibid. 1:14) the same ruling applies to the other gifts to the poor. The Bible lays down no minimum quantity for pe'ah, and therefore according to the letter of the law, even if one ear of corn has been left, the precept has been fulfilled; the rabbis, however, established a minimum of one sixtieth of the harvest (Pe'ah 1:1–2; Ḥul. 137b). They forbade the farmer to hire gentile workers for the harvest lest, being unaware of the law, they prevent the poor from gathering leket and pe'ah. Nevertheless, if he does hire them and they reap the whole field, he must give pe'ah from the harvest (Tosef., Pe'ah 3:1; bk 94a). R. Simeon, who always "expounded the reasons for the precepts of the Torah," gives four reasons why the Torah enjoined that pe'ah be left at the edge of the field: to prevent the poor from being deprived of their rights – that the farmer should not wait until his field is practically cleared and say to his poor relative, "this is pe'ah – hasten and take before others come" (if it is left at the edge of the field, however, the poor see it and come); not to waste the time of the poor – that the poor should not have to wait and watch where the farmer would leave his pe'ah; to prevent suspicion – that passersby should not say, "let that farmer who has not left pe'ah be cursed" (when they see him reaping the whole field and do not know that he has already given it); and because of swindlers (who will not leave pe'ah and say they have already given it; Tosef., Pe'ah 1:6; Shab. 23a).

Pe'ah was left standing, and the poor plucked it. They were not permitted to cut it with a scythe nor uproot it with a spade so as to prevent them from assaulting one another (Pe'ah 4:4). The poor were permitted to pick pe'ah thrice daily: in the morning, at midday, and in the afternoon. If a poor man came at some other time he was forbidden to pick, in order that all the poor assemble at a prescribed time. These times were chosen because some of the poor were nursing mothers who must eat at the beginning of the day, and some were minors who do not wake up early and cannot reach the field until midday, and some were aged who cannot reach the field until the afternoon (Pe'ah 4:5; Maim., ibid. 2:17). The poor thus obtain four gifts from a vineyard – peret, olelot, pe'ah, and shikhḥah; three from grain – leket, shikhḥah, and pe'ah; and two from trees – shikhḥah and pe'ah. Basing themselves on the fact that the Bible does not state "Thou shalt give," but "thou shalt leave," the rabbis held that the farmer was forbidden to select the poor to whom these gifts would be given, any poor person being free to take them (Hul. 131a). Although the injunction applies specifically to the Jewish poor, in the interests of peace, it was extended to the gentile poor (Git. 5:8).


D. Hoffmann, Das Buch Leviticus, 2 (1906), 36–38, 240f.; S. Lieberman, Tosefta ki-Feshutah, Zera'im (1955); Maim., Yad, Mattenot Aniyyim; J. Feliks, Ha-Ḥakla'ut be-Ereẓ-Yisrael bi-Tekufat ha-Mishnah ve-ha-Talmud (1963), index; E.E. Urbach, in: Zion, 16 (1951), 1–27; I.F. Baer, ibid., 27 (1962), 141–55; I. Heinemann, Ta'ameiha-Mitzvot be-Sifrut Yisrael, 1 (19543), 2 (1956).

[Abraham Arzi]