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The Torah enjoins us not to destroy fruit trees when you besiege a city. [Deut. 20:19-20] This grew into the Talmudic principle of בל תשחית -- Do not destroy [e.g., Shabbat 105b], based on the logic that if, even in time of war, one must not destroy fruit trees, all the more reason why we should not destroy anything under normal circumstances.

But the Talmud allows an exemption I find puzzling:

Ravina says: If the lumber is greater in monetary value than the fruits of the tree, it is permitted to chop it down. [Bava Kamma 91b]

Can't this be used to say that you might as well cut down fruit trees for siegeworks anytime, since the earlier surrender of the besieged city produces more long-term "monetary value" (not to mention saving lives on both sides)?

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  • I believe the verses are talking about cutting down fruit trees when non fruit bearing trees are amply avail. When the fruit trees are necessary for or can hasten the victory I believe it is permissible.
    – Nahum
    Feb 13 at 20:32

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