Intro: This siman is very relevant for someone who cooks and heats his home with a wood stove and is always scrounging around for firewood. Many of the cases herein come right out of the Mishnayos in Maseches Beitzah (4:1-3, 6). The halachic issues pertinent here are primarily muktzah and working in a weekday-like manner. Do you mind if I just quote the Mishnayos for you, along with a few explanatory notes? (Courtesy of the Artscroll Mishnah Series.) Those of you who are still using firewood, please send me a quick smoke signal, and I will ride right over and give you more of the details. Thanks!
Mishnah Beitzah (4:1): “…We may begin using a stack of straw (for animal feed or fuel)1, but not wood which is in the backyard2.”
Notes (based upon the Gemara and commentaries):
1 We may take some straw from a stack which had not been used (i.e. initiated) before Yom Tov. Even though this stack had not been designated for use before Yom Tov (i.e. it was kept in a storage area and was not intended for use in the near future), and the owner of this hay would not usually take hay for fuel from this stack, one may nevertheless use it for fuel on Yom Tov. According to the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch in siman 495, we follow the opinion of R’ Yehuda regarding muktzah law on Yom Tov. R’ Yehuda regards any article not specifically designated for Yom Tov use as muktzah. According to that opinion, why, then, is this undesignated hay not muktzah? The Gemara explains that the straw in our Mishnah was rotted and thorny and, as a result, was fit neither for animal fodder nor for use in cement for building. Therefore, it may be used for fuel even according to R’ Yehuda, for it is not designated for storage and is not muktzah. The Rama, who rules in accordance with the lenient view of R’ Shimon regarding muktzah law on Yom Tov just like on Shabbos, would permit the use of this hay even if it were fit for other uses, since it was not specifically “pushed away” from use as fuel. [See MBY 495:1-4 A General Introduction to Melacha on Yom Tov – section 5.]
This wood may not be used because it is considered “muktzah due to monetary loss” (i.e. since lumber reserved for construction is generally too valuable to be used as fuel, using it on Yom Tov for firewood would constitute a financial loss. Even R’ Shimon agrees that such muktzah is prohibited.
(4:2): “We may not detach wood from a hut, except for what adjoins it.3 We may carry in wood from a field from that which has been gathered; but from an enclosure, even from what is scattered.4 What is considered an enclosure? Whichever is near to the town5; these are the words of R’ Yehuda. R’ Yose says: Whichever they must enter with a key, even when it is just within the Shabbos boundary6.”
3Detaching wood from the structure of a building is included in the melacha of ‘sosair’/demolishing. The Mishnah permits the use of wood which is next to, but not part of, the walls of the hut. In this case, there is no problem of demolishing, because this wood is not attached to, or interwoven with, the walls of the hut. Since its owner had intended to use it for Yom Tov, such wood is not in the category of stored wood which is muktzah according to R’ Yehuda. Thus all opinions agree to its permissible use.
4By gathering the wood before Yom Tov, the owner has demonstrated his intention of using it, thereby removing the status of muktzah. But wood which is scattered over the field is considered muktzah and may not be used. An enclosure surrounded by a fence is considered a secure place; therefore, even wood which is scattered about within it is considered prepared and is not muktzah. The Gemara states that the opinion expressed in this (segment of the) Mishnah is that of R’ Shimon ben Elazar, but that most of his colleagues disagree and consider scattered wood muktzah even if it is in an enclosed area. Their opinion is accepted by Rambam and Shulchan Aruch (501:3).
5Anywhere within slightly more than seventy cubits (a cubit is a distance of somewhere between 1½ and 2 feet) of the town is considered near.
6R’ Yose holds that since the enclosure has a lock, even if it is further than seventy cubits from the town, as long as it is within the two thousand cubit ‘techum’ (boundary), it is permitted.
(4:3): “We may not split wood, neither from beams7, nor from a beam which was broken on Yom Tov8; nor may we split with an axe, nor with a saw, nor with a sickle, only with a kophitz9…”
7The reference is to wood which has been set aside and stacked up to be used in construction. This wood may not be used because it is not prepared or intended for use as firewood.
8Despite the fact that a broken beam can no longer be used for construction and its major use would now be for firewood, it is still considered muktzah because at the onset of Yom Tov (i.e. throughout the entire period of Bein Hashmashos (halachic twilight) it was muktzah. This is in accordance with the rule: “Since it was muktzah at twilight, it is muktzah for the whole day”, even though the conditions which had rendered the object muktzah no longer exist.
Here the Mishnah speaks of beams that were broken before Yom Tov; hence, they are not considered muktzah at the onset of the festival. Nevertheless, the beams under discussion require further cutting, and the Mishnah addresses which types of cutting instruments may or may not be used for that purpose. The principle is that utensils which are routinely used for woodcutting, or other work of an artisan, may not be used on Yom Tov, because their use constitutes a weekday-like procedure. The kophitz, on the other hand, is a butcher’s cleaver, which is designed for cutting meat and not usually used for cutting wood; consequently, its use does not constitute a weekday-like procedure.
(4:6): “R’ Eliezer says: A person may take a sliver from that which is before him (i.e. in his house) in order to clean his teeth; and one may gather hay or splinters from the courtyard and kindle a fire, because everything which is in the courtyard is considered prepared. But the Sages say: One may gather from that which is before him and kindle10.”
The Sages dispute R’ Eliezer on two points: They maintain that: a) one may gather only from that which is before him (i.e. in the house) and not from the courtyard; and b) one may use these materials only for a fire, not for other purposes such as cleaning teeth.
As stated in the introduction, we have not attempted to give a complete halachic summary of this siman. Rather, we have presented the major cases and opinions in the Mishna, in order to give a sense of what the halachic issues would be, were we to search for a final ruling.