The Coming Week's Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.
Eiruvin 42a-b – Walking four cubits on a boat
One of the cases presented by the Mishnah (41b) describes a person who was forcibly moved from his established place on Shabbat to another city, and placed in a prison or other enclosed area. Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya rule that he can walk freely, since the whole area is considered as if it was four cubits, since it is enclosed; Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehoshua rule that he is only allowed the immediate four amot (=cubits) that surround him.
To illustrate this disagreement, the Mishnah tells a story.
There was an incident where all of these Sages were coming from Pelandarsin, an overseas location, and their boat set sail on the sea on Shabbat, taking them beyond their Shabbat limit. Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya walked about the entire boat, as they hold that the entire boat is considered like four cubits, while Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva did not move beyond four cubits, as they sought to be stringent with themselves.
Pelandarsin is apparently a reference is to the Italian city of Brudisium, which is the modern-day city of Brindisi, an important harbor in Calabria, Italy.
As far as the halakhahis concerned, the Gemara brings a disagreement between the amoraim as to whether we rule like Rabban Gamliel or Rabbi Akiva in the case where the person has been taken to another city. With regard to the boat, however, everyone agrees that we accept Rabban Gamliel's ruling that the person can walk around the entire area. The Jerusalem Talmud notes that this is apparent from the Mishnah itself, which records that Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva remained within their four cubits "because they wanted to be stringent on themselves" but even they appear to agree that in the case of the boat, according to the letter of the law one is allowed full access.
Two reasons are brought by the Gemara to explain what is unique about the case of boat travel. According to Rabba, in the case of the boat the travelers are already within the closed walls of the boat before Shabbat begins. Rabbi Zeira explains that it is impossible to expect someone traveling on a boat to remain within four cubits, after all, the boat itself travels more than four cubits with each movement.
The Ritva explains that Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva were not willing to accept this idea for themselves, since from their perspective although the boat was moving, they had established themselves in one spot on the boat, which became their "Shabbat place" once the boat took them out of the tehum (=limits).
Eiruvin 43a-b – Measuring distances at sea
The Mishnah (41b) tells of Rabban Gamliel and his comrades whose boat entered the port on Friday evening after it had already become night. Rabban Gamliel was asked whether they were allowed to disembark from the boat, or, perhaps they were restricted by the rules of tehum (=limits of) Shabbat to remain on the boat until Shabbat was over, since they were not within the boundaries of the city when Shabbat began. Rabban Gamliel responded that ordinarily one could not leave the ship, but that in this case he checked and saw that they had entered the 2,000-amah (=cubits) boundary of the city prior to the onset of Shabbat.
In order to clarify this issue, the Gemara cites that which was taught in a baraita: Rabban Gamliel had a special tube through which he would look and see a distance of two thousand cubits on land, and also determine a corresponding distance of two thousand cubits at sea.
Maimonides and the Geonim identify this tube ("shfoferet") as an engineering instrument similar to a protractor, which was also used for measuring in astronomy. This sextant – called, in the days of the Mishnah, an astrolabe – allowed accurate measurements to be taken by examining the angle between two things, or between the instrument itself and a fixed spot. Even today, similar instruments based on these principles are used for purposes of surveying and mapping.
The Jerusalem Talmud asks why Rabban Gamliel was at all concerned with disembarking from the boat, since his opinion, as recorded in the Mishnah in the case of someone who was transferred to a different city and put in jail, permits free access to one who enters a new tehum area on Shabbat? They answer that this must have been a situation where the port was not surrounded by walls, where even Rabban Gamliel would have restricted the travelers to four cubits. The Ritva and Rashba explain that our Gemara is not concerned with this question. Apparently we are to understand that while Rabban Gamliel was not concerned about getting off the boat himself, he recognized that his fellow travelers – Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva – would not disembark due to their position on this matter. Keeping track of the distance to land was something that Rabban Gamliel did to accommodate those whose opinion on this halakhah differed from his own.
Eiruvin 44a-b – Using humans as walls on Shabbat
The Gemara (43b) tells a story about Rav Hanilai’s son, Nehemya, who was so engrossed in his learning that he did not pay attention to where he was going and wandered beyond the 2,000-amah (=cubit) tehum on Shabbat. Upon noticing Nehemya’s predicament, Rav Hisda turned to Rav Nahman to ask what could be done to allow Nehemya to return to the city precincts. Rav Nahman suggested gathering a group of people who would make two rows of a “living chain” to where Nehemya was stranded – either (according to Rabbenu Yehonatan) non-Jews or (according to Rashi) people who had made an eiruv that allowed them to go beyond the tehum – allowing him to return, surrounded by these “walls.”
The suggestion that human beings can be used as walls for Shabbat purposes is questioned by Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak, who quoted a baraitato Rava which teaches that if one of the walls of a Sukkah falls down, one is not permitted to have someone stand in its place and act as a wall, since erecting even a temporary wall on Shabbat or Yom Tov is forbidden. Rava counters this question with another baraita, one which teaches specifically that a person can ask his friend to stand in place of one of the Sukkah walls in order to allow him to eat, drink or sleep in the Sukkah!
The Gemara distinguishes between these two baraitot, saying that creating a wall out of people is only permitted if the participants are unaware of what is taking place (she’lo mi-da’at). If, however, they recognize the role that they are playing (mi-da’at), then the wall is not effective. The Gemara is then forced to acknowledge that the case of Nehemya who wandered out of the tehum must have been where the people were not aware of what was going on, and that Rav Hisda, who orchestrated the “human chain” wall did not, himself, participate in it.
But why distinguish between cases where the participants in the wall are aware or unaware of what is being accomplished? The impression given by Rashi and the Rashba is that if someone knows what his role is in creating the wall, it is as if the wall is no longer a temporary one; rather, it takes on a certain element of permanence, which would be forbidden on Shabbat or Yom Tov. The Meiri argues that the problem is one of perception. If people recognize that a trick is being played in order to avoid a Shabbat problem, it will appear to them as desecration of the Shabbat, leading to a lessening of the honor of Shabbat.
Eiruvin 45a-b – Is rain limited by the boundaries of Yom Tov?
If someone fell asleep while traveling on Friday afternoon and wakes up to find that Shabbat has already begun, the hakhamim rule that he is limited to just his immediate four amot (=cubits), since he did not intend to establish his place for Shabbat there. Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri rules that he can walk the full 2,000 amot in any direction, since he does not believe that it is necessary to establish Shabbat residency with specific intent.
The discussion of Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri’s position leads to questions about what the ruling is with regard to inanimate objects, as well. Does an ownerless object “establish residency” – thus limiting it for use in a specific area – or not?
Rav Yosef tries to answer this question by quoting a baraita that discusses rainfall.
Rain that fell on the eve of a Festival has two thousand cubits in each direction, meaning that one is permitted to carry the rainwater within a radius of two thousand cubits. But if the rain fell on the Festival itself, it is like the feet of all people, as it did not acquire residence, and consequently one is permitted to carry this water wherever he is permitted to walk.
The problem raised by several rishonimis that, in the case of rainfall on Yom Tov, it is likely that the rain, which originated in another place entirely, should be limited to its immediate surroundings, since it left its original tehum. Some respond by arguing that the rules about leaving one’s established boundaries and becoming limited to four cubits of space only make sense when discussing a person who has the ability to make conscious decisions and choose his area of residence for Shabbat. Such a person, who established a place for himself and left it, or did not establish it at all, can be limited by his decision. Rain – an unintelligent object – cannot make decisions or choose where its Shabbat will take place. It is, therefore, bound only by the limits of the person who discovers it and wants to make use of it. Another explanation is that, while in the clouds, rain is in constant motion, and it is impossible to discuss “establishing a Shabbat place” with regard to something that is moving. Therefore when it reaches the earth we cannot try to impose independent tehum limitations on it.
Eiruvin 46a-b – Rules for settling a disagreement
Regarding the disagreement between Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri and the hakhamim(see 45a-b), Rabbi Ya’akov bar Idi quotes Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi as saying that we follow Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri. Rabbi Zeira asks whether this ruling is based on a tradition about this particular case, or if it is based on the general principle taught by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that we follow the more lenient position when dealing with questions about eiruv. Rabbi Yaakov bar Idi responds that he had a specific tradition in this case.
This exchange leads the Gemara to bring a series of principles about how halakhqh is decided in cases of disagreements. For example,
The rules that establish final verdicts based on the person who authored the position are the product of extensive research and review done by the Sages themselves. Generally speaking, such a ruling indicates that a particular basic concept or principle is the foundation for each tanna’s rulings, so following that specific tanna means that we have accepted his principle as the halakhah. Nevertheless, these rules are limited in a number of ways. The Gemara states clearly that if one of the amoraim pronounces a decision that stands in contradiction with one of the general rules of pesak, we accept the amora’s decision. In other words, these rules apply only when no other decision has been handed down. Oftentimes, even if there is no clear decision but the discussion of the Gemara seems to favor one opinion over another, that opinion may be the one accepted as the halakhah. Moreover, some say that these rules only apply to areas of halakhah that are currently applicable, but regarding other subjects – like rulings about the Temple, etc. – these rules are not accepted at all. Finally, we occasionally find general rules that apply to a given case (e.g. we follow the lenient opinion regarding the rules of eiruv, or we follow the lenient opinion regarding the rules of mourning) that contradict the rule to follow a specific Sage.
Eiruvin 47a-b – A marital waiting period
Although the Gemara related a series of rules of which Sage’s opinion to follow when there are disagreements (see 46a-b), Rav Mesharshiya rejects these rules out-of-hand. The Gemara lists a number of cases that may act as a source for Rav Mesharshiya’s position.
One of the cases involves a gezeira – a Rabbinic injunction – obligating a woman to a three-month waiting period between the end of one marriage and the beginning of another. The Mishnah in Yevamot (41a) teaches that a yevama – a woman whose husband died, leaving her childless, and whose brother-in-law (her late husband’s brother) is obligated by the Torah to take her as his wife – should neither marry him nor undergo the halitza ceremony that will allow her to marry someone else, until three months have passed since her husband’s death. This rule applies to cases aside from Yevamot, including cases of divorce or widowhood where there are children from the first marriage.
The purpose of the Rabbinic injunction obligating a three-month wait between marriages is to ascertain beyond any doubt the parentage of any possible child born to the woman in question. We want to make sure that we know whether her first husband is the father of the child, or if it is the second one. The choice of three months stems from a number of different considerations. Based on the Biblical story (Bereishit 37) of Yehudah and Tamar, it is clear that, at three months, a pregnancy can become visible. Also, based on the Gemara’s tradition that there are two types of pregnancy – a seven month pregnancy and a nine-month pregnancy (see Shabbat 129-135). According to that assumption, were the woman permitted to remarry immediately, we would not know whether the newborn is a nine-month baby from the first marriage or a seven-month baby from the second marriage. The three-month waiting period clarifies who is the true father.
Eiruvin 48a-b – Defining an amah
In the disagreement between Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri and the hakhamim (Mishnah, 45a) the hakhamim limited the movement of the person who awakened on Shabbat to the surrounding four cubits. The Gemara now returns to the opinion of the hakhamim and asks for the source of four cubits as being the limit for someone who is not allowed to move at all.
The Gemara inquires about the basis of this law: These four cubits within which a person is always permitted to walk on Shabbat, where are they written in the Torah?
The Gemara answers: As it was taught in a baraita: The verse “Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day” (Shemot 16:29), means one must restrict his movement to an area equal to his place.
The passage that is presented as the source for this rule is shevu ish tahtav – “remain every man in his place,” which refers to the time when the manna fell and the Children of Israel were instructed to refrain from going out to collect it on Shabbat. The word tahtav literally means “under him,” and the Gemara presents this as the source for limiting movement to the area of a person lying down – three cubits – together with another cubit that allows him room to stretch out his arms and legs (according to Rabbi Meir) or to move an object from beneath his feet and place it under his head (according to Rabbi Yehuda).
In an attempt to clarify this rule, Rav Mesharshiya tells his son to ask Rav Pappa whether the amot (=cubits) under discussion in the Mishnah are subjective and differ for each person (the word amah means an arms-length – the distance from his elbow to the tip of his index finger), or if they are an objective size that is the same for everyone. Rav Mesharshiya supplied him with follow-up questions to ask on whatever answer he received. Were he told that amot are objective, he was to ask whether the same size would apply to Og the king of Bashan (see Devarim 3:11); were he told that amot are subjective, he was to ask why this rule does not appear with other such rules in the list (Mishnah Kelim 17:11) of halakhot that differ from one person to another.
Rav Pappa is, apparently, taken aback by the question, and responds that were we to try to read Mishnayot so closely in an attempt to infer such things, we would never have time to learn. This reaction probably stems from the fact that Rav Mesharshiya’s questions do not stem from the Mishnah itself, but are based on an attempt to read things into the Mishnah that are not clearly indicated there. Rav Pappa is suggesting that such attempts to read into the Mishnah are misguided, since there may be a variety of reasons for a particular phrase to be chosen for use in the Mishnah – based on style, for example – and trying to extract a halakhah from such an inference may lead to mistaken conclusions or internal contradictions.
Rav Pappa does answer the question, though, and rules that an amah is subjective, based on the size of the person. However, there are exceptions, such as a person whose arms are disproportionately small for his body, where the amot will be based on the standard, objective measurement of an amah. This is why the rule does not appear in the list of subjective halakhot in the Mishnah Kelim.
In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz's groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit www.steinsaltz.org or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.