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.
Eruvin 84a-b – Accessing a pit surrounded by high walls on Shabbat
When two distinct domains in which people live both have access to an area that is separate from them, and they would each like to carry back-and-forth from it on Shabbat, how do we decide which domain it belongs to?
Obviously, if the two domains are situated so that they can join together and make an eruv, this area will be included in it and the residents of both domains will be allowed free access to it. If such an eruv was not made, the Mishnah (83b) teaches a basic principle: it is the domain that can access the area more easily that will be considered connected to it. One example that the Mishnah brings is a huliyat ha-bor – a pit surrounded by a wall.
The embankments that surround a cistern or a rock that are ten handbreadths high may be used by the balcony; if they are lower than that height, the right to use them belongs to the courtyard. The Gemara assumes that the phrase to the balcony is referring to the residents of an upper story, who access their apartments through the balcony. The mishna indicates that if one set of residents can make use of a place by lowering and another set of residents can use it by throwing, the use of the place is granted to those who lower their objects, in accordance with the opinion of Shmuel and contrary to the opinion of Rav.
In an examination of the case of the pit with high walls around it, our Gemara asks whether it can be considered readily accessible to the people on the mirpeset (balcony), after all, the water in the pit is much lower down!? Rav Yitzhak son of Rav Yehuda explains that for this to work, we must be talking about a case where the pit was filled up with water to the very top. To the objection that in the course of Shabbat the water will be drawn from the pit, lowering its level below ten amot (cubits), he argues that since it was accessible – and permitted – when it was full at the beginning of Shabbat, it retains its status even after the water level drops. To this the Gemara objects that we should look at it the other way around – since it will not be readily accessible when the water level drops, making it forbidden, even at the beginning of Shabbat it should be forbidden.
This argument forces the Gemara to accept another approach to the problem.
The Ritva explains that Rav Yitzhak son of’ Rav Yehuda’s reasoning is based on a rule taught earlier in our masechet (17a), that once an issue of eruv on Shabbat was permitted, it remains permitted for all of Shabbat. An example of this is a case where two courtyards are separated by a wall with an opening in it that allows them to join together to make an eruv. Even if that opening becomes closed up on Shabbat, the eruv remains in force. The case in our Gemara is different because we know at the very beginning that the situation will change in the course of the day. Therefore, the rule that is more appropriate to apply is the one that teaches us to follow the situation at the conclusion of Shabbat rather than at the beginning of Shabbat.
Eruvin 85a-b – Can a gatehouse be considered a dwelling for the purpose of eruv?
One of the most basic rules of eruvei chatzerot is that the residents of the courtyard must be partners in food so that they can be viewed as a single household, permitting them to carry in the courtyard and back and forth from their homes to the courtyard. In order to accomplish this, the food must be placed in one of the houses that opens to the hatzer (courtyard). The Mishnah on our daf (page) teaches that there are some structures in the hatzer that are not viewed as dwelling places, and therefore the eruv cannot be placed in them. For example, the bet sha’ar – the gatehouse to the courtyard – is not considered a place where people live, so the eruv cannot be placed there. Following that logic, the Mishnah also teaches that if someone were to live in the gatehouse, he would not be considered a resident of the courtyard, and would therefore not play a role in the establishment of the eruv.
Rav Yehuda, the son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilat, said: Any place with regard to which the Sages said that one who resides there does not render it prohibited for the other residents of the courtyard to carry, one who places his eruv there, his is not a valid eruv, except for a gatehouse that belongs to an individual. If a structure is used as a passageway by only one person, he does not render it prohibited for the other residents of the courtyard, and an eruv placed there is a valid eruv.
This rule is, apparently, based on the understanding that if only one family uses the gatehouse and it is not open to public access, it is considered part of their home, and would, therefore, meet the criterion of being a place where people live.
The Jerusalem Talmud discusses this question, and reaches the opposite conclusion. According to the Yerushalmi, a bet sha’ar d’yahid (gatehouse that belongs to an individual) is not considered a dwelling place at all and cannot be used to house the eruv, while a normal bet sha’ar that is open to the public meets the requirement to be a place where people live, so the eruv can be put there and someone living in it is considered a resident of the courtyard. The logic of the Yerushalmi seems to be that a private gatehouse is considered insignificant and has no halakhic significance. If someone lives there, he will, at best, be considered a member of that household. The public gatehouse, on the other hand, is a significant structure that must be considered.
Eruvin 86a-b – Honoring the wealthy
When deciding whether a renter needs to participate in the courtyard’s eruv, the Mishnah (85b) teaches that as long as the owner retains the right to enter the apartment to take what belongs to him, the renter is considered part of the owner’s household and does not need to contribute separately to the eruv. As an example, the Gemara points to the case of Bonyas – someone so rich that his possessions were stored in the apartments that he rented out to others.
This story leads the Gemara to discuss the respect that various sages showed to wealthy people, based on the passage in Tehillim (61:8) – “May he be enthroned before God forever; appoint mercy and truth, that they may preserve him” – which is understood to mean that rich people who are able to offer food and support to others deserve to be honored.
This derasha (homiletical interpretation) is explained in a number of different ways by the commentaries. Some say that the wealthy people deserve respect because their charity and generosity support the world. The Arukh suggests that the very fact that they are wealthy is an indication that they are being rewarded for their good deeds and compassion, so they are clearly deserving of honor. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chajes explains that it would be impossible for those people who are devoted to Torah study to sit “before God” and learn were it not for the wealthy people who are involved in the practical aspects of the commandments and community needs. The Maharsha argues that “before God” in this passage means “before the sages of the generation,” and what is being suggested is that the generosity of the wealthy people allows them to sit before the Sages.
In a homiletical vein, the Maharil suggests that Rebbi and Rabbi Akiva – the Sages who honored the wealthy people – did so in order that, when the honor was reciprocated, the respect that they received would be due to their own wealth and not because of their Torah knowledge, since they did not want to derive any personal benefit from the honor that truly belongs to the Torah.
Eruvin 87a-b – Drawing from a water channel on Shabbat
There is a disagreement in the Mishnah on our daf (page) about how to arrange for water that is channeled through a courtyard to be used on Shabbat. According to the Tanna Kamma (first), ten-amah (cubit) high walls must be built around it at the entrance to the courtyard and its exit in order to be allowed to draw water from it.
Rabbi Yehuda rules that it is not necessary to build such walls, since the walls of the courtyard itself act as a separation between the water outside the hatzer and the water inside the hatzer. To support his position, Rabbi Yehuda described an actual water channel that led from the town of Avel in the Lower Galilee to the city of Tzippori.
Rabbi Yehuda said: There was an incident involving a water channel that passed through the courtyards of the town of Avel, from which the residents would draw water from it on Shabbat by the authority of the Elders, relying on the courtyard wall suspended above it. They said to him: It is due to the fact that channel was not of the size that requires a partition, i.e., it was less than ten handbreadths deep or less than ten handbreadths wide, it was permitted to draw water from it even without a partition.
The halakhah, in fact, makes this distinction. If the water channel is more than four tefahim wide and ten tefahim deep, it is considered a karmelit (an intermediate domain, neither public nor private – see the Introduction to Massekhet Eruvin) and one cannot draw water from it into a public or private domain. If it is less than four tefahim wide and ten tefahim deep, it has the status of whatever area it is in.
The specific water channel mentioned by Rabbi Yehuda flowed a few kilometers from the village of Avel to the larger city of Tzippori in order to bolster the water supply in the larger city – see the map.
Eruvin 88a-b – Pouring water on the ground on Shabbat
In a small courtyard of less than four amot (cubits) square, the Mishnah on our daf (page) teaches that pouring water on the ground is a problem, because it will spill out into the public domain. Even though the person standing in the courtyard is not spilling directly into the reshut ha-rabim, still it is the strength of his pouring that causes the water to move from one domain to another, so he will be held liable – at least on a Rabbinic level.
With regard to a courtyard that is less than four cubits by four cubits in area, one may not pour waste water into it on Shabbat, unless a pit [ukah] was fashioned to receive the water, and the pit holds two se’a in volume from its edge below.
This halakha applies whether the pit was fashioned outside the courtyard or whether it was dug inside the courtyard itself. The only difference is as follows: If the pit was dug outside in the adjoining public domain, it is necessary to arch over [likmor] it, so that the water will not flow into the public domain. If it was dug inside the courtyard, it is not necessary to arch over it.
It is clear that an ukah is a pit for collecting water. The Arukh suggests that it is a pit with a particular shape, specifically dug in a circular fashion.
Rashi understands that likmor means to cover the ukah with boards. According to this opinion, such an arrangement makes the pit into a makom patur – a “free space” – into which the water can be poured without concern that one is transferring from one domain to another.
According to the Meiri, this pit needs to be covered because, if it is too large or not deep enough, it will have the status of a karmelit or a reshut ha-rabim (public domain). Once it is covered it will be considered a pit in a reshut ha-yahid (private domain) or a makom patur, so that pouring water there will not be a problem.
Maimonides says that the reason for covering the pit is marit ayin – for appearance sake – so that it does not appear to be part of the public domain.
The Darkei Moshe says that we are concerned about having an open pit in the public domain, which is why we need to cover it. (For more on the issue of domains, read the Introduction to Eruvin.)
Eruvin 89a-b – Carrying from one roof to another on Shabbat
The Sages restricted carrying from one private domain to another, unless the owners of each established an eruv before Shabbat. In the Mishnah on our daf (page), which opens the ninth chapter of Masechet Eruvin, three opinions are brought regarding private areas that are not used on a regular basis:
- Rabbi Meir rules that the roofs of all houses are considered a single domain. It is permitted to carry from one roof to another, even if the residents of the houses did not establish an eruv between them, unless they are more than ten tefahim higher or lower than the roof of their neighbor.
- The Hakhamim say that each roof is a private domain unto itself. It is permitted to carry from one to the other only if the residents of both houses established an eruv.
- Rabbi Shimon says that not only roofs, but other similar areas – such as enclosed yards, gardens, orchards, etc. – are all considered a single domain, and objects that were in them before Shabbat began can be carried freely from one to another. Things that were inside a house when Shabbat began cannot be carried into another area, however.
Up until this point, when the Gemara discussed whether someone can carry from his house to a courtyard, or from a courtyard to an alleyway (mavoy – see 2a-b), the defining criteria was ownership. If the owners of all the houses in a courtyard agreed to make an eruv, only then could they carry there. In examining the position of Rabbi Meir, the Gemara appears to suggest that, unlike carrying in and out of homes, in places like roofs, gardens, etc. the Sages were less concerned with ownership and more concerned with the definition of the type of area. According to this opinion, all roofs are one domain, regardless of to whom the roofs belong. Similarly, gardens, yards or orchards that neighbor one another will each be considered a single domain for carrying on Shabbat, even if they all have different owners. Nevertheless, according to Rabbi Meir, objects cannot be carried from one type of area to another (i.e. from the domain of roofs to the domain of gardens). Rabbi Shimon permits even carrying between different types of areas.
Eruvin 90a-b – Carrying from one roof to another on Shabbat – II
The opinion of the Hakhamim in the Mishnah (89a) did not allow carrying from one roof to another, and Rav (ibid) explained that a person was limited to the extent that he could only carry within a four cubit radius. Even within this limitation, it would be forbidden to carry from the end of one roof to the beginning of another, even if it was within the four-cubit limit. On our daf (page), Rami bar Hama asks whether, according to this opinion, one can carry from the roof of a house to the roof of a neighboring akhsadra (portico), assuming that he remained within the four cubit limit.
The Gemara does not offer a response to Rami bar Hama’s question and continues by relating another question, this one raised by Rav Beivai bar Abaye. What if a house adjoined a hurba – a ruin? Could one carry from the roof of the house onto the roof of the hurba if he was careful to remain within the four-cubit limit?
Rav Kahana said: Is that not precisely the same dilemma raised by Rami bar Hama with regard to a portico? Rav Beivai bar Abaye said: And did I come late [me’aher] merely to quarrel, and meddle in other people’s questions? That is not the case, as the two dilemmas are not identical. A portico is not fit for residence, while a ruin is fit for residence. Therefore the halakha might differ in each case.
Rav Beivai uses an expression that is difficult to interpret – v’khi me’aher atai u’nitzai. Rashi understands it to mean “do you think that I came to make use of someone else’s question in order to argue?”
The Meiri seems to read the word me’aher slightly differently, so that it does not mean “from someone else” but “to come late.” Thus he understands the meaning to be “are you saying I came late to the Beit Midrash, missed the lesson, and that I am arguing without knowing the discussion that took place?”
Other possible versions of the Gemara led some commentaries to explain this as Rav Beivai saying about Rav Kahana, “he is arguing with me for no reason” or “he is younger than me, and yet he insists on arguing with me.”
In any case, the Gemara reaches no conclusion with regard to these questions, ending with the proverbial Teiku.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.