Eruvin 3 Biblical versus rabbinical prohibitions

We have seen that the maximum height of the beam that goes from one side of a מבוי to the other is 20 amos, and if it is higher than that, it needs to be lowered.

The same applies to the סכך (“roof”) of a sukkah.

There is a debate on our daf regarding the law if only part of the beam or סכך is above 20 amos.

Rabbah rules that in the case of the מבוי, it is fine, but not in the case of the Sukkah.

The Gemara seems to understand that in theory, it should be fine in both cases, but there is a real concern that the lower part of the beam or סכך could rot or fall off, leaving only the higher invalid part. It then brings 2 reasons why in the case of a Sukkah, we take this concern into account, and not in the case of a מבוי.

I wish to focus on the second reason given by Ravina- I have seen that my colleague Rabbi @Johnny Solomon has already focused beautifully as usual on the first reason in his daily post.

Ravina explains that the main difference lies in the severity of the matter at stake.

Seeing as Sukkah is a biblical law, we are stringent and take this concern into account.

As the requirement to mark the fourth side of a מבוי is only rabbinical, this concern is not significant enough for us to consider.

This fits in well with what we saw on the first daf, at least according to the explanation of Tosfos quoted in the previous post, that the added severity of the biblical law of Sukkah is the reason why we use the stronger phrase “it is invalid” rather than the more positive phrase “it should be reduced.”

It also fits well with our general understanding that Torah law is treated more strictly than rabbinical law. One of the most common applications of this is the famous rule that in case of doubt in a biblical matter, we are stringent, whereas in case of a doubt in a rabbinical matter, we are lenient, but there are of course many others.

It thus comes as a surprise when a different version of this discussion is brought in the Gemara where Rabbah rules that we are lenient in the case of Sukkah and allow part of the סכך (covering) to be higher than the maximum height, but are stringent in the case of the מבוי and do not allow part of the beam to be above the 20 amot maximum height.

Two explanations are given, and Ravina explains that we are more stringent with the מבוי specifically because it is only a rabbinical requirement, and thus requires strengthening.

Seeing as people naturally, and as a result of the various halachik leniencies involved, tend to take rabbinical requirements less seriously than biblical ones, Chazal sometimes imposed harsher rules specifically on the former, in order to make us take them more seriously.

We see this idea in numerous other places as well.

There is the famous story of Rabbi Tarfon (Brachos 10b) who went against the ruling of Beis Hillel and lay down to read the night-time Shema, in accordance with the stringent view of Beis Shamai.

He was attacked by robbers and was told by his colleagues after surviving that he got off relatively light, and really had deserved to die for going against the authoritative view of Beis Hillel.

Although missing out on performing a positive mitzva does not incur any official penalty, we seem to see from the above that performing a positive mitzva in a different way to the accepted rabbinic position can be serious enough that the phrase “deserve to die” can be applied to one who does so.

Later in our perek (Eruvin 21a,) we see the following:

דרש רבא: מאי דכתיב ויתר מהמה בני הזהר עשות ספרים הרבה וגו’. בני! הזהר בדברי סופרים יותר מדברי תורה. שדברי תורה יש בהן עשה ולא תעשה, ודברי סופרים – כל העובר על דברי סופרים חייב מיתה.

Rava, based on a derasha from a passuk, exhorts us to be even more careful with דברי סופרים (a term usually applied to rabbinical law, though some analysis is needed regarding this) than one is with Torah law, seeing as Torah law is divided into positive and negative commands (the punishment for avoiding the former being less severe than the later,) whereas anyone who transgresses the words of the סופרים (lit scribes) is liable to death.

This phrase is used explicitly to refer to rabbinical law (Brachos 4b) regarding one who deliberately delays saying Shema until after midnight- We are told in that regard “כל העובר על דברי חכמים חייב מיתה “ – anyone who transgresses the words of the sages deserves to die.

While it is clear that neither of these refer to an official death penalty in a court, and it is even possible that this is also an example of exaggerated language used by Chazal to make a strong point (I am almost finished a detailed Hebrew analysis on this subject,) it is clearly more than enough to show us the seriousness with which rabbinical laws should be taken.

There are many other examples of both approaches we see in our sugya, some which treat rabbinical laws less strictly than biblical laws, and others that treat them even more stringently.

There is also a similar idea we see with Shabbos and Yom-Tov, this time both biblical commandments but of different severity.

Whereas intentionally desecrating the Shabbos can involve a capital transgression, doing the same on Yom-Tov is a regular negative prohibition which incurs at most corporal punishment.

There are also various melachot, namely some of those associated with food preparation, that are permitted on Yom-Tov but forbidden on Shabbos.

Despite the less stringent nature of Yom-Tov, and specifically because of it, we find that Chazal )Beitza 2b) were occasionally more stringent with Yom-Tov, and forbade forms of Nolad (a type of muktza status applying to “newly born/made “ things on Yom-Tov even though they are permitted on shabbos.

Much discussion is needed to define when “more severe” prohibitions are treated more seriously than less severe ones, and when the “less severe” ones are davka afforded extra “protection,” but the analysis required involves many more cases than can be brought in the scope of this post- I will thus make do for now with having raised the issues , and please stay tuned for a future post which will hopefully continue the discussion!

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

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