Eruvin 59    Authoritative Translation and the “private city”

The wealth of modern-day translations and study-aids has made the study of our sacred texts accessible to so many people who without them, would simply be unable to study them, and for this, their merit is tremendous.
Yet there is also a downside to this, in that people who study Torah from their youth and would normally learn the original Hebrew and Aramaic naturally from the original context of their study, now tend to use these works as crutches rather than learning the necessary linguistic skills themselves from classical sources.
As so much of the original meaning is lost in translation, and one translation might give a completely different view of a word or phrase than another, this often biases the learner in favor of the translators subjective interpretation of the text, rather than training him to study the text objectively on its own merits.
At its extreme, this results in the loss of the  independent analytical skills essential for in-depth Torah study and for reaching legitimate halachik conclusions, effectively starting a chain reaction which has the ability to paralyze the entire traditional system of Torah study and halachik ruling.
Yet how is a generation whose spoken language is neither Aramaic nor biblical or Mishnaic Hebrew expected to even get started without the use of such tools?
It is clear that there is always going to be a tradeoff between exposure to unbiased original texts and the clarity provided by modern “translation-commentaries” and what is right for one, is not necessarily right for the other, but it is clear that the earlier back one can go for translations, the more legitimate one’s starting point will be.
The earliest and most authoritative “dictionary” of Talmudic language is the “Aruch”, written by Rabbeinu Nosson of Rome, an early Rishon who slightly preceded Rashi, and whose translations are used by him and other Rishonim in their commentaries.
As such, this is the first place us “uneducated” moderners should turn when faced with words that we do not understand, something our great teacher haGaon Rav Mendel Blachman שליט”א  has drummed into us (of course an authoritative Hebrew dictionary will be needed once we have the correct hebrew word and using later scholarly dictionaries such as that of Rabbi Marcus Jastrow זצ”ל  are still far preferable than jumping to the translation-commentaries of today, certainly for in-depth study if time does not allow it for the daf yomi!)
It is this approach that I would like to illustrate in today’s post, using the main topic of the daf as a case study.
Today’s daf discussed the fascinating case of an עיר של יחיד ונעשית של רבים – a private city that became public.
We have seen many times that when it comes to defining a domain as either private or public as far as the laws of Shabbos are concerned, there are several factors involved:
1.      Whether it is surrounded by halachically valid מחיצות  (partitions) or not
2.      Whether it is used/frequented by the public or not.
3.      The size or width  of the domain and its similarity to the דגלי מדבר
The actual ownership of the domain, although important on a rabbinic level, seems to be less of a factor regarding its biblical status, and when the above factors are combined, we are faced with 3 main categories of domain, at a biblical level:
1.      רשות הרבים – a public domain needs to be unfenced, be used/frequented by the public and have a minimum width of 16 amos.
2.      רשות היחיד- a private domain needs to be enclosed by halachically valid partitions on at least 3 sides (2 according to Rabbi Yehuda) and be a minimum of 4 by 4 tefachim.
3.      A כרמלית  – this is domain which lacks the partitions required to make it a private domain but lacks the public usage/frequency required to make it a public domain. On a biblical level, this is essentially a מקום פטור  (exempt domain)- on a rabbinical level , it is treated with the stringencies of both the above domains, and only very limited types of domains too small or high to fit into the other categories are still regarded as a מקום פטור  (exempt domain.)
In the case of our Mishna, a city starts out as a “private city” ,undergoes a metamorphosis which results in it being a “public city” ,and the Mishna rules that the entire city may be included in an eruv.
In contrast, if a city starts out as a “public city” and becomes a “private city”, certain restrictions of a public city still apply to it and one needs to leave a small part of it outside the eruv.
It is not immediately clear from the Mishna what the properties of the private city and public city mentioned are, and what exactly changed to make the city take on the opposite status.
After all, if a “private city” is a pure רשות היחיד  , why should it need an eruv at all, and if  a public city is a pure רשות הרבים  , then how does an eruv help anymore than it does in a regular רשות הרבים  which according to most opinions cannot be “privatized” by a regular eruv?
It is thus not surprising that the Gemara asks immediately what the phrase עיר של יחיד  is referring to and Rav Yehuda suggests that a prime example of such a construct is the “דאיסקרת דריש גלותא” .
In this case, The editor’s note on the side inform us that the ערוך ‘s version of the text has the word “דסקרתא”, and this is also the version in Rabbeinu Chananel on the daf,an invaluable clue that allows us to look up the word in his ערוך  itself.
Examining the words ourselves, we see that “דסקרתא”  is made up of “דס”  and “קרתא” ( city) , and immediately can guess that this is some sort of city belonging to the exilarch, the powerful political head of the Jewish communities of Babylonia.
The Aruch translates it simply as “עיר של ריש גלותא”- the city of the exilarch
In other words, the city is
i.                    Owned and/or controlled  by one individual (“של”)
ii.                  That one individual is a powerful public figure with government supported authority over property rights  ( -“ריש גלותא” see Sanhedrin 5a re נטילת רשות)
     We note that there is no inherent assumption that this city is surrounded by walls or partitions as is the case with a halachik רשות היחיד.
It follows that whatever changed to make it into a “עיר של רבים ”  must involve one or more of the above factors, and while the Gemara proceeds to reject this definition and accept a different one, we have now at least set the stage for beginning to understand what the issues at play are!
 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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