Eruvin 105 Intellectual honesty opposed to a philosophy of leniencies

This short daf deals with various work needed for the maintenance of the מקדש , to remove impure items from it, and how and by whom it should be done.

This is based on a debate in the concluding Mishna of the Masechta regarding how to remove a dead שרץ  (creeping creature/bug) from the Temple.

The Masechta ends, however, by focusing on a rather cryptic statement in the final Mishna by Rabbi Shimon: מקום שהתירו לך חכמים משלך נתנו לך שלא התירו לך אלא משום שבות – “The place where the sages permitted it to you, they gave you from your own, as they only permitted it because of a rabbinical prohibition.”

Whatever the meaning of this statement, we might instinctively think that it has something to do with the debate in this Mishna itself.

Yet the Gemara understands this as a flashback to two other debates that Rabbi Shimon was involved in:

  1. Although the Chachamim hold that even if one stepped one אמה outside the תחום  (shabbos zone), it is forbidden to return, Rabbi Shimon allows a leeway of up to 15 אמות  because the people who measure the תחום  do not do so precisely and leave a safety net of this distance inside the תחום.

The first part of his cryptic statement thus reads:

“That which they (according to me) permitted you, ie 15 amos, was really yours to begin with, due to the safety net made by the measurers.”

  • Although Chachamim permitted retying a string that came loose on a musical instrument required for the Temple service, due to the rule of אין שבות במקדש , Rabbi Shimon forbade it, seeing as he held that this is a biblical prohibition, and only permitted tying it with a bow.

The second part of his cryptic statement thus reads:

“They only permitted  tying a bow which is a שבות, not tying a knot which (according to me) is a biblical transgression.

Rashi and Tosfos both explain that Rabbi Shimon makes these statements here because they are connected to his ruling regarding the string of an instrument.

Tosfos adds that this discussion was interrupted by listing the other things permitted because אין שבות במקדש  (there are no rabbinical prohibitions when it comes to Temple service) and Rabbi Shimon is now returning to explain his position there.

They both explain that Rabbi Shimon is going out of his way to stress that his leniency regarding the תחום  was not due to his taking shabbos lightly and a general policy of leniency, but because he felt it was objectively the correct ruling, seeing as the safety net was intentionally placed for that reason.

In contrast, when  it comes to making  a knot, he believed that a biblical prohibition was involved and only permitted a bow, in keeping consistently with the rule of אין שבות במקדש, even though the Chachamim were lenient.

Although both Rashi and Tosfos explain the positioning of Rabbi Shimon’s “clarification” of his approach based on the recent placement of the late dispute, it seems fitting that the Maseches concludes in this way.

After all, as we have seen so many times, Eruvin is not just about the technical and specific laws of Eruvin, but also about the power of rabbinical decrees as a whole and many global rules of psak halocho.

We have seen many leniencies when it comes to rabbinic decrees, such as ספק דרבנן לקולא, אין שבות במקדש, אין גוזרין גזירה לגזירה etc , as well as many exceptions to these rules.

Rabbi Shimon, in particular, is known for many leniencies in the rules of Shabbos, among them דבר שאין מתכוין מותר, מלאכה  שאינה צריכה לגופא פטור, לית ליה מוקצה,  גגות חצירות וקרפפים רשוצ אחת הן,  כתבי קודש  etc.

However, as we discussed early in the Maseches (see post on Eruvin 7,) halacha ideally should not be about having a philosophy of leniency or stringency, but rather about searching for the objective truth.

It is so fitting that such a Masechta should end with no other than the “lenient” Rabbi Shimon clarifying his position that his leniencies do not flow from any זלזול (making light of) the laws of Shabbos, chas veshalom, but from his objective view of the truth in each case.

Just like he was lenient so often in cases where he believed the truth required leniency, he was not afraid to be stringent against consensus when he felt that the truth required it.

Although a poseik might often be required to take local circumstances or even “meta-halachik” factors into account when issuing rulings, Rabbi Shimon, forever the idealist, seems to be teaching us that the ideal derech of a poseik and Talmid Chacham, namely intellectual honesty and objectivity, must never be forgotten.

הדרן עליך מסכת עירובין והדרון עליך

Its been an incredible journey, and we will miss you, as we temporarily move on to exciting new territory with Maseches Pesachim, Hashem willing, truly inspired and looking forward to the next round!

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