Eruvin 57 and 58 Nature trails on Yom-Tov and measuring the techum with Google Earth

Whereas most of daf 57 focusses on the extended boundaries of cities, in particular another possible leniency that according to some allows an additional 70+ amos to be added to the city- proper’s boundaries, the Mishna at the bottom of 57b takes us into new territory- the correct method for measuring the techum.

In a time where walking between close-by city’s was normal and often required, much effort was made by each community to measure and mark the techum of their city, and 2 people worked together to do this rather complex task.

This requirement, however, is FAR from obsolete and should be done in any community where leaving the halachik boundaries of the city on Shabbos or Yom-Tov is common- this would include walking between two suburbs of a city that are separated by more than 141 amos of open space, a fairly small area which is enough to make them considered two different cities halachically, as well as towns bordering natural areas where people like to enjoy the trails (Ramat Beis Shemesh being a great example, with our lovely nature walks.)

The method set out by Chazal, and hinted at in pessukim, was that a rope measuring 50 amos would be held at either end by each partner at chest level- after shifting forward 50maway from the city, this would be repeated until 40 such measurements had been taken, and the techum boundary would be marked at this point .

This process would be done 8 times, at each end of the 4 sides of the square/rectangle that the city had been fit into, after which the final process of squaring the techum itself could be carried out.

The Mishna tells us that ” אין מודדין אלא בחבל של נ’ אמה לא פחות ולא יותר” – We may only measure with a rope of 50 amos, no more and no less.

The Gemara bases this length on the passuk describing the width of the Mishkan’s courtyard. “ורוחב חמישים בחמישים” – its width was 50 with 50. The seemingly spurious “with 50” teaches us that it should be measured with a rope of 50 amos, and this seems to serve as a precedent that things which require precise measurements should be measured with a rope of 50 amos.

The Gemara understands ( as per Rashi’s explanation) that any more than this would be too hard to pull tight enough, resulting in some sagging and a shorter measurement for the techum.

Similarly, any less would result in too much stretching and hence a larger techum than required.

The Gemara proceeds to discuss what material the rope must be made of and seems to conclude that it needs to be made from flax, due to its relative accuracy.

Whereas the length of the rope used appears to be non-negotiable, it is still not clear whether the Mishna is telling us that a rope MUST be used, or simply that if a rope is chosen, it must fit the required length.

It is also not clear whether the Gemara requires the rope to be made of flax and nothing else or whether it is simply allowing anything as accurate as flax, and by “kal vachomer”, anything more accurate .

One Nafka Minah ( practical ramification) of the first question could be if one wanted to measure the techum with the car’s odometer, or with google Earth tools.

If the Gemara requires rope and only rope, then despite its greater accuracy and efficiency, this would not be acceptable.

If on the other hand a flax rope was simply the lower limit of how accurate the measure may be, then these modern tools would clearly be fine and perhaps even better.

In a Beraisa brought by the Gemara, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya points out that there is nothing better for measuring than “chains of steel”, but the Navi ( Zechariah 2/5 , in a vision describing the future messianic period) describes how Yerushalayim will be measured with a “חבל מדה”( a measuring rope.)

Although at first glance this might seem to prove that the rope is an absolute requirement even when more efficient methods are available, it is also possible to interpret this in a way that is consistent with the second more lenient possibility.

It could be that Rabbi Yehoshua is not bringing the passuk to exclude more efficient or easier methods of measuring, but just to exclude steel chains or other bulky materials which though more technically accurate, are not usually used as measuring tools due to their heaviness .

After all, handling a 50- amah wide metal chain is hardly a simple task even for two strong men!

The phrase “חבל מדה” would then not be taken completely literal but would teach us that the method used for measuring must not only be reasonably accurate but also something efficient enough to qualify as a “measuring rope.”

It is also possible that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya is not bringing the passuk as a stringency which comes to exclude more accurate or more efficient methods, but as a leniency to teach us that even though a rope is not the most accurate of methods, it is still acceptable!

In looking through the Rishonim, I did not see much discussion about this question, but was delighted to see that the Meiri actually interprets Rabbi Yehoshua precisely like the second suggestion above, and rules that steel chains ( and by implication other more efficient and accurate means ) certainly may be used .

He notes that some disagree and are stringent, and I found in my search that the Or Zarua (2/163-Eruvin) indeed does so.

Amongst the later Poskim, I have not found anywhere that the Shulchan Aruch or Rema discuss this issue, but did find that the Aruch haShulchan( O.C.399) takes it for granted that Rabbi Yehoshua came to exclude steel chains and that a rope specifically must be used.

As I first heard from Rav Asher Weiss שליט”א , the Rema ( C.M. 25/2) rules that even though we usually follow the rulings of the later authorities assuming that they have already seen and taken into account the rulings of the earlier authorities, if they were clearly not aware of an earlier authority’s ruling, a contemporary poseik can follow that earlier authority.

It is well known that the Meiri’s work was not known to the Mechaber, and while it might have been known to the Aruch haShulchan ( it certainly was to the Mishna Berura who quotes him) it is not clear how much of it was known to him.

Given that הלכה כדברי המקיל בערוב , there thus certainly seems to be strong reasoning in favor of following the lenient approach and using the modern tools of technology to measure the techum, provided it is done with the agreement of a top-level Talmid Chacham.

It should of course also be borne in mind that a car’s measuring device, as well as the standard distance tool on Google-Earth measures total distance including the vertical component of slopes.

In contrast, the laws of Techumim generally allow one to consider only the horizontal component of the total displacement between the two points.

As such, unless one uses technological tools that can measure the “as the crow flies’ horizontal component of the displacement, one could land up being much more stringent than required.

This brings up one more major leniency that could be applied to the “Table Mountain ” conundrum. (for those who have not seen the earlier posts, this is a unique feature of the City of Cape-Town, which surrounds the over 1000m base to summit peak on 3 sides. We have been discussing whether the entire mountain or parts of its can be included in the city-limits, given the rules of עבור העיר and the 4000 amos cut-off point.)

The vertical height of the mountain is well over 1000m above the sea-level neighborhoods- Up and down, that’s about 2000m from the “walking ” distance measured by google earth that can be deducted from the techum limits once one leaves the last house of the city (or from the 4000 amos cut off point for עיר העשויה כקשת!)-unfortunately, the almost 6000 metre gap measured through google earth between the two opposite legs of the city still seems to result in far too much empty space to include the whole mountain in עבור העיר.

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.

Eruvin 56 Looking after one’s health

In loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, and as we daven for a Refuah Shleima for ALL those ill with COVID-19 and other diseases

At the bottom of the previous daf, Rav Huna rules that a Talmid Chacham is prohibited from living in a city where vegetables are not available.

Rashi explains that this is because in places where vegetables are easily available, they are generally a cheap form of healthy food, which enables him to sustain himself easily and have more time to learn  – (“טוב למאכל ונלקח בזול ויכול לעסוק בתורה”)

In our world of global trade, such a thing might seem hard for the Westerner to imagine, and we indeed daven that global supply of produce will continue uninterrupted despite the current pandemic, but in days prior to modern transport, storage  and technology, this was simply not to be taken for granted- If a certain  perishable species did not grow locally, it was usually simply not available .

Given that both Eretz Yisrael and Bavel were generally arid regions, making the availability of vegetables a requirement for one’s place of abode was no simple thing ,even in the “fertile crescent” region which can hardly be called lush by temperate and tropical standards.

 Even if we could regard Rav Huna’s statement as non-authoritative halachically but more as a form of advice coded in the strong language of halacha, it certainly is a very strong statement about the importance of a healthy diet.

Although Rashi seems to understand that vegetables are not the ONLY healthy foods, and that the reason for Rav Huna’s ruling is that they are a cheap form of healthy food which will allow the scholar to maximize his learning time without having to work too hard to be able to afford it, the basic assumption that eating healthy food is an obligation remains.

The Gemara questions this ruling, not because of any doubt regarding the importance of having access to healthy food, but because of Tannaic statements that say that vegetables can actually be harmful.

It upholds Rav Huna’s ruling by distinguishing between different types of vegetables, different parts of vegetables, and different seasons (see similar discussions in Brachos  44b ), and whereas the correct approach of a Ben-Torah to specific health advice of Chazal requires its own post, the basic idea that Chazal required us to eat healthily is not open to debate.

The Rambam (Deos 4 ) codifies this idea, going a step further and claiming that the main source of illness is an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, a claim which  has stood the test of time and is largely borne-out by modern medical studies that list poor diet, lack of exercise, and other unhealthy lifestyles (such as smoking)  as primary risk factors in most most serious diseases.

Those who attended Yeshiva College in Johannesburg can never forget the words of the school anthem “Rosh-Yeshiva we are for you, both in sports and back at school.”

Rav Tanzer זצ”ל  always drummed it into us that we were always his representatives wherever we were and needed to try our best to make a Kiddush Hashem on the sports field as much as in the classroom.

He viewed sports and exercise as an essential part of life in order to maintain physical, emotional, and social health, and strengthen us so we could better carry out our spiritual duties, something that cannot be taken for granted amongst all Teachers of Torah.

As Chazal say (Kesubos 30a)-  “הכל בידי שמים חוץ מצינין ופחים”- “everything is in the hands of heaven, except for colds and fever”- Rashi explains that these can sometimes come upon a person through negligence, presumably by not looking after one’s health properly.

Particularly during this time of lockdown and pandemic, it goes without saying that we all need to make an extra effort to look after our health, both by eating healthily and exercising as well as possible under the circumstances, and avoiding contracting or spreading the disease chalila.

With the right effort on our side, we can than daven with all our strength that Hashem keeps us all healthy, heals the ill, and brings a ישועה very soon!

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.

Eruvin 55 The extended techum and Table Mountain continued, and self-sacrifice for Torah

Today’s daf has a solid mix of aggadic material and a return to the technical rules regarding how to work out the extended shabbos domain of a city.

I wish to start with the halachik side of the daf, כדרכינו בקודש, even though some of  the aggadic material precedes it, and hope to return to the Agadot thereafter.

For the sake of clarity, the אגדה includes all content in the Talmud that does not involve the halachik (legal) process, including מדרשי אגדה  that comment on the narrative portions of the Tanach or complement them and ethical and other advice- see מבוא התלמוד attributed by many to Rabbeinu Shmuel haNagid, one of the first of the Rishonim  and published at the back of מסכת ברכות  for his exact definition, though note that his view on the source and authority of agada is subject to much debate amongst the Geonim, Rishonim and later authorities (my in-depth Hebrew article on this subject is currently work in progress.)

We have already learnt that the general rule is that the techum (shabbos domain) of a city in which one is permitted to walk on Shabbos  stretches to a maximum of 2000 amos (between about 800-1000 m) from the last house in the city’s halachik borders (recall that 2 houses separated by 141 amos or more of empty space might be considered halachically to be in 2 different “cities.”

We have also seen recently that this applies in theory, but that in practise, the distance one may walk from the last house of the city might be significantly more, for 2 reasons:

  1. The limits of the city proper might stretch significantly beyond the last house, such as when the shape of the city is irregular (non-rectangular or grid-like) in which case some open space might be included in these limits themselves.
  • The techum of the city, while theoretically stretching 2000 amos from the end of the city-proper, is effectively measured by placing a rectangular block at the corners of the city and not a circle, meaning that while the shortest this techum will extend is 2000 amos, at the diagonals, it will extend significantly more (by pythagorus.)

The first rule is not applied universally, and one needs to be familiar with all the different shapes discussed in the sugya and which other shapes would be treated like these shapes, before jumping into using this potentially very useful tool.

For example, while a circular city has a square circumscribed around it, including the empty-space outside the circle but inside the square in the city proper itself, and a trapezium seems to be  viewed as if it is was the smallest rectangle that it could fit inside, a rectangular city is left as is, and  a parallelogram could be more complex.

There is also some discussion as to whether the square needs to be on the North-East-South-West axis of the world or can face any direction.

One of the more fascinating shapes describes is the עיר העשויה כקשת – a city in the form of a bow (or rainbow.)

The Beraisa  initially taught us that we draw a fictitious line from the one extreme of the bow to the other (this line is known as the יתר and represents the string which would be pulled back by the arrow before the arrow is released ) and view all the empty space between this line and the houses of the city as part of the city-proper, measuring the techum from this line.

However, Rav Huna rules that this only applies if the length of this line is no more than 4000 amos, allowing someone whose shabbos base or house is in the middle of this line (the spot where the arrow would be placed)  to walk to the city within his own 2000 amos (see Rabbeinu Chananel for his full explanation.)

However, if the length of this line is more than 4000 amos, the empty space is not included in the city limits, and the techum is measured from each individual house.

According to Rabbah bar Rav Huna, the space between the bow and the middle of the line also needs to be less than 2000 amos in order to include the empty space in the city proper, but according to his son, Rava, this is not necessary, and Abaya supports  his lenient view, seeing as anyone in the city could reach the middle of the  line by walking first to the end of the city.

Tosfos suggests that  according to Rava son of Rabbah bar Rav Huna, if the distance between the bow and the line itself is less than 2000 amos, the 4000 amos  restriction on the length of the line might not apply due to the same reasoning of Abaya- the midpoint of the line could be accessed through the 2000 amos or less route to the bow itself- this too is subject to debate amongst the Rishonim.

Tosfos further assumes that the 4000 amos limitation on  a bow-shaped city does not apply to the case discussed earlier where a house or row of houses  protrudes outside the grid of the city. In such a case, even if it is more than 4000 amos to the fictitious parallel row of houses we draw on the opposite end, the empty space is included in the city proper. 

Although he attempts to explain the reasons for this distinction, he admits that the Ri (one of the two most senior Baalei haTosfos) holds that this limitation applies to that case as well. Once again, this topic has generated much discussion and debate amongst the Rishonim and can also affect L shaped cities.

Though there is so much more to learn and understand regarding the above and other related issues (those whose appetite has been whet might enjoy the extensive treatment of this issue in the Rashba, Ritva, Meiri and other Rishonim) ,it is now clear that including the empty natural space between the extremes of an irregularly shaped city is far more complex than it might have originally seemed.

We are not even close to theoretically allowing climbing table mountain on shabbos or Yom-Tov  even without the other multiple halachik challenges one would face (though as per accompanying images from google Earth, it seems that the “Lions Head” Mountain might fall completely within the techum of Cape Town City, and at least on Yom-Tov where carrying is less of an issue, with the guidance of the local Rabbis and eruv experts, the gorgeous trail up and down MIGHT indeed be permissible.

In the beginning of the daf, various explanations are given of the passuk “לא בשמיים היא ולא מעבר לים היא  ” – (it is not in heaven nor is it on the other side of the sea.)

I would like to focus for a minute on the explanation of רב אבדמי בר חמא בר דוסא  who derives by implication that although the Torah is indeed reachable for us, even if it were not, we would be liable to reach to the sky and cross the sea in order to get it.

There are times indeed when Torah goals seem unobtainable to us, and although we should be encouraged by the fact that in essence, they are vey much obtainable, we need to push ourselves and be prepared for self-sacrifice in order to achieve these goals despite how unobtainable they seem.

The Rosh Yeshiva זצ”ל , Rabbi Tanzer, was a prime example of someone for whom no goal was too far away when it came to his life’s mission of spreading Torah.

Starting with the literally huge distance diagonally over the Atlantic that he set out on together with his young wife, leaving behind their friends and extended families in an era of very limited communication for what was at first envisioned as a 2 year stint in Africa, he moved onto the virtually impossible goal of turning what was then a virtual spiritual wasteland into a vibrant Torah center.

This was not a job he fulfilled from the ivory tower of an office, or even a classroom, but one that took him literally from door to door begging parents to enroll their children in his fledgling Torah day-school.

Almost 6 decades later, the Yeshiva College campus has served  as the largest center of the Johannesburg Jewish Community and educated generations of students who span the Jewish world, from Rabbis and Torah teachers to businessmen and professionals, as well as some combinations of both.

Returning briefly to the more technical parts of daf, the rather superficial summary we have done above and the fastest reading of the daf reveals how an understanding of mathematics is essential to being able to make the complex calculations needed for taking full advantage of the shabbos techum- One also clearly needs some conception of how much a factor raw mathematics was in Chazal’s reasoning, something that only a good knowledge of both Chazal’s methodology and mathematics would allow.

Though those who knew him know that Rabbi Tanzer was first and fore-most a Rosh-Yeshiva who was most at home in the Beis-Midrash and who got the most joy out of those students who went on to become serious Torah Scholars, he always pushed his students to excel in their general education as well, creating a generation of students with the knowledge required not only for their chosen careers, but also for understanding many areas of Torah that are beyond the reach of those who lack this knowledge.

The Gaon of Vilna, broadly considered the greatest Torah figure in many centuries, was famous for stating that it is impossible to fully understand the Torah without understand all the forms of general (I prefer not to use the term secular) wisdom (see “haGaon” by D.E. Eliach for citation) , something he himself accomplished, and though neither he nor our Rosh Yeshiva would encourage one to give more priority to general studies than to Torah, chalila, I personally have found great benefit from the general education I received under Moreinu haRav Tanzer and his team, not just in my business, but most importantly in so many areas of my Torah Study.

Although reaching the wisdom of the Vilna Gaon is certainly like reaching for the sky, and building en empire of Torah like the Rosh Yeshiva did is certainly also above most of us, we can learn from him to be prepared to try our absolute best, and if we do so, the results will speak for themselves, with Hashem’s help!

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.

Eruvin 54 Beruria, Learning out loud, and Torah as a cure

In loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, and as we daven for a Refuah Shleima for ALL those ill with COVID-19 and other diseases שיבדלו לחיים , among them Maran haGadol R’ Chaim Kanievsky שליט”א , and the Karliner Rebbe שליט”א. We also have in mind that great friend of Israel (אולי ככורש בדורו) , President Donald Trump- it goes without saying that we leave politics out of all the above.

As we continue to be cut-off from the batei-midrash and shuls that we hold so dear, one of the things that we all miss while learning at home is the constant buzz of Torah-learning that emanates from these sacred places.

Our halls of study are a stark contrast to the (at least officially) silent libraries and study-halls of the great universities, and are brought to life by the sounds of students and their chavrusos (study-partners) learning out loud, or even screaming in learning at one another.

This distinction is so sharp, that while I was investigating the possibility of zoom providing a feature to simulate this buzz online while still allowing people to focus at a higher volume on their chavrusos, I was told that there is simply no request for such a thing and the technology does not exist!

Our daf begins with the continuation of a story where the famous wife of Rabbi Meir, Berurya rebuked a certain student for learning silently.

We would be remiss in pointing out how despite her tremendous status in learning herself, she seems not to have allowed her own status as an אשה חשובה (“important” or noble woman) to diminish her respect for the teachings of Chazal, including even the seemingly “chauvinist” early ruling of Rabbi Yosi ben Yochanan of Yerushalayim: אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה (do not chat too much with women), something she admonished none other than Rabbi Yosi haGalili for at the bottom of the previous daf!

(This makes a cryptic Rashi who explains the מעשה דברוריה referred to by Chazal (A.Z. 18b ) as a case where she made light of Chazal’s statement that נשים דעתם קלות even harder to explain, but that’s for another discussion, Hashem willing!)

Back to her rebuke of this student, she based this on the passuk “ערוכה בכל ושמורה” (set out in everything and looked after)- “If one’s Torah is set out in all 248 of one’s limbs ( learnt with one’s entire body,) it is looked after (and endures), otherwise it is not.”

The Gemara continues bringing various other statements about the importance of learning out loud, among them the case of a certain student of Rabbi Eliezer who learnt silently and forgot his learning after 3 years.

This leads into another discussion regarding the healing powers of Torah:

One of the pessukim brought to highlight the importance of learning out loud is “כי חיים הם למצאיהם ולכל בשרו מרפא “- the word מצאיהם is read for the purposes of this derasha as מוציאיהם and the passuk is thus rendered as “They (the words of Torah) are life for all those who bring them out (of their lips) and a cure for all his flesh.”

After the Gemara brings various other pessukim to show that the recommended action for one who has a headache, stomachache ,sore-throat, or pain in the bones is to יעסוק בתורה , busy oneself’ with Torah, it uses the second part of the above-quoted passuk (a cure for all flesh) to show that the remedy for pain in the entire body is also to busy oneself with Torah!

However, we also know from earlier discussions (see my posts on Shabbos 61 and 67) that using the Torah as a source of healing can be problematic, to the point that it is a severe prohibition to whisper a verse in order to heal a wound (see Mishna Sanhedrin 11/1) and Shvuos 15b)- this prohibition is taken so seriously by the Rambam, that he writes (A.Z. 11/12) that one who does this has not only transgressed a serious prohibition, but has made light of the Torah which is meant as a cure for the soul, by turning it into a bodily cure like mere medicine.

Whereas the above Rambam rules that it is permitted to say Tehillim for someone who is healthy so that the merit of learning Torah will protect him, he seems to view even the common practise of saying Tehillim for someone who is ill as incorrect, based on this prohibition. Yet it seems pretty clear in the verse we have quoted and the Gemara’s derivation from it that the Torah is indeed a cure for the entire body and that learning Torah as a remedy for physical pain is indeed recommended!

I am not sure how to reconcile this piece of Gemara with the Rambam, and I am not even sure if the Rambam viewed this possibly aggadic material to be authoritative enough to affect his ruling, which is based on how he learnt other more clearly halachik sugyas, but one must certainly acknowledge that a simple reading of this Gemara seems to indicate that Torah is certainly a valid therapy for physical pain, whether this effect is psychological or metaphysical.

One of the things that is most characteristic of great Torah personalities is the constant sound of Torah that comes from their lips- Everyone who knew the late Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Tanzer זצ”ל, remembers the almost constant sound of Torah and prayer emanating from his lips, whether he was at home, in his office, or the Beis-Midrash and shul, as well as when he was not feeling so good.

His learning was a constant song of praise to Hashem, and his signature hum displayed the sheer pleasure he got from his Torah and davening- Who can forget the melody of his signature “הבוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה…שמע ישראל ” or “אני מאמין” and the traditional Yeshivish chant to which he sang the words of Chazal that he learnt and taught?

May our own learning reveal the joy of Torah that he taught us, and may the merit of his Torah and all the Torah we learn because of him truly protect all of us from this terrible plague and all the other challenges life brings us, ודיה לצרה בעתה.

And may Hashem soon spread out upon us the ultimate place of Torah and protection , the fallen Sukkah of David, from where the sounds of the greatest Simchas haTorah imaginable will once again emanate, as we celebrate Simchas beis hashoeiva and hafakos in the newly-built Beis haMikdash, במהרה וימינו אמן.

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.

Eruvin 52 and 53  The enlarged techum, nature walks on Shabbos, and Agada

Queenstown/New-Zealand: techum options?

In loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, who passed-away peacefully Tuesday night in Johannesburg.

It has been my great privilege to work in the international travel space, with the opportunity to show people so many of the wonders of Hashem’s creation around the world.

One of the highlights of spending a Shabbos in such places is the opportunity to enjoy spectacular shabbos walks amongst gorgeous scenery.

Of course, while going for a pleasurable walk on shabbos is a great way of fulfilling the mitzva of oneg shabbos, and might thus even be considered a mitzva as far as certain laws are considered (making an eruv techumim for example,) one has to be aware of the halachik issues involved, amongst them the prohibition against carrying on shabbos outside a closed area and the prohibition of leaving one’s shabbos domain/techum.

One who camps out in nature is very limited by the later and will usually only be allowed to walk within a 2000 amos range of his tent, even if he is not carrying anything.

In fenced resorts, so long as the entire area is מוקף לדירה  (fenced for the sake of human habitation,) one might be able to measure the techum from the fence of the resort.

Moreover, in resort towns and cities, one might be able to measure the techum from the last house of the city, baring in mind that legal city limits and halachik city limits are not the same thing, and that a gap of more than  140 amos between houses or property walls might be considered a break between two halachically separate cities.

This can mean that in spread-out suburbs or resort towns, one might not even be able to walk from one side of the town to the other, and would be limited to 2000 amos from the building or fenced-in property one is staying in, placing a rather substantial limitation on one’s walking options on Shabbos.

The Mishna at the bottom of Eruvin 52 has some consolation, however, which can be very significant:

Although the space between houses that is permitted for them to be considered part of the same town is rather small, the idea of the עבור העיר – extended halachik limits of the city (as in a שנה מעוברת  [leap or extended year] or אשה מעוברת  [pregnant woman], or according to a different version debated on Eruvin 53, אבר (limb) or extra components of the city) means that substantial amounts of empty space might indeed be included in the halachik city limits.

For example, if a house of the city protrudes on its one side (the north-east corner as per Rashi’s example)  forming an irregular shape, we draw a fictitious protrusion opposite it (on the south-east corner) , and then “square” the city with a perpendicular line from the original protrusion to the fictitious one, including the empty space in-between within the city proper.

We will also  see  (Eruvin 57b) that this also applies to other irregularly shaped towns that do not form a typical square or rectangle style grid, and by using this method, large areas of open natural space can often be included in the limits of the city proper, before we even start measuring the 2000 amos techum around it, which we have already seen is also squared in a way that makes it effectively significantly bigger (Eruvin 49b.)

Chazal determined (Eruvin 57b)  that the techum of shabbos needs to be measured physically with a rope 50 amos long, a point which Rashi uses on our daf (Eruvin 52b at the bottom) to explain the view that there is a 15 amah safety net for someone who mistakenly left the techum, a topic I would love to analyze further in the context of halachik safety-nets in general.

As such,  whether one may rely on satellite images such as those available on google earth to measure this techum, or even on a car’s distance metre, is for a different discussion, one I hope to go into when we get there, Hashem willing.

The process of measuring the techum was taken very seriously in Chazal’s time, and markers were placed on the roads to show where the techum ends, as Rashi on our daf also points out.

Given that sufficiently measuring the techum for a once-off trip might not be feasible, and does not even seem to be common -practise in fixed  Jewish communities, possibly because of the common use of Eruvin, the practical use of these very powerful tools might be limited by pragmatism, but one who knows these laws sufficiently should be able to at least pre-measure the route of any planned  nature-walks as well as map-out the shape and geography of the town before shabbos, in order to ensure than everyone can enjoy these gorgeous walks in a halachically correct manner.

In my first post on this masechta, I recalled how despite my fondness for it, there was some concern raised as to how I would be able to keep up with contemporary relevant posts given its technical nature.

I noted then that besides for the great opportunity to focus on some of the most important rules of Eruvin, Shabbos, and halachik psak in general, there are also plenty other topics in the masechta, and even a fair amount of aggadic material, even if less so than  in the first two masechtos in the shas.

In fact, my affection for Eruvin started during my time as a Rebbe in Yeshiva-College, under the late Rosh-Yeshiva Rabbi Tanzer זצ”ל  and יבל”א  his son Rav Dov Tanzer שליט”א, himself a revered Torah giant of note who mentored me not only in chinuch but in the intricacies of constructing eruvin in the many resorts we used for school Shabbatonim and seminars I ran.

I also pointed out that sometimes Chazal used some of the most technical of discussions to teach us some of the most relevant general principles of halacha and Torah life, and that as we focus on the equally essential minute details of each subject, we need to constantly keep our eyes open for these messages.

Today’s daf is one of those, and while it starts with the extremely technical methods used to calculate the extended borders of a city, it moves onto a wealth of aggadic (non-halachik) material.

There is much discussion from Chazal to the Rishonim and beyond as to the status and role of this kind of aggadic material, which the Rambam teaches us contains the secrets of the Torah (Pirush haMishnayos/intro to חלק), but without detracting chalila from their sanctity and importance, Rashi  (Shabbos 30b ) explains that Agadot are a genre used to draw close the hearts of people and get them interested in the material about to be taught.

Chazal were fully aware that as human beings, we love stories and allegories, and that before, after, and sometimes in the midst of our delving deep into complex halachik intricacies, some of their great non-halachik teachings and traditions should be brought delivered in this format.

Going further, the Amora Rabbah was always particular to start every learning session with a   מילתא דבידוחתא, literally a matter of a joke )Shabbos 30b.)

Given that even the everyday chatter of Torah scholars requires study )A.Z. 19b) , there is little doubt that even these jokes contained wisdom, and are certainly different to the extremely frowned upon ליצנתא  (cynical or mocking humor) which Chazal (Derech Eretz 5/5) warned us against.

Our beloved Rosh-Yeshiva, Rabbi Tanzer of blessed memory, as with everyone in his life and career, followed in Chazal’s path, and always started his words of Torah with a joke or story, which in his wisdom he linked and made relevant to the material he was about to teach.

A master of human-nature almost impossible to find, we can never replace him, but we can certainly do our best to follow in his ways, if only our everyday chatter could come close to the level of his.

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.

Eruvin 51 מדבר שקר תרחק and telling an untruth for people’s good

My next few daf posts, admittedly slightly behind, are dedicated in loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, who passed-away peacefully last night in Johannesburg.

It is thanks to him, that I, and countless others, started on our journeys in Torah study as children, and that I, and so many others, have had a long and successful career in Torah Chinuch as adults.

I also hope to share in this forum some personal thoughts and experiences about my relationship with the Rosh-Yeshiva and what I have learned from him in the coming weeks, Hashem willing.

With wishes of comfort and a long and good life to his holy Rebbetzin, children, and grandchildren, and to all his family of students around the world.

Yoni Isaacson/Ramat Beit-Shemesh.

There is an incredible story with the two leading third generation Amoraim of Bavel, Rabbah and Rav Yosef, who were on a walking journey home on erev shabbos and realized that they would not make it to the techum of their homes before shabbos.

Rabbah relied on the leniency we have been discussing that allows a poor person ( a traveler being considered a poor person regarding this law) to set aside his shabbos base from a distance in a place that is within 2000 amos both of their current position and that of their home , thus allowing them to get home on shabbos.

Rav Yosef responded that he was not familiar with that place, and Rabbah suggested that he rely on the Beraisa that brings Rabbi Yosi’s view that if one of the travellors is not familiar with the designated place, his companion may declare the shabbos base on his behalf together with his.

The Gemara then notes that Rabbi Yossi was not really the author of the quoted Beraisa, but that Rabbah merely told Rav Yosef that he was in order that he would accept the ruling, given the stature of Rabbi Yossi.

We should note that Rav Yosef was not some newly religious zealot or regular community member who needed “permission” from a great Rav to do something .

He was Rabbah’s colleague, known also as רב יוסף סיני after his superior breadth of knowledge, as opposed to Rabbah who was known as עוקר הרים- ” an uprooter of mountains- after his superior analytical skills ( see Brachos 64a.)

It is simply mind boggling that Rabbah would attempt to mislead Rav Yosef in such a way and that Rav Yosef with his superior knowledge of Beraisa’s would be misled, unaware that the quoted Beraisa was not the view of Rabbi Yossi.

Whereas it is possible that this event occurred at the time in Rav Yosef’s life when illness had caused him to forget his learning (Nedarim 41a) , it seems beyond understanding how a leading sage like Rabbah, could “lie” about the authorship of a Beraisa to get Rav Yosef to listen .

The Torah is the ultimate truth, the true Kohain has the Torah of truth in his mouth (Malachi 2/6), the seal of Hashem is truth (Sanhedrin 64a) , and we are warned clearly in the Torah “מדבר שקר תרחק” – ” distance yourself from falsehood.” )Shmos 23/7)

This command is taken so seriously by Chazal that someone who knows the law is on his side but lacks 2 witnesses to testify in his favor is not permitted to bring a second witness just to stand there to strengthen the words of the other ( see Shvuos 31a)

We seem to see from here that truth is not simply a utilitarian means to an end but also a means in itself- even lying for the sake of justice is problematic.

Whereas the context of the passuk and the above quoted sugya is clearly focused on a court situation, the passuk is also interpreted in a broader sense as referring to gossip and talking falsehood in general (see Rishonim on the passuk and the discussion regarding a bride in Kesubos 17a for an example)

Despite the above, we cannot escape the fact that there are some exceptions to the command to stay away from falsehood.

Yaakov Avinu himself was told by his mother, presumably prophetically, to lie to his father about his identity.

Chazal too tell us that for the sake of peace, it is sometimes permitted not to tell the whole truth, and that even Hashem did so with Avraham and Sarah, the angel did with Manoach, and we erased Hashem’s name in the case of the Sotah, (Bamidbar Rabbah 11/6.)

They also taught that Torah Scholars are accustomed to “change” their story in 3 cases- regarding his personal life ( for modesty reasons,) regarding his hosts generosity( to prevent others from taking advantage of this generosity, and regarding his knowledge (for reasons of humility – (Bava Metzia 23b and Rashi there)

It appears that there are some values such as peace, humility, modesty and shielding others from being taken advantage of that are even higher values than telling the objective truth.

This does not apply to one’s own financial benefit, even when the law is on one’s side, as seen in the above quoted sugya in Shvuos, but does seem to apply in the above instances.

It seems from the case on our daf that this is the case when it comes to the welfare and/or convenience of one’s neighbor or colleague.

Given the extreme discomfort that being stringent would cause Rav Yosef, and possibly even some risk to his wellbeing, given his age and health, Rabbah was prepared to compromise on the absolute truth of the identity of the lenient opinion’s author, seeing as he was himself of that opinion in any case.

Given the various mitigating factors in this case, and the severity of making false statements in general, it is clear that extreme caution is required in applying this leniency to other situations, but we can certainly learn the importance of helping others be lenient when permitted in cases of inconvenience- as Chazal have taught us – כח דהתירא עדיף – the power of leniency is preferred )see eg brachos 60a), a principle that might be given new meaning by this story!

Rav Tanzer of blessed memory, embodied the combination of dedication to Torah, truth, and helping others that we learn from this story- It is see who spread the truth of Torah in South-Africa over almost 60 years, at first going from door to door begging parents to enroll their children in his once fledgling and now flourishing Torah school in an age where this was almost unthinkable for most parents.

Yet the same Rosh-Yeshiva was never unnecessarily stringent at other’s expense, and always applied the principle of כח דהתירא עדיף to make life as easy for people as the halacha allowed him to do, even if it meant following more lenient opinions that colleagues of his were uncomfortable with.

After all, if Rabbah went to such lengths for Rav Yosef whose spiritual motivation hardly needed protection, how much more so is this necessary in a time and place where undue stringency can hurt, chase away or burn-out the very people we try to bring near.

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.

Eruvin 50 Tannaic versus Amoraic authority and “רב תנא הוא ופליג”

In the Mishna on 49b, we are told that  a person who is on a journey home on erev Shabbos and realizes that it is starting to get dark and he is still not within 2000 amos of his home or city (but is within 4000 amos) , may designate a place that he knows along the way as his shabbos base, thus allowing himself to walk a further 2000 amos from that designated space and reach his home on Shabbos.

The Mishna stresses though that simply declaring his shabbos base to be under a particular tree does not do the trick- he needs to specify where under the tree, such as at its base, otherwise “he has not done anything.”

Rav and Shmuel dispute what the Mishna means by “has not done anything.”

Rav is of the view that he has disqualified his current position from being his shabbos base by showing that he does not intend it to serve this purpose, but has also not successfully declared a new shabbos base, and he is thus confined to his 4 amos for the duration of shabbos (as explained by Rashi, but see Rambam Eruvin 7/5 who appears to rule like Rav but understand that his current position remains his shabbos base.)

Shmuel, in contrast, holds that so long as the entire area under the tree is within 2000 amos of where he is, he may walk to the area under the tree and 2000 amos from it.  However, seeing as he did not specify which area under the tree is to be his shabbos base, this area has the law of a חמר גמל  (donkey and camel man- see earlier post on Eruvin 35) and he may only walk within 2000 amos of the furthest part of it from where he wishes to go.

Most of our daf is dedicated to discussing this issue, and on 50b, the Gemara brings a Beraisa in support of Shmuel and in refutation of Rav, yet the Gemara answers that bringing a Beraisa against Rav is not sufficient to prove him wrong, seeing as “רב תנא הוא ופליג” -Rav is  a “Tana” and argues (with other Tannaim.)

It is taken as axiomatic throughout the shas that the Tannaim (sages of the Mishnaic period) are more authoritative than the Amoraim (sages of the Talmudic period) and that an Amora may never disagree with a Tana unless he has another Tana to back him up- The main job of the sages of the Gemara is to interpret, reconcile, and adjudicate between the Tannaim but not to disagree with them.

Yet on our daf, in addition to various other places in the shas, we are told that the leading Babylonian Amora of the first generation of Amoraim, Rav, is an exception, and is considered a Tana who may and does argue with Tanaim.

In another place where this exception is made (Kesubos 8,) Rav and Rabbi Yochanan are both quoted separately as stating that a groom can be counted in a minyan but a mourner can not (what precisely this is referring to is discussed there.)

The Gemara brings a Beraisa to refute Rav which says that both grooms and mourners may be included in the minyan but responds that רב תנא הוא ופליג- Rav is a Tana and argues with the Beraisa.

It brings the same Beraisa to refute Rabbi Yochanan and answers that the Beraisa is talking about ברכת המזון  (grace after meals) in which the mourner may be included towards the required 10 for זמון בשם  and Rabbi Yochanan is talking about the שורה  (the line for comforting the mourners) in which the mourners may not be counted.

There appears to be some logic in this distinction, given that the purpose of the minyan for ברכת המזון  is to allow Hashem’s name to be mentioned in the zimun, and a mourner is equally obligated in being part of this than anyone else.  However, the purpose of the minyan for the שורה  is to comfort the mourners, and the mourners are not part of the mitzva of comforting themselves.

Yet despite this seemingly obvious distinction, Tosfos points out that the Gemara saw this as a “forced” distinction and preferred to use Rav’s status as a Tana to answer the difficulty on him.

In contrast, seeing as Rabbi Yochanan does not have the status of a Tana (the Rabbi Yochanan quoted in a Beraisa [Nazir ] is a different person, a Tana by that name, possibly Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri,) the Gemara had no choice but to resort to this distinction.

Given the apparent superiority of Rav over Rabbi  Yochanan to the point that Rav had the status of a Tana and was thus able to argue with Tanaim, and Rabbi Yochanan did not, it seems rather inconsistent that the rule of thumb throughout the Talmud is that we follow Rabbi Yochanan in cases where he argues with Rav.

To solve this apparent inconsistency, it is necessary to examine various possibilities as to why a Tana is more authoritative than an Amora.

1.       One  possibility is that the Tanaim were closer chronologically to the giving of the Torah, and thus their מסורת  is considered purer and more uncorrupted.

2.       Another option is that the Tanaim were objectively greater in learning than the Amoraim.

3.       A third possibility is that the Amoraim simply had  different roles to that of the Tannaim because  once Rebbe sealed the Mishna, its words become like the authoritative ruling of the great court which could no longer be over-ruled. As such, their only role and sphere of authority was now in interpreting, reconciling, and adjudicating disputes in the Mishna.

Whereas possibilities 1 and 3 above are less likely to allow for individual exceptions, the second reason might leave the door open for an unusually great Amora whose learning was equal or greater to that of some Tannaim  to be able to argue with at least some of them.

According to this reason, it could simply be that Rav’s greatness in learning was such that it was recognized throughout the Talmudic world as being on par with the Tanaim, something that other Amoraim lacked.

However, we would then need to explain why Rabbi Yochanan is considered more authoritative than Rav, despite Rav being on par learning-wise with Tannaim and his apparent failure to be considered as such.

According to the first option, it is certainly possible that the generation that formed the transition between the Tannaim and Amoraim (see Meiri/introduction to Avos who clearly defines this transition, and  includes Rav in this list but not Rabbi Yochanan) were close enough to the מסורות  of the Tannaim  that their מסורות  was sometimes treated as almost or equally as pure.  We would still need to explain why Rabbi Yochanan, though living in the same period, was not included in this transition generation but still was considered more authoritative than Rav when it came to disputes between the two of them.

According to the third reason, it is very possible that when Rebbe and his  court sealed the Mishna as authoritative over all future generations, they excluded certain specific Amoraim who were particularly close to them in terms of the chain of transmission from this limitation, and even conferred them with the type of neo-Tannaic semicha (ordination) needed in order to be exempt from this ruling.

An example of Rebbe’s close relationship and partial ordination of Rav before he went to Bavel can be found in Sanhedrin 5a-5b  where Rabbi Chiya arranged for רשות  (permission to rule) to be given by Rebbe to Rabbah bar bar Chana and to Rav. It is apparent from that sugya that Rav was actually the greater of the two in learning!

It is important to note that this was not actual סמיכה  as in the ordination passed down from Moshe, which might or might not have been held by Rav and/or Rabbi Yochanan, but נטילת רשות להורות  (permission to rule) and to be exempt from liability for errors made- this on its own does not serve as proof of Rav’s exclusion from submission to the Tannaim, but simply as an illustration of his extra closeness to Rebbe.

As Rabbi Yochanan remained in Eretz-Yisroel and might also not have had this same connection to Rebbe, it is possible that he simply never received this special status from Rebbe, and was thus bound by Rebbe’s decree that the words of the Tanaim would be henceforth binding on the Amoraim.

This distinction between Rav and Rabbi Yochanan seems to be mentioned by the Ritva (quoted in Shita Mekubetzes, Kesubos 8a) in order to answer our original question- He explains that we follow Rabbi Yochanan over Rav in a local dispute between the two of them due to Rabbi Yochanan’s greater wisdom but that unlike Rav, Rabbi Yochanan never had the “luck” to be ordained as a Tana in the way that Rav had been.

From the fact that the sugya in Kesubos chose to use Rav’s superior status to refute the proof against him from the beraisa rather than give the answer it gave to uphold Rabbi Yochanan against the same beraisa, it seems that this status is strong enough that it is preferential at least to a “forced” answer, and we indeed see various places in the Rishonim (see Tosfos/Menachos 5a for example)  where they say that instead of giving whatever answer is given to reconcile Rav’s words with a seemingly contradictory beraisa, the Gemara could indeed have chosen to use his superior status as a Tana to answer the question.

Yet in contrast, from the fact that the Gemara regularly poises difficulties on Rav’s statements from various Tannaic sources, it is clear that finding a “non-forced” way of reconciling such difficulties is preferable to resorting to his Tannaic status, which is evidently significantly weaker than that of regular Tannaim.

we see further that some Rishonim in our sugya rule like Shmuel against Rav (see for example Tosfos Eruvin 49b and Piskei Rid Eruvin 50b), even though the halocho almost always follows Rav in a dispute with Shmuel, specifically because the beraisa supports him, implying that this status is not absolute, and that although he may indeed argue with a Tana, other Tannaim are more authoritative than him and the halocho follows them against him, at least when Shmuel rules against him (see though Rif and Rosh who base their ruling like Shmuel on other factors as well.)

It is also clear that his status as a Tana is limited to his ability to argue with Tannaim, but does not limit other Amoraim’s ability to argue with him, or in the case of Rabbi Yochanan in particular, to be considered more authoritative than him when involved in a direct dispute with him.

As such, it seems that the third possibility we raised fits best with Rav’s exceptional status, and that the superiority of Tannaim over Amoraim is not based on either their chronological precedence or their innate superiority in learning, but rather on the authority given by Rebbe’s Beis Din to them over Amoraim, something he likely excluded transition figures such as  Rav from.

While his court excluded Rav from the requirement to submit completely to Tannaim, he did not include him in the list of Tannaim that Amoraim are required to submit.

As a curveball, there is a fourth approach which I would like to entertain.

Perhaps, there was never a specific court ruling or decision that Amoraim may not argue with Tannaim, but it was simply an unwritten agreement that developed amongst the Amoraim of the transition period, for some of the above-suggested or other reasons, which later became established practise.

Amongst the Amoraim of this transition period, some were more accepting of this approach than others, and while Rabbi Yochanan went along with it, Rav did not, as least as far as he himself was concerned.

We can recall that Rav was generally fiercely independent in his approach to halachik decision making and did not accept the many rules of psak that delegated more authority to certain Tannaim over others (see recent  post on Eruvin 47), rules which Rabbi Yochanan did accept and have generally  been accepted to this day.

As usual, there is much more to bring, much more to analyze, and the Rambam’s view on all of this  requires its own unique treatment-hopefully we shall have the opportunity to revisit this again when the topic next occurs.

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.

Eruvin 46 and 47 Rules of psak: הלכה כדברי המקיל בערוב, דעת יחיד בשעת הדחק, ספק דאורייתא לחומרא ,ספק דרבנן לקולא

This daf is heavily concentrated with some of the most important principles of psak halacha that it is even harder than usual to do it justice.

We shall suffice with a brief explanation of some of them and some notes based on an initial analysis of how they are applied on this daf, hoping to build on what we have already done and continue to do based on their application in other sugyas.

The Mishna on Eruvin 45b recorded a dispute between Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri and the Chachamim whether a person can acquire his shabbos techum during twilight of erev shabbos if he is asleep.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri rules that he can, whereas chachamim hold that seeing as he was not awake at the time, he did not acquire his 2000 amos from the place where he was, and is limited to the 4 amos in which he was.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is quote by Rav Yaakov bar Idi as ruling in accordance with Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri’s lenient opinion.

Rabbi Zeira asked Rav Yaakov ben Idi whether he heard this from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi as a specific ruling relating to this case, or deduced it based on a general rule of his, which the Gemara identifies as “הלכה כדברי המקיל בערוב” -the law follows the lenient opinion regarding Eruvin.

Rav Yaakov bar Idi replied that he heard it as a specific ruling, and the Gemara explains that this specific ruling was needed in addition to the rule to teach us that this rule applies even when the lenient opinion is a דעת יחיד (single opinion) against the majority opinion, such as in the case of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri versus the Chachamim.

It is not clear at this point whether this leniency is meant to apply only to this case, or whether this case now serves as a precedent for all the laws of Eruvin, or perhaps even all rabbinical disputes

If the former is correct, we need to explain why this dispute in different to all other disputes regarding Eruvin. If the middle option is correct, we need to explain why the laws of Eruvin are treated more leniently than other rabbinical laws, where we are only lenient when there are as many lenient views than stringent ones.

If the latter is correct, we need to explain why we are so lenient with all rabbinical disputes to the point of pushing aside the general rule of אחרי רבים להטות – following the majority, and defend this statement against any other statements of Chazal that imply the opposite.

We also need to investigate whether Rabbi Yehoshua’s rule of הלכה כדברי המקיל בערוב is merely an application of the general rule of ספק דרבנן לקולא (as in the third option above), with the assumption that an unresolved dispute has the status of a doubt, and whose lenient applications are thus shared with all unresolved rabbinical disputes, or whether it is an independent rule that has its own unique leniencies not shared with other rabbinical disputes (as in the middle option above.)

We have touched on a similar question in an earlier post (Eruvin 35-36) where we discussed ספק עירוב לקולא – the rule that in matters of doubt regarding the validity of an eruv, we are lenient, and there is appeared that the Gemara understood this as simply an extension of the general rule of ספק דרבנן לקולא.

Assuming that a ספיקא דדינא ( a doubt as to which authority the halacha follows) is an extension of the concept of ספק דרבנן, this would imply that a dispute regarding Eruvin should also simply be an extension of the rule of leniency in the case of a dispute regarding any rabbinical law.

However, from a question asked by Rava on the Gemara’s understanding of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s statement, it seems that he understands that disputes regarding Eruvin have their own unique leniences.

Rava asks why there was even a הוא אמינא (initial thought) that we would not follow a lenient single opinion against a stringent majority opinion when it comes to Eruvin?!

He points out that this should be obvious, seeing Eruvin is a rabbinical requirement, and in rabbinical disputes, we always follow the lenient opinion, even if it is an individual against the majority!

Various proofs are brought to dispute this assumption of Rava, and this issue is far from resolved at this point, but from his question, it certainly seems that he understood that his colleagues saw Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s lenient view regarding Eruvin to be unique to Eruvin.

Though Rava’s assumption seems to be rejected, the Gemara clearly seems to understand than in another unique area of rabbinical law, namely the laws of mourning, the rule of הלכה כדברי המקיל באבל applies even when the lenient opinion is a single authority versus the majority!

More than that, Tosfos seems to understand that this rule that we follow the lenient opinion in the laws of mourning applies even on the first day of mourning which is דאורייתא (biblical) in nature, suggesting that this might be the case regarding biblical laws of Eruvin too (such as the larger techum of 4 parsah (about 16 km) which some view as deorayso, or when enclosing a real public domain), certainly a huge חדוש (novelty!)

Given that the usually undisputed rule regarding biblical laws is ספק דאורייתא לחומרא – in disputes we follow the stringent opinion, this is nothing short of remarkable, and we cannot escape the need to distinguish between the laws of mourning and possibly also Eruvin, from other rabbinical, and even biblical laws.

There is a fairly well- known dispute amongst the Rishonim regarding the status of the rule of ספק דאורייתא לחומרא .

The Rambam (see Issurei Biah 18/17, for example) opines that this rule is itself only rabbinical in nature, and that on a biblical level, one is not required to be stringent in the case of a doubt- the Torah by default forbids things that we know are forbidden and not things whose forbidden status is subject to doubt.

In contrast, when it comes to the status of rabbinical laws, he is of the view that all rabbinical laws start out with biblical status by default, based on the commandment of לא תסור (do not go against their words…see for example intro to M.T)

Although the various leniencies Chazal applied to their own laws can still be explained based on the fact that the Torah gave them the power to both make and define their own laws, in the case of a doubt, this is not necessary, given that the Rambam considers all doubts to only be subject to rabbinical law, and the Rabbis chose to be stringent with biblical doubts and lenient with their own.

This means that theoretically, in cases of doubt, Chazal have the authority to apply any leniencies they choose, even if the doubt is biblical in nature- they simply chose to be stringent most of the time.

In the case of mourning laws and possibly Eruvin, it is thus quite legal for Chazal to choose to be lenient even in cases of biblical level doubt, and perhaps out of sensitivity to a mourner already in such a sad state, and a person stuck outside his techum on shabbos, they chose to be lenient.

Whether this can be extended to following a single lenient opinion against the majority in a biblical matter is less straight-forward, as it is possible that even the Rambam admits that when there is clear majority on the side of stringency in a biblical dispute, it is a biblical requirement to follow the majority, based on אחרי רבים להטות .

It could be possible, however, that the Rambam holds that אחרי רבים להטות only applies when the dispute has come to the great Sanhedrin, but that a dispute that has not come before the great Sanhedrin had no such law, and remains a bona fide ספק , over which Chazal have total control.

However, some other Rishonim )see for example Rashba, Kiddushin 73a regarding Mamzer) are of the view that the requirement to follow the stringent opinion in case of doubt is a biblical requirement, and according to them, it seems impossible for Chazal to be able to push this rule aside in biblical aspects of Eruvin and the laws of mourning.

The mere fact that Tosfos suggests that the laws follows the lenient opinion even in biblical disputes when it comes to mourning and Eruvin, as well as the proofs he brings for it, seem to offer support for the Rambam’s view!

When it comes to most of the laws of Eruvin and mourning which are clearly rabbinical, Chazal clearly have total authority over their own laws, and if for the reasons suggested above, or other reasons, they chose to treat Eruvin and mourning even more leniently than their other laws and follow even a single lenient opinion against the majority, the were certainly within their mandate.

For further analysis, particularly regarding whether we follow this leniency even against the majority, the Ramban’s long treatment on the daf is essential reading.

We have seen above that although regarding the laws of mourning, and possibly also Eruvin, we may follow a single lenient opinion against a stringent majority, this is not necessarily the case in other rabbinic laws.

Whereas we are usually lenient in cases of doubts and disputes regarding rabbinic laws, where the stringent opinion is the majority, the majority might still prevail.

Yet there is a time where it seems to be permitted to follow a lenient single opinion against a majority stringent opinion, under certain circumstances, and that is the case of שעת הדחק – an emergency.

There is a debate (Niddah 2a) between Rabbi Eliezer and Chachamim regarding whether a woman who has not had a period in 3 months and then has a period may assume that until that moment, she was still pure- this would affect the purity status of whatever she was in contact with before.

According to Rabbi Eliezer, everything she was in contact with until now is treated as pure, whereas the Chachamim rule that anything susceptible to becoming impure from contact with a Niddah that she was in contact with over the 24 hours prior to her period is considered impure.

This is a rabbinical rule due a concern that she was already a niddah earlier, even though on a biblical level, we would be lenient.

Rebbe commented that he once mistakenly thought that the law is like Rabbi Eliezer and declared the items in question to be pure.

When he later discovered that the law was like the Chachamim, he did not rule them to be impure, saying that כדאי הוא רבי אליעזר לסמוך עליו בשעת הדחק – in an emergency, one may rely on Rabbi Eliezer.

The Gemara understands this to mean that unlike Rava’s suggestion, we normally follow the stringent majority against a lenient single opinion even in rabbinical disputes, and only in a שעת הדחק, the minority view may be followed.

It follows from this that even according to Rava’s antagonists, a דעת יחיד may be followed in an urgent situation, at least in a rabbinical matter.

What is not clear yet is the scope of this rule:

  1. Does it apply even to a biblical level dispute? According to Rambam’s above quoted view, it is certainly possible, but according to the stringent views that hold a biblical doubt is subject to biblical level stringency, it seems less likely that שעת הדחק would override that rule.
  2. Does it apply to any dispute, even one already resolved, or only to an unresolved dispute- The Gemara seems to take it for granted that this is limited this to an unresolved dispute (possibly similar to that between Rabbi Yehuda and Chachamim regarding the times for Mincha and Maariv- Brachos,) and that in a dispute that has already been resolved, שעת הדחק would not be a factor. It is still unclear, however, what the Gemara means by a resolved dispute- is this only one that has been resolved by Sanhedrin, do even the Amoraim count, or even post Talmud Geonim and Rishonim?
  3. What is the definition of שעת הדחק as far as this leniency is concerned- Tosfos seems to identify two different levels of שעת הדחק !

The above questions can have immense ramifications in many areas of contemporary halacha, and as we move through the daf cycle, we hope to collect more evidence to help us answer them!

Later on Eruvin 46 and moving onto 47, we move to a different set of rules of psak halacha.

Here we deal with the weight given to various Tannaim against one another when a dispute is given.

Various rules of thumb are given, amongst them:

  1. The halacha follows Rabbi Akiva against a single colleague of his
  2. The halacha follows Rabbi Yossi even against a majority
  3. The halacha follows Rebbe against a single colleague of his

Various other now well-known such rules are also stated, after which רב משרשיה claims that none of these rules actually apply, meaning that each case is in fact to be treated on its own merits- bases this on various ruling of Rav which seem to negate these rules.

After various examples brought to back this claim up, it becomes clear that even those who accept these rules must accept that there are some exceptions. היכא דאיתמר איתמר – in a place where a definitive ruling was made against the general rule, that ruling overrides the general rule. Only in a place where no definitive ruling has been made, do we apply these rules of thumb.

Incredibly, Rav does not except the existence of these rules at all, and even in undecided cases, leaves it up to the individual current authority to rule according to which argument makes most sense to him.

As Rabbi Yochanan does except these rules, the irony is that by the rule of thumb that we follow Rabbi Yochanan against Rav, it should follow that these rules are indeed authoritative, and Rashi on the daf says so explicitly, but what is to force those who choose to follow Rav to accept a ruling based on a rule they do not accept in the first place? Seems Kind of like what came first, the chicken or the egg, but in truth has a lot to do with the power of מעשה בית-דין which still applied to an extent in the time of Rabbi Yochanan!

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.