Miracles in everyday life- Shekalim 14

We have discussed before the two different approaches to miracles associated with the Rambam and Ramban respectively. 
Whereas Rambam sees supernatural miracles as a rare event Hashem performs occasionally in order to show that he controls nature , and tends to explain seemingly supernatural events discussed outside Tanach in natural ways , Ramban believes that such miracles are a regular part of life .
The truth is that both views  seem to be well represented in Chazal. 
On our daf, a story is told of a certain pious man who used to dig well and pits for travellors to drink from.
His daughter was swept away by a flood and noone , not even the famed Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair could comfort him.
When told about the pious acts he had done , Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair declared thats it is impossible that someone who served Hashem with water would be harmed like that by water .
Soon, an announcement was made that the man’s daughter has been found  .
Two versions of the story are given:
One is that she was able to hold onto a branch and survive.
The other is that an angel appeared in the form of Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair and saved her.
We see in this story representation of both approaches- the natural miracle , and the supernatural. A similar example can be found in the Bavli ( Brachos ) where 400 barrels of Rav Huna’s wine turned into vinegar. 
Rav Ada bar Ahava and the Rabbis came to visit him and suggested that he look into his affairs to examine what he had done to deserve this.
Rav Huna was offended that they had suspected him of wrong-doing and they countered by asking him if he suspected Hashem of punishing him for no reason .
Rav Huna then asked them  if they  had heard any rumours about him .
They replied that they had heard that he never paid his sharecropper. 
Rav Huna replied that the man was a thief and had stolen more than the value of his work but nevertheless took the “mussar” and paid him in any case.
Two versions of the conclusion are then brought !
One is that a miracle happened and the vinegar turned back into wine.
The other is that the price of vinegar went up to the price of wine !
Again, we see one view that explains the miracle in a natural way and another that explains it supernaturally!


Introducing the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva College, Rabbi AvrahamTanzer zt’l

When I was given the honor of introducing one of the online Pirkei Avos Shiurim delivered by Moreinu haRav on Aug 4 of his last year, and the Rosh Yeshiva responded in his unique way by paying tribute to my work in founding the Mesivta at Yeshiva College as well as to my father zt’l, his close friend from Telz, it never occured to me that both of them would be gone so soon.

It has been quite a year..

Pesachim 58-59 When one mitzva clashes with another: עשה דוחה עשה

In loving memory of our dear friends, Judith Ginsburg and Ian Shapiro of blessed memory, who were both recently taken by the cursed COVID-19 plagues, as well as that pillar of the South Africa and world Jewish community, the great philanthropist and איש חסד, Eric Samson of blessed memory, who passed away yesterday in Los Angeles.

In an all-encompassing field such as halacha, it is inevitable that at times, one value will clash with another, and it is reasonable to assume that the halacha itself provides solutions for such a clash.

One of the rules we have seen is the principle of עשה דוחה לא תעשה  – a positive mitzva pushes aside a negative one  (Yevamos from 3a.)

Although the basis behind this rule requires much analysis, one approach seems to be that when one action involves both a prohibition and a positive mitzva, we define the act based on the positive mitzva and not based on the prohibition.

For example, the act of circumcision when the 8’th day falls on shabbos involves a prohibition against melacha on Shabbos, as well as the mitzva of circumcision, and this rule tells us that the positive mitzva of circumcision pushes aside the prohibition of melacha on shabbos, and the act is performed.

Where a garment is made out of linen and the tzitzit are made out of wool, the same principle tells us that the act of wearing is defined by the positive mitzva of tzitzit and not by the prohibition of wearing shaatnez.

On the other hand, a different principle tells us that the ends does not always  justify the means- for example, one may not fulfil the mitzva of the 4 species on Sukkot if they have been stolen- this would be considered a מצוה הבאה בעבירה  (a mitzva that comes/came   with/through a sin), another rule requiring more precise definition.

On our dapim, we encounter another principle that relates to clashes between mitzvos, this time when one positive mitzva clashes with another.

There is a positive mitzva, known as עשה דהשלמה , which states that the תמיד של בין הערביים  (regular afternoon sacrifice) should be the last sacrifice of the day, with the notable exceptions of the נרות  (evening candles)  the evening קטורת  (incense), and the קרבן פסח  (pesach offering.)

Yet there are times when someone might need to offer a different sacrifice after the afternoon offering has already been made, in order to be declared fit again to eat the קרבן פסח .

For example, a מצורע  (leper) might need to still bring his final offerings that afternoon, without which he would not be permitted to eat his קרבן פסח .

The same might apply to one who needs to eat a קרבן שלמים  (peace offering) that he has brought.

Here, there is no blanket permission to actively be מבטל מצות עשה  (nullify a positive mitzva) in order to actively fulfill another.

Yet there are cases where due to the greater status of the one commandment, the other will take priority.

The Gemara on 59a brings a Beraisa which tells us that a מצורע  (leper) who needs to bring his final sacrifices to clear him to fulfill the command of eating the korban pesach, one of the only two positive mitzvot that one incurs the severe punishment of כרת  for neglecting to perform, the more severe commandment to eat the korban pesach pushes aside the requirement for the regular afternoon sacrifice to be the last non-Pesach sacrifice of the day!

The same Beraisa, however, also gave permission any time to a regular impure person on any evening of the year to bring his outstanding sacrifice after the   תמיד של בין-הערביים in order to be able to eat his קרבן שלמים that needs to be eaten that night!

The Gemara notes that seeing as refraining from eating these sacrifices is not subject to the same severe terms, they should not in and of themselves be enough to push away the עשה דהשלמה.

The Gemara thus qualifies the later permission to be referring to situations where the אסור עשה does not apply, seemingly concluding that only a positive mitzva that involves כרת  if not performed may push aside another positive mitzva (or its related אסור עשה.)

Yet, as mentioned above, there are other times when a positive mitzva pushes aside another one, among them:

  1. The laws of mourning (even the biblical ones on the first day) do not apply on Chol-hamoed, as the obligation to mourn is pushed off by the obligation to rejoice on the festivals, which is an  עשה דרבים  (positive command on the public-Moed Katan 14b.)
  2. The prohibition against freeing an עבד כנעני  (Caananite slave [in the days when slavery was acceptable]) is derived from the positive mitzva of לעולם בהם תעבודו  (you shall work them forever.)   Yet, the Gemara (Brachos 47b) tells us how Rabbi Eliezer freed his slave to make a minyan (Brachos 47b), and that it was not considered a מצוה הבאה בעבירה  because it was for the sake of a מצוה דרבים  (public mitzva.)

We should note that the term עשה דרבים  is not used there, probably because making a minyan is only a rabbinical mitzva, but that we see that even a rabbinical mitzva of the public, however that is defined, might push aside an אסור עשה , at least this particular one.

3. There is a similar case of the חצי עבד חצי בן חורין  (half slave half free person whose owner is compelled to free him so that he can fulfill the mitzva of פרו ורבו  (having children- Gittin 41a) Seeing as the mitzva of פרו ורבו  is based on the idea that the world should not become desolate of people, perhaps this is also considered a מצוה דרבים- see Tosfos and other Rishonim on the above sugyos for further discussion.

There is much to discuss about the rule that a more serious mitzva can push aside a less serious one, but I would like to focus on one issue brought up by the Tosfos.

One of the limitations of the rule of עשה דוחה לא תעשה is that one has to perform the לא תעשה  at the same time as the עשה .

If the לא תעשה  is done before the עשה, then the rule does not apply, its is forbidden, and might also be a מצוה הבאה בעבירה.

This makes sense according to the explanation we brought regarding the dynamics of עשה דוחה לא תעשה.

One can only define an action based on its mitzva component as opposed to its aveira component when they are both components of the same action, forcing one to choose how to define it. In such a case, the Torah teaches us that the mitzva component prevails.

If however,  two different actions are involved, then there is no need to choose, and the initial forbidden action cannot become permitted because of a later different “mitzva” action- here we say that the ends do not justify the means.

Assuming the mechanism whereby a more serious positive mitzva pushes aside a less serious one is similar to that of עשה דוחה לא תעשה, one would expect the same limitation to apply, and in the case of mourning on chol hamoed, it indeed could- one is pushing aside one’s obligation to mourn at precisely the same time that he is fulfilling the mitzva of rejoicing on the festival.

Yet in our case, we see that one may bring a sacrifice after the תמיד של בין בערביים in order that one will later be able to fulfill the mitzva of קרבן פסח, even though these do actions are clearly not at the same time!

Tosfos points out that the same applies in the case of freeing the slave in order to make the minyan (as it does while freeing a slave in order for him to be able to have children.)

In truth, one could have explained the case of the slave differently, saying that the very prohibition of freeing a slave only applies if it is not done for the sake of a mitzva, making it different from other אסורי עשה .

From the fact that Tosfos does not do this, we see that he sees the case of the slave not as an exception but as a precedent for any public mitzva pushing aside an אסור עשה, possibly even a rabbinical one, which would be a tremendous חדוש  requiring further discussion.

In any case, in our case, there is no possibility of such an explanation, and Tosfos concludes that when it comes to situations where we do apply the rule of עשה דוחה עשה, the limitation that the two need to take place simultaneously does not apply. This is because unlike its “sister” principle where a positive mitzva pushes off a negative mitzva which is generally treated as more severe than a positive mitzva, in this case it is the more serious mitzva which is pushing off the less serious one.

It is clear that even if Tosfos would accept the “lomdus” in עשה דוחה לא תעשה  that we have discussed, this same mechanism could not explain the principle of עשה דוחה עשה , making them two unrelated principles, rather than “sister principles” as we assumed!

It remains for us to suggest an alternative explanation for the dynamics of at least this second principle!

Hopefully we shall have a chance in the future to do precisely that.

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.

Pesachim 55-56 Honoring a wicked father

In the previous post, we quoted how the Gemara applied the passuk  “ועמך כולם צדיקים”  (and your nation are all righteous) to 2 different communities with opposite halachik practices, so long as they both grounded in halachically sound considerations.

This passuk is also applied at an individual level (Sanhedrin 90a) where the Mishna brings it to prove that “כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא”  (“all of Israel have a share in the world to come.”)

Yet unfortunately, neither the passuk nor the words of the Mishna are without qualifications.

The very same Mishna lists a variety of sins for which one can lose one’s portion in עולם הבא .

And on Daf 56 in our Masechta, we are told how King Chizkiyahu dragged the bones of his wicked father King Achaz on a cheap  bed made of ropes, and how the sages agreed with his actions.

The Mishna at the bottom of daf 55b tells us about 6 unusual practices of the people of Jericho, 3 of which the sages protested, and 3 of which they did not.

The Gemara opens with a Beraisa that records 6 things done by King Chizkiyahu, 3 of which the sages approved, and 3 of which they did not approve.

At face value, the only connection that stands out is the numbers of questionable practices performed and the equal split between the things that Chazal reacted negatively to and those that they were either silent  (in the case of the people of Jericho) or complementary about (in the case of Chizkiyahu.)

At a deeper level, it is possible that there many connections, and I would like to suggest one.

One of the practices of the people Jericho that Chazal did not protest was “כורכין את שמע”  (literally tying up the Shema.)

The Gemara brings various views as to what this means.  Rabbi Yehuda opines that they did not make any break between the first passuk of Shema and the first paragraph to say “ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד”  as we are accustomed to do.

The Gemara proceeds to discuss the reason that we say this verse, and notes that it was the response Yaakov gave to his sons when they all confirmed their loyalty to the faith by saying the words of the Shema in front of him.

Yaakov was afraid that like his father Yitchak and Grandfather Avraham before him, not all his progeny would follow in his path, and when he was reassured by his sons that they would do so, this famous line was his response.

Unlike Yaakov, Chizkiyahu’s grandfather, the righteous king Yotam, did not have the same fortune, and his son and successor, Achaz, become one of the most wicked kings in our history (Melachim II/ 16.)

It is a sign of the greatness of King Chizkiyahu that he was able to rise above the evil legacy of his father and rebuild a Torah society (Melachim II/18), but he too shared the misfortune of his grandfather, and his own son, Menashe, become the most wicked king we ever had (Melachim II/21.)

Perhaps the people of Jericho felt that saying the passuk “ברוך שם”  was insensitive to those who despite their righteousness, did not share the same fortune as Yaakov when it came to all their offspring, and in the tragic cases of King Yotham and King Chizkiyahu, their very heirs.

Although Chazal did not agree with them and chose to focus on the ideal experience that our last forefather, Yaakov had, they did not wish to protest given the good intentions of the people of Jericho and their strong argument.

Back to the halachik subject at hand, Chizkiyahu was praised for degrading his late wicked father by dragging him on a bed made of ropes, which seems to indicate that the mitzva of honoring one’s father does not apply to a wicked man like Achaz.

Before jumping to any conclusions however, we need to examine the nature of and reasons for this action of Chizkiyahu.

Rashi offers two explanations:

  1. Rather than afford him the normal honors given to a king or wealthy person, he was given a poor mans treatment as an atonement for his terrible sins.
  2. This was done for the sake of Kiddush Hashem to show how a wicked man like that was disgraced and encourage other wicked people to mend their evil ways.

According to the first explanation, the actions of Chizkiyahu were for the benefit of his wicked father and helped him achieve atonement.  As such, it is possible that this was not a case of the mitzva of כבוד אב ואם    not applying to a wicked father, but rather of it being the best thing for his honor in the long term, similar perhaps to giving one’s father a curative injection.

According to the second explanation, this was not done for the long-term benefit of Achaz’s soul, but rather for the sake of the Mitzva of Kiddush Hashem.

Here again, there is no need to conclude that the mitzva of honoring parents does not apply at all to a wicked parent, but rather that the mitzva of Kiddush Hashem simply takes priority. It could well be that in a private setting, Chizkiyahu might have still shown honor to his father, and that a wicked person who did not have the same public status and power that King Achaz has, would still be entitled to a degree of כבוד.

Another difference between the two explanations in Rashi could possibly relate to the nature of Chizkiyahu’s actions:

According to the first explanation, Chizkiyahu did not necessarily degrade his father, but simply withheld honor from him.

According to the second explanation, however, Chizkiyahu intended to degrade him as a message to other wicked people, and Rashi highlights this by use of the word “שיתגנה”.

Whereas the second explanation seems to indicate that actively degrading one’s wicked father is permitted, the first merely indicates that withholding honor is acceptable.

We should also note that either way we learn this, Achaz was no longer alive at the time, and although there is a mitzva to honor parents after death as well (Kiddushin 31b) , it would be pushing things to attempt to prove anything from this case regarding honoring a wicked parent who is still alive.

Further, defining someone as wicked is a complex task, which most people are not even qualified to do, and comparing anyone to a totally wicked king like Achaz who not only sinned in the most awful ways but corrupted his people in those same ways is most of the time completely off the mark.

There are other important sugyas that are relevant to this topic (see for example Sanhedrin 85b and compare with Yevamos 22b), which ultimately lead to a significant halachik debate on this matter  (see Y.D. 240/18), but as is our way in these posts, we shall focus for now on what we can get from this daf and look forward to carrying on the discussion as the relevant sugyos come up!

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.


Pesachim 12-13 Being above suspicion and avoiding conflicts of interest

On Daf 12b, the Gemara quotes a Mishna which records a dispute between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda regarding the last time one is permitted to eat chametz on erev Pesach.

Rabbi Meir holds that one may eat chametz until the end of the fifth hour of the day and must burn in at the beginning of the sixth hour.

Rabbi Yehuda, however, holds that one may only eat chametz until the end of the fourth hour, may keep it in one’s possession till the end of the fifth hour, and burns it in the beginning of the sixth hour.

It should be noted that the prohibition of eating and owning chametz on a biblical level only applies from midday, and that these are rabbinical “fences” designed to avoid missing the biblical deadline.

The Gemara in 13b notes that Rav Nachman ruled like Rabbi Yehuda, and later claims that Rebbe’s own ruling supported his conclusion.

It tells how someone had deposited a leather sack (see Rashi) filled with chametz with יוחנן חקוקאה  and it was bitten open by a mouse.

It was erev pesach, and the chametz was leaking out and getting lost, and he wanted to sell it to recover whatever money he could for the owner while doing so was still allowed.

Rebbe kept telling him to wait, in case the owner came and wanted to eat it, until the beginning of the fifth hour when he told him to go to the market and sell it on his behalf.

The Gemara assumes that Rebbe meant for him to sell it to non-Jews, thus implying that he agreed with Rabbi Yehuda that eating chametz during this time is already forbidden for Jews.

After all, if he meant for him to sell it to Jews and agreed with Rabbi Meir that Jews were still permitted to eat chametz during this time, he should have rather given Yochanan the option to buy it himself first and eat it during this time, rather than requiring him to make the effort to go to the market to sell it!

The Gemara refutes this suggestion, explaining that Rebbe might indeed agree with Rabbi Meir and have intended for Yochanan to sell it to Jews on behalf of the owner.

However, Rebbe did not want him to buy it himself, due to concerns for חשד (arousing suspicion.)

As Yochanan had a vested interest in fixing the price lower than the going rate in order to buy it himself, Rebbe held that it was wrong to buy it, even for the same price as others would agree to, in order not to arouse suspicion that he had indeed done so.

To back this reasoning up, it brings a Beraisa that discussed someone who collects copper coins for charity and currently has no poor people to give them to.  Due to the concern that they might go rusty, he needs to exchange them for silver coins with someone else, but he may NOT exchange them for his own silver coins, in order not to arouse suspicion that he gave himself a favorable rate.

 This would be going against the apparently biblical directive of “והייתם נקיים מה’ ומישראל ”  – “you shall be clean from Hashem and the Jewish people (Bamidbar 32/22.)

The same applies to someone who works in a soup kitchen and has excess food: He needs to sell it to someone else, but may not buy it himself from the charity, to avoid suspicion that he might give himself a better price!

This idea can be found in an explicit Mishna (Shekalim 3/2,) which tells us that the person who puts donations given to the Temple in the 3 boxes used for storing them may not wear a garment that is folded over, shoes, an amulet, or even Tefillin, in order not to arouse suspicion that he stole from them and hid the money in one of the above items (see Rambam there.)

The idea that someone would be so brazen as to un-sow Tefillin and hide stolen money in them might seem extreme , but there have indeed been cases in modern times where “religious” Jews have been caught smuggling diamonds and other things in their Tefillin, making this Mishna even more chilling  (Rav Mordechai Kamenetzky (https://torah.org/torah-portion/drasha-5757-shoftim/) tells how when consulted about this phenomena, his saintly grandfather Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky זצ”ל  compared such behavior to someone who approaches enemy lines with a white flag as if to surrender, and throws a grenade, violating a sacred symbol of peaceful intent so that others no longer trust it.)

We saw earlier in the daf cycle (Shabbos 23a) that a person is required to leave פאה (the corner of the field left for the poor) at the end of his field, for 4 different reasons, one of them being to avoid חשד  (suspicion) that he might not have left anything at all.

Similarly, The Gemara (Bava Basra 8b) rules that it is forbidden for someone who is collecting money for charity to put  money that he finds in the street, or that someone gives him in repayment of a loan, in his own wallet, so that people should not think that it is charity money that he is taking for himself.

Rather, he should put it in the charity box, and transfer it to his own wallet once home. The people collecting money are also supposed to go in pairs for the same reason (Bava Basra 8b.)

We should note that unlike the practise in many corrupt areas of making traffic police work in pairs to make it more risky to accept bribes, the concern here is not even that they would steal the money but simply that they might be suspected of doing so- such is the ethical standard expected of  a Jew.

The directive to “be clean” does not only apply to monetary matters, but also to arousing suspicion of other types of improper behavior.

For example, one of the reasons that it is forbidden to enter a חורבה  (ruin ) is to avoid suspicion that one might be meeting a prostitute there (Brachos 3a and Rashi there.)

A Jew is required to not avoid corruption, but to avoid any suspicion of corrupt behave, and to always be AND appear squeaky clean.

There is a related concept called מראית עיין, where Chazal forbade  or required certain actions to avoid “looking bad.”

Whether this is an extension of the concern of חשד or an independent concept requires some analysis, which I hope to be able to do at a later opportunity.

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 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.