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 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.