Eruvin 20-21    The פסי ביראות  , public domain, and more on rabbinical laws

One of the main themes of this chapter is the special dispensation that Chazal gave to allow travelers to Yerushalayim for the chagim to draw water from wells for their animals.

The sides of these water-pits or wells were usually too steep for livestock to walk down to and drink, in contrast to people who were nimble enough to do so.

Seeing as the pit or well was surrounded by walls and more than 10 אמות  wide, it was defined as a private domain, and carrying the water from it to the public domain outside was thus forbidden.

To include an area around the well large enough for the animal to stand inside and drink in this private domain, Chazal made do with 4 double posts on each corner.

Each post was 6 handbreadths wide in each of its 2 perpendicular directions, forming a half square or widened L shape.

Although usually a private domain needs to be enclosed by proper partitions, with more closed space than open space, or at least a צורת הפתח, in the case of the special public mitzva of aliya laregel (going up to Yerushalayim for the festivals,) Chazal were lenient.

It seems clear from Daf 20a that this leniency is based on the fact that this method is already an acceptable form of enclosure  on a biblical level, otherwise Chazal would not be able to create such a method on their own to change the status of a רשות הרבים דאורייתא. This goes so far as to make someone who throws someone from a רשות הרבים into this enclosure liable to the biblical penalties prescribed for desecrating the Shabbos.

The implication of this is that the area around the wells is considered a fully-fledged public domain.

We have mentioned a few times already the view of Rashi (Eruvin 6a) that to be considered a public domain, a city needs to have at least 600000 people in it.

It is hard to imagine that the rural villages or city-outskirts where these wells were situated met this definition, which raises considerable difficulty with Rashi’s view.

It is possible that we are referring to the wells outside large population centers which were extremely crowded and busy, but even then, it seems a little far-fetched to imagine 600000 people frequenting them- Even during the busy period of aliya laregel, the population was unlikely to be concentrated in one such location at any time- further analysis is thus needed.

In the earlier dapim of the Masechta, we spent time  examining  the differences between biblical and rabbinical laws, and where they are found in the hierarchy.

We saw that on the one hand, we are usually stricter with biblical mitzvos, something we see all over through various halachik principles, but on the other hand, sometimes Chazal were more stringent with rabbinical laws in order to strengthen their authority.

On daf 21b, we see the incredible drasha of Rava, based on Koheles, that one should be even more careful with דברי סופרים  ( “the words of the scribes”- a term usually used for laws made after the time of Moshe, but itself requiring its own discussion) than with the words of the Torah.

This is because there is a range of positive and negative commandments in Torah, with a range of punishments, but when it comes to דברי סופרים , they are all treated equally severely to the point that העובר על דברי סופרים חייב מיתה  – one who goes against the words of the sofrim is liable to death.

Given that the maximum punishment carried out in court for one who transgresses rabbinical laws was generally מכת מרדות  (lashes for rebellion,) lower on the hierarchy of punishments than the 39 lashes given for biblical prohibitions under the correct strict conditions, this statement seems rather exaggerated, to put it mildly.

We see a similar phrase elsewhere, regarding  one who intentionally puts off saying the evening shema till after midnight, and the attack on Rabbi Tarfon by robbers while sitting to say shema was attributed to his failure to follow the authoritative ruling of Beis Hillel who hold that this is not necessary. )See also the Mishna  Sanhedrin 88b regarding Zakein Mamrei, and the Mishna in A.Z. 29b)

Furthermore, on our daf, we are told the incredible story of Rabbi Akiva who used this principle to justify his risking dehydration in captivity to use the little water he had for the rabbinical mitzva of נטילת ידים!

This extreme example might be the key to how to understand this entire concept- after all, we all know that one is only liable to given up one’s life for 3 of the worst biblical transgressions. We also know that one is often permitted to transgress rabbinical prohibitions even for curative purposes where danger to life is not involved.

This makes it virtually undisputable that this is not a normative halachik concept, but rather an idea, which might occasionally be applied halachically, but whose main purpose is to teach us the pivotal role of rabbinic law in Torah life. Specifically because of the many leniencies Chazal themselves applied to their decrees, it is necessary for them to remind us both in general and in certain specific cases how rabbinical law, routed in Torah law as it is (we will hopefully have future opportunity to discuss in what way this is the case ,) essentially stems  from the same divine authority.

Why Chazal choose to highlight this in certain cases specifically requires careful study, but we will leave that for another time.

Coming back to the issue we raised with Rashi’s view that a true public domain on a biblical level must have 600,000 people at a minimum, perhaps we can relook at the פסי ביראות  and why they need to be already validated as a partition on a biblical level.

Our assumption was that this must be because otherwise, chazal would not have the ability to treat them leniently in the case of the wells.

Perhaps, however, this assumption is not fully necessary?

There are times when Chazal do treat rabbinical laws as strictly or even more strictly than biblical ones. As we have seen above, and even times when the usual rule of אין גוזרין גזירה לגזירה   does not apply ( see גזירה שמט יעלה הים שירטון  as a possible example as well as recently on daf 20a “גזירה שמא יאמרו עירוב מועיל לבין הפסין” )

Perhaps, when it comes to something as novel as creating a new type of partition, Chazal were unwilling to do this even in an area which is only rabbinically treated like a public domain, out of concern that this would become a generally accepted type of partition even in cases they did not intend it to be relied on, maybe even in a real public domain?

This opens the possibility that the typical area around a well might indeed not be a true רשות הרבים  according to Rashi!

The problem is that Rashi himself seems to say explicitly that we are dealing with a true רשות הרבים  and true רשות היחיד-there are also numerous sugyos that imply that we are dealing with a true רשות הרבים  , including on our daf itself- I think that we might be able to work It out, but that’s is for today!

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.

Shabbos 99 Defining the public domain, and the great Eruv controversy

Shabbos 99 Defining the public domain, and the great Eruv controversy

In the first chapter (Shabbos 6a), we were introduced to the 4 רשויות (domains) of Shabbos, roughly as follows:

  1. רשות היחד
    (private domain)- an area at least 4 טפחים (hand-breadths) wide that is either raised at least 10אמות (arm-lengths) above the ground, surrounded by partitions of that height, or sunken into the ground at that depth.
  2. רשות הרבים
  • large and busy thoroughfares and markets, and מבואות (quieter side streets) that open to them
  1. כרמלית
    ( some examples given there are the sea, open valleys and a כרמלית proper, but this is generally understood to mean a place that is too open to be a private domain and too quite to be a public domain.
  2. מקום פטור
    an exempt area.

We are also told that transferring an item from a private domain to a public domain, vice-versa, or 4 Amos within a public domain is a biblical offense.
On the other hand, transferring an item from either a private or public domain to a Carmelis or vice-versa, or transferring an item 4 Amos within a Carmelis, is only a rabbinical prohibition.

Although obviously we treat rabbinical prohibitions very seriously, we have mentioned numerous times that there are still certain leniencies with them that do not apply to biblical prohibitions, one of them being the idea of a שבות דשבות , an action that is only rabbinically prohibited for two separate reasons.

Such things, are permitted for the sake of Mitzva, great need, or to prevent suffering, at least when done by a non-Jew, and according to some opinions, even when done by a Jew (see earlier posts on שבות דשבות)

An example could be asking a non-Jew to carry or transfer something in, into or from a Carmelis, or according to the more lenient views, by a Jew in an unusual way in or into a Carmelis.

Pulling a pram with a child that is able to walk on his own inside a Carmelis could also be such an example, due to the rule of חי נושא את עצמו (a living person carries himself), perhaps to be discussed in another post.

Another important distinction would be in the case of a ספק (doubt) if an action is forbidden or not – the golden rule being that in doubt regarding a biblical rule, we need to err on the side of stringency, but when it comes to a biblical rule, we may be lenient out of doubt.

Perhaps the most important distinction between a רשות הרבים and a כרמלית is in the laws of Eruvin, which largely rely on the fact that the Eruv is made in an area in which it is only rabbinically forbidden to carry, such as a Carmelis, and not a רשות הרבים, where making an Eruv is far more problematic.

As such, accurately being able to tell the difference between a רשות הרבים and a כרמלית is essential and makes a major impact on daily shabbos life.

As usual, the main factors we consider in this distinction, are the properties of the דגלי מדבר (the biblical encampment of Israel), which are the basis for the מלאכה of הוצאה being performed in the work of the Mishkan, and thus qualifying as a forbidden category of work.

3 of the most commonly accepted distinctions between the two, are as follows:

  1. A רשות הרבים needs to be at least 16 Amos wide, like the space in which the wagons passed (5 for each wagon, 5 for the space between them plus one extra for the Levi, as per our daf!)
  2. A רשות הרבים must be open, not even covered at the top by a roof, as per the camp of Israel.
  3. A רשות הרבים needs to have at least 600,000 people, like the population in the camp of Israel.

The first condition, namely the minimum width, is universally accepted, and based on an explicit statement on our daf, as well as in a Mishna (Bava Basra 99b), which according to Rashi, has its source in the reasoning mentioned on our daf.

The second condition has actually been the matter of debate on the previous daf, but seems to be the consensus of the poskim.

In contrast, the third condition has been and remains the subject of MUCH controversy.
On the one hand, there is NO specific source for this requirement in the Gemara.
It is only in some of the (mainly) Ashkenazi Rishonim (early commentators) that we see this requirement.
Although this could be a logical extension of the comparison to the biblical encampment, as mentioned above, as Rashi explicitly says (Rashi, Eruvin 6a) , it actually seems to be contradicted by our daf, which tells us that the ground underneath the wagons was considered a רשות הרבים – it is kind of hard to imagine 600000 people fitting into that space!
It is also a rather difficult suggestion, given that there were only 600000 men in the biblical camp, but far more people when women and children are included- as such, if we going for this rule, lets go even further and make the minimum number far higher! (see Tosfos Eruvin 6a who brings and resolves these difficulties.)

As such, the (mainly) Sephardi Rishonim, such as the Rambam (Shabbos 14/1), Ramban, and others (see Beit Yosef 345 for a list) , do not mention this requirement at all, and it remains a major debate to this day (see Shulchan Aruch 345/7 who brings both opinions, the more lenient one only as a יש אומרים (secondary opinion.)

In practice, mainstream Ashkenazi practice is to treat cities, or even neighborhoods within cities, that do not have at least 600000 people , as a כרמלית , and to allow regular simple Eruvin in such places (see for example Taz O.C. 345/6) , though there are certainly some Ashkenazim who, like many of their Sephardi brethren, are stringent.

For more, see for example Aruch haShulchan 345/14 for a lengthy treatment on this controversy in the Ashkenazi world, and compare Birkei Yosef with Yalkut Yosef on the same siman regarding what normative Sephardi practice should be.

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.