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.

Shabbos 117 and 118 Shalosh Seudot, Melava Malka, and relying on others for support

Our Mishna tells us that should a fire break out in one’s home chalila, it is permitted to save food from a fire that is sufficient for 3 shabbos meals.

This applies if the fire breaks out before dinner on Friday night, otherwise one is only permitted so save enough for the remaining meals on Shabbos.

It should be pointed out that it was normative in Talmudic times to have only 2 meals a day, one in the morning, and one in the evening, and thus having a third meal on shabbos stuck out as a special act of honoring the shabbos.

This might be the reason why this meal, which should technically be called סעודה שלישית (the third meal), is traditionally referred to simply as שלוש סעודות (three meals.)- It is through this meal that it is apparent that all 3 meals are done in honor of shabbos, and not just to satisfy one’s needs.

In our day, when we eat 3 meals a day in any case, how is this result achieved without having 4 meals?
As it is usually forbidden to eat before davening, one generally does not have breakfast, so we are still left with only 3 meals.

Perhaps this is the reason for the custom to have a Kiddush after davening at shul, in lieu of breakfast, so סעודה שלישית is truly an extra meal.

However, if we treat the third meal as a form of early supper as we often do, we are effectively just replacing our Saturday night dinner with an early one (which in summer can be quite late indeed.)

Perhaps this is a halachik reason for the custom to have a Melava Malka (extra meal to escort the Shabbos on her way ) after shabbos as well, so that it is clear that סעודה שלישית is being eaten just for the sake of shabbos?

Yet, as nice as the above ideas sound, we need to investigate whether

there is really an obligation to have one more meal than usual on shabbos, as a fulfilment of the general Mitzva of honoring and enjoying the Shabbos day

OR whether perhaps there is simply a technical obligation to have 3 halachic meals on Shabbos, regardless of circumstance, based on its own independent source, whether or not one eats more meals than one does during the week in practice.

This question could have special application when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos, and bread or Matza is not permitted after midday.

Some have the custom to daven early, wash for Kiddush early as breakfast, and then count lunch as the third meal.

Some communities or Yeshivot also have the custom every week to wash for Kiddush straight after davening, have a light non-meat meal, and then have a heavier meat meal in the afternoon for the third meal.

If there is a requirement that the meal needs to specifically be for shabbos, simply replacing breakfast is probably not sufficient.
On the other hand, if all that is required is to fulfill the technical Mitzva of eating 3 meals on shabbos, then one has clearly done so.

A third possibility is that one can fulfill the basic Mitzva just by fulfilling the technical requirement, but that it is a מצוה מין המובחר (higher level of performing the Mitzva) to make sure that one actually has a meal one would not normally eat during the week.

A further look at our sugya shows that the requirement to eat 3 meals on shabbos is derived according to Rabbi Yochanan from the repetition of the word יום ( day) 3 times , in the passuk containing the instruction to eat מן (Manna) gathered the day before shabbos on shabbos.

The passuk reads (Shmos 16/25):
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר מֹשֶׁה֙ אִכְלֻ֣הוּ הַיּ֔וֹם כִּֽי־שַׁבָּ֥ת הַיּ֖וֹם לַיקֹוָ֑ק הַיּ֕וֹם לֹ֥א תִמְצָאֻ֖הוּ בַּשָּׂדֶֽה:
(“and Moshe said, eat it today, for today is Shabbos for Hashem, today you will not find it in the field.”)

A Beraita is brought showing the view of the Chachamim that one is required to eat 3 meals on shabbos, but also cites the view of Rabbi Chidka that one is required to eat FOUR meals on shabbos.
Rabbi Yochanan explains that Rabbi Chidka’s view is based on the same passuk, but given that the requirement is based on the word היום (the day), 3 meals in the day are required, in addition to the one held at night!

The Gemara challenges both views with a Mishna which says that someone who has enough food for 14 meals (one week) is not considered poor enough to collect money from the קופה (charity collection).

If one really needs to have 3 or 4 meals on shabbos, surely the cutoff point should be 15 or 16 meals, not only 14?

The Gemara explains that according to Chachamim, we can simply tell him to have his Saturday night dinner while it is still shabbos and fulfill the Mitzva of שלוש סעודות that way.

This seems to imply that one is not required to have a special Melava Malka meal on Saturday night and that one can fulfill the mitzva of 3 meals on shabbos even if one simply has an early supper, strengthening the possibility that the 3 meals is an objective requirement and there is no obligation for the meal to be specifically for shabbos.

One could counter, however, that all that we see from here is that the requirement to have a meal specifically for shabbos is not מעכב (holding back) the fulfillment of the mitzva, and thus not enough of an obligation that we are required give him charity money for it. It could still be an obligatory part of the mitzva under normal circumstances, or at least a הדור מצוה (better way of doing the Mitzva.)

The Gemara then goes a step further and suggests that according to Rabbi Chidka, we could tell him to have his Friday daytime meal at night once shabbos is in, thus fulfilling one’s Friday evening obligation with his regular Friday dinner and still leaving 2 meals for Shabbos plus his Saturday night meal for the fourth shabbos meal. This possibility is rejected out of hand, seeing as it is not reasonable to expect him to fast all day on Erev Shabbos.

The Gemara then comes out with an idea that in today’s age of entitlement sounds truly unbelievable.
It says that both Chachamim and Rabbi Chidka follow the view of Rabbi Akiva that a person should rather make his shabbos like a weekday (regarding the food he eats) than take help from other people!

Rashi understands this to not only replace the suggestion that he eat his Friday meal on Friday night, but also the suggestion that he eat his Saturday meal early.

Instead, the Gemara understands that the obligation to eat 3 meals on shabbos (according to Chachamim) or 4 meals (according to Rabbi Chidka) only applies to one who has enough of his own money for them.

However, one who cannot afford 3 or 4 meals on shabbos should rather have only 2, just like on a weekday, rather than be a burden on others.

It follows that the Beraisa that talks about the criteria for charity has nothing to do with the requirements for a regular person to have 3 or 4 meals dedicated meals for shabbos, seeing as a person who needs charity should miss this mitzva rather than take charity!

We should note that this is despite the fact that missing the third meal on shabbos is considered so serious by Chazal that it is called עשה שבתך חול, making one’s shabbos into a weekday, clearly a strong admonishment against those who treat this meal lightly.
Without this special meal, the shabbos meal schedule is similar to during the week, and that is called “making one’s shabbos into a weekday!”

Although not a water-tight proof, this strong wording seems to support the view that it is not sufficient just to technically perform the obligation derived from the passuk to have three meals- the extra meal has to be noticeably in addition to the number of meals one has during the week.

As such, it indeed seems preferable that in today’s time, one should indeed be particular to have both Kiddush and Melava Malka, in order to make sure that his סעודה שלישית is not simply in place of breakfast or Saturday dinner.

However, this proof is not water-tight, and at the end of the day, the obligation to have a third meal is independently based by Chazal on a different passuk to the one from which we derive the obligation of honoring the shabbos.

As such, one could probably be lenient on Erev Pesach given that it is שעת הדחק (unusually difficult circumstances), and fulfill one’s second meal with a “breakfast Kiddush” and third meal with an early lunch, if none of the other suggested solutions are appropriate.

It would however seem preferable for shuls and yeshivos not to make a regular practice of it on regular Shabbatot in order to make sure that the third meal is indeed noticeable as something one would not eat during the week- one certainly gains an element of the Mitzva of honoring the shabbos that way, even if it is not an intrinsic part or even an embellishment of the Mitzva of the three meals.

Perhaps those Rabbis and Rashei Yeshiva who do advocate the kiddush/lunch model hold that there is no such requirement whatsoever for there to be quantitively more meals on shabbos than during the week but there is rather simply a technical requirement to eat 3 meals on shabbos, regardless of how many one eats during the week.
Or perhaps, they hold that so long as the extra meal is qualitatively better than it would be during the week, as a lavish Kiddush/lunch could be compared to a regular breakfast, that is sufficient to make it noticeably for shabbos.

In any case, two undebatable messages from this discussion is that

  1. The third Shabbos meal is in some ways the most important of the shabbos meals, and not to be taken lightly
  2. One is supposed to do one’s best to avoid being a burden on the community, and whereas one is permitted to take charity when one really needs it for one’s basic needs, even a mitzva like the third shabbos meal, which is SO intrinsic to the honor of Shabbos is NOT enough of a reason to do so .

(p.s. the 4 cups of wine on Pesach is indeed an exception due to the addition aspect of publicizing the mitzva- see Ran on our sugya who makes this distinction.)

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 90 General knowledge


I was never great at the school general knowledge quiz.

That was not due to a lack of love for trivia, but more because I am one who tends to obsess over subjects that interest me and pretty much disengage from those that do not.

In a general knowledge quiz, knowledge of sports and modern music trends ( which really did not interest me much) is as important as knowledge of geography and religion ( which did )

As I grew older, my interests broadened, and I even managed to appreciate  poetry at least enough to get through matriculation in South Africa .

I still have a particularly hard time with many technical sugyas- for example, as much as I try ( which admittedly is not enough), I have not succeeded in understanding the weaving process enough to begin to understand the melachos that are based on this most ancient of skills. 

One of the incredible things that constantly strikes me about Chazal, is how they were required to have the most broad general knowledge of pretty much everything that was known at the time, in order to learn, teach, and interpret Torah correctly. 

The Amora Rav relates (Sanhedrin 5b) that he spent 3 years of his youth on a cattle farm, learning how to distinguish between different types of blemishes. 

We saw earlier in the masechta how important knowledge of Astronomy is for our calendar and thus all mitzvos that relate to specific dates .

Mathematical knowledge was an essential requirement for the many measurements that make up so much of halacha .

And an understanding of politics , culture ,and current affairs was a given for the complex interactions required with our various hosts , colonizers, and oppressors, not to mention the laws of derech eretz which were clearly impacted by and adapted to, the culture of the times .

Although there are countless examples, let us not forget that the members of the supreme Sanhedrin had to know 70 different languages – is there anyone alive today who can claim that feat?

On this daf, the Amoraim work hard to try and understand the meaning of various items mentioned in the Mishna, things which were clearly well known during the Mishna period, but were clearly  not  well known in the  Sassanian Babylonia of the Talmud Bavli. 

They appear to have successfully done enough research to identify all of these, for example בורית is identified as a type of  אהלא, after some give and take , and אשלג is identified as שונאנה, only after consulting with a regular overseas traveler-it seems us frequent travelers can come in pretty handy too!

Of course, just because the Amoraim were able to identify these things, doesn’t mean we are able to- if you feel a little frustrated and perhaps disillusioned by the ancient vocabulary required to understand sugyas like this, be slightly comforted by the fact that even the father of the mefarshim (commentators), Rashi himself ,admitted, in his usual honest way, that he did not  know what שלוף דוץ was!

The identity of the חלזון,  required for making the tcheiles  (arguably blueish dye used for tzitzis and certain items in the mishkan) has evaded our greatest authorities for centuries, generating much debate, but absolutely no consensus. 

As we quoted in that earlier article, our greatest leaders from the Rambam to the Vilna Gaon taught us how an understanding of all forms of wisdom is essential for a proper understanding of the Torah- we can only look up in awe to the great bearers of our Masora ( tradition) who were able to familiarize themselves with a treasury of general knowledge anyone today could barely dream of, together with mastery of the entire Torah itself.

As my high school Rebbe and shul Rav in my youth , haGaon Rav Eliezer Chrysler שליט”א told one of us at our Barmitzva, in his Gateshead English style  – “you might not be able to be Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l, but you jolly well can try.”

I guess that being on the future Sanhedrin is not even a dream for most of us, but we better “jolly well try”! 

Shabbos 82  Health and safety  matters (excuse the pun)

On this daf, we are told how Rav Huna asked his son Rabbah, why he did not go to learn anymore by Rav Chisda, who was particularly sharp in his learning.

Rabbah replied that Rav Chisda used to always teach them “worldly matters”, and he preferred to focus on only Torah during his studies .

For example, he used to tell them that when one goes to the toilet, one should not sit down too quickly or push too hard, as it could cause injury .

Rabbah’s response was that he was teaching him matters of health (the life of people ) , and that was even more reason to go learn with him!

The most obvious explanation of this is that the Torah commands us to look after one’s health and safety and avoid danger, in the passuk

 ונשמרתם מאוד לנפשותיכם ( be very careful with your lives.) ( Devarim 4/9) 

The Rambam is generally presumed to hold that anything one does that is bad for one’s health or a danger to his life will usually be a transgression of this Mitzva ( See for example  Hilchos Deos chapter 4 and Rotzeach ushmiras hanefesh chapter 14 and 11/4, though he might also have other sources for this- another discussion for a different post, perhaps )

If the Rambam’s definition is correct, than anything which is health or safety related is part of this Mitzva and thus considered Torah, so Rabbah’s claim that he preferred to focus on “Torah” was ill informed, seeing as this very much WAS Torah !

In truth though, even if this particular passuk is not referring to avoiding physical danger, but rather spiritual danger as in its context (see Torah Temima on the passuk for different views on this ), there are plenty sources that avoiding danger is a Torah requirement, and in fact that it is MORE important than avoiding sin (חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא -see Chullin 10a.)

However, if one takes a more careful look, one still needs to explain :

1. What was Rabbah was initially thinking?- did he really not know that looking after oneself is a Torah requirement?

2. Why does Rav Huna say that it was even MORE reason to go? If health and safety is just another Mitzva , then why should it be even more important than learning Brachos  or Shabbos or Yevamos?

This is only one of many statements of Chazal that venture into the realm of health and medicine, to the point that one often finds what seem like clear contradictions between the views they express and those of modern medicine (more on this perhaps in a different post.)

In order to address this problem,  Rabbeinu Avraham son of the Rambam (Maamar al Derashos Chazal)  tells us that such contradictions should not worry us, as Chazal did not get their medical knowledge from any form of Torah  tradition or prophesy, but rather based their advice on the medical knowledge available to them at the time.

The Rambam himself wrote similar things regarding Astronomy (Moreh Nevuchim 3/14.)

Perhaps precisely for this reason, Rabbah was of the view that medical issues should be left to the doctors and Rabbis should focus on teaching Torah only, stating the mitzva to look after oneself , but not going into the practical details, which one should rather learn from the doctors of the time .

Rav Huna, however , knew that if Rabbis don’t take health matters seriously and teach it to their Talmidim, the talmidim won’t take it seriously, and it is therefore their absolute obligation to become as familiar as they can with the medical knowledge of the time, and under the guidance of their medical consultants, drill it into their students .

Alternatively, perhaps Rabbah held that such details, being subject to change as medical knowledge develops,  cannot be part of a timeless Torah ,that never changes .

Rav Huna taught him that although the facts and knowledge one has available to apply to the Mitzva might change , the Mitzva itself is timeless and part of that timelessness is the need to constantly apply new knowledge to how it is carried out.

In fact, Rav Huna might be suggesting that studying  a theoretical mitzva  which does not include practical ways of fulfilling it in each time and environment, is an inferior form of Torah study itself .

As such, he tells his son, destined to become a leading Amora in his own right , that on the contrary, the fact that Rav Chisda doesn’t just teach the mitzva out of context, but emphasizes the  contemporary wisdom required to carry it out in each place and time, is EVEN more of a reason to learn by him, as such Torah is actually superior – it is not enough to learn about the Mitzva of being healthy- one has to study health itself in order to be able to fulfill the mitzvah properly , and that is not a secondary level of Torah, or a mere הכשר מצוה , but Torah itself !

This also explains the Mitzva of learning astronomy which we discussed in a previous post re כי היא חכמתכם ובינתכם , and is summed up incredibly by the famous statement of the Vilna Gaon  that “all categories of (secular) wisdom are required for our holy Torah and are incorporated with it” (See  “הגרא” מאת דב אליאך   chapter 19 for references and detailed discussion)

And while it could be argued that this is only necessary later in life once one has completed a basic understanding of Torah , perhaps also the initial feeling of Rabbah bar Rav Huna, it seems that Rav Huna was teaching him that, on the contrary, one has to study these wisdoms in one’s youth, at least as they come up, in order for one’s learning to be of a more superior quality!

P.s. one could go a simpler route and argue that Rav Huna was simply teaching his son that looking after one’s health is NOT just another Mitzva, but more important than other Mitzvos, given the precedent of וחי בהם and pikuach nefesh,  but one would then have to explain how Rabbah bar Rav Huna was not aware of such a simple principle such as “danger is more severe than prohibition .”

In light of recent events where we have seen plenty people who learn regularly but seem to be unaware of this rule, at least on a practical level, that might seem less far-fetched  than our initial feeling, but I would still rather not attribute such a view to any one of the Amoraim, even in their earlier years of study !