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.

Shabbos 67 Pesukim as charms revisited 

A few daf ago, we discussed the idea of amulets and the apparent protective powers attributed to them by Chazal.

We noted that this seems to contradict the general mitzva of תמים תהיה עם אלוקיך, a commandment to pray and seek salvation only directly through Hashem himself, and not by means of magic or other supernatural means.

We also noted that it seems to go against the serious prohibition of saying pesukim to heal a wound or other ailment , as mentioned in the last perek of Sanhedrin.

In a related sugya in Shvuos 15b, we are told that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi used to say certain pesukim before going to bed at night (apparently to protect him.)  The Gemara asks how he could do this, seeing that one is not allowed to use words of Torah to heal, and answers that although healing is forbidden, using them as preemptive protection is permitted.

This could explain why using amulets with pesukim in them is permitted for protection, if there is reason to believe that they work.

The Rambam  also allows this, despite his belief that there is no power in such things,  possibly as he sees psychological benefit for those who do believe in them, or because he believes the requirement that it be an amulet that has proven itself 3 times reduces the group of amulets that may be worn to a null set.

On this daf, we are told, amongst other seemingly bizarre incantations, that Rabbi Yochanan advise someone with a severe type of fever to follow the following procedure:

  1. Take a blade made entirely of iron and find a thorn bush.
  2. Mark the thorn bush by tying a strand of hair around it.
  3. On the first day, cut a notch in the bush with the blade and say the verse “and an angel of Hashem appeared to him” (the verse  in Shmos 3 describing Hashem’s first revelation to Moshe in the burning Bush)
  4. On the second day, cut another notch, and say the passuk ” and Moshe said, I shall turn aside and see.” (all these pesukim are in the same episode)
  5. On the third day, cut another notch, and say the passuk “and Hashem saw that he had turned around to look “

Rav Acha then suggested to Rav Ash (generations later) that he should say on the last day the passuk “and he said, do not approach”, indicating that the fever should leave him alone.

It then continues to describe what should happen when the fever leaves him (which is apparently achieved by the previous steps.)

Without going into the issue of symbolism in these kind of sugyos ( the continuation of the sugya does indeed indicate that the symbolism is used to teach a vital lesson in humility)  , it is clear that this seems to contradict what we have learn that it is certainly forbidden to use pesukim as cures.

There are several approaches to resolving this in the Rishonim, among them

  1. Tosfos and the Rosh take the approach that if a danger to like is involved, like a severe fever, even healing is allowed , as all sins other than 3 are permitted to save a life .

This answer is difficult in that it assumes that such an action indeed can save a life, otherwise what is  the heter of pikuach nefesh? No one would suggest that its permitted to break shabbos for the sake of pikuach nefesh to make a treatment that is known not to work!

While it is possible that these Rishonim indeed take the approach that such things do work, but are simply forbidden, this would not work for the Rambam’s approach!

  1. The Meiri, who generally takes a similar “rationalist” approach to the Rambam , takes the view that the prohibition does not apply when other actions are taken for the cure and the pesukim just accompany them, perhaps because he sees them as simply a form of prayer in such a context, something the Rambam indeed says regarding using pesukim for protection, but notably not regarding saving life .
  2. It could be   possible, that as seems to be the way of the Rambam, he simply does not regard this sugya as authoritative given that it contradicts the axiomatic  sugyos on the subject, and simply chooses to leave it out of the halacha . This takes us into a long and controversial subject, which is out of the scope of this post.

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.