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.

Eruvin 3 Biblical versus rabbinical prohibitions

We have seen that the maximum height of the beam that goes from one side of a מבוי to the other is 20 amos, and if it is higher than that, it needs to be lowered.

The same applies to the סכך (“roof”) of a sukkah.

There is a debate on our daf regarding the law if only part of the beam or סכך is above 20 amos.

Rabbah rules that in the case of the מבוי, it is fine, but not in the case of the Sukkah.

The Gemara seems to understand that in theory, it should be fine in both cases, but there is a real concern that the lower part of the beam or סכך could rot or fall off, leaving only the higher invalid part. It then brings 2 reasons why in the case of a Sukkah, we take this concern into account, and not in the case of a מבוי.

I wish to focus on the second reason given by Ravina- I have seen that my colleague Rabbi @Johnny Solomon has already focused beautifully as usual on the first reason in his daily post.

Ravina explains that the main difference lies in the severity of the matter at stake.

Seeing as Sukkah is a biblical law, we are stringent and take this concern into account.

As the requirement to mark the fourth side of a מבוי is only rabbinical, this concern is not significant enough for us to consider.

This fits in well with what we saw on the first daf, at least according to the explanation of Tosfos quoted in the previous post, that the added severity of the biblical law of Sukkah is the reason why we use the stronger phrase “it is invalid” rather than the more positive phrase “it should be reduced.”

It also fits well with our general understanding that Torah law is treated more strictly than rabbinical law. One of the most common applications of this is the famous rule that in case of doubt in a biblical matter, we are stringent, whereas in case of a doubt in a rabbinical matter, we are lenient, but there are of course many others.

It thus comes as a surprise when a different version of this discussion is brought in the Gemara where Rabbah rules that we are lenient in the case of Sukkah and allow part of the סכך (covering) to be higher than the maximum height, but are stringent in the case of the מבוי and do not allow part of the beam to be above the 20 amot maximum height.

Two explanations are given, and Ravina explains that we are more stringent with the מבוי specifically because it is only a rabbinical requirement, and thus requires strengthening.

Seeing as people naturally, and as a result of the various halachik leniencies involved, tend to take rabbinical requirements less seriously than biblical ones, Chazal sometimes imposed harsher rules specifically on the former, in order to make us take them more seriously.

We see this idea in numerous other places as well.

There is the famous story of Rabbi Tarfon (Brachos 10b) who went against the ruling of Beis Hillel and lay down to read the night-time Shema, in accordance with the stringent view of Beis Shamai.

He was attacked by robbers and was told by his colleagues after surviving that he got off relatively light, and really had deserved to die for going against the authoritative view of Beis Hillel.

Although missing out on performing a positive mitzva does not incur any official penalty, we seem to see from the above that performing a positive mitzva in a different way to the accepted rabbinic position can be serious enough that the phrase “deserve to die” can be applied to one who does so.

Later in our perek (Eruvin 21a,) we see the following:

דרש רבא: מאי דכתיב ויתר מהמה בני הזהר עשות ספרים הרבה וגו’. בני! הזהר בדברי סופרים יותר מדברי תורה. שדברי תורה יש בהן עשה ולא תעשה, ודברי סופרים – כל העובר על דברי סופרים חייב מיתה.

Rava, based on a derasha from a passuk, exhorts us to be even more careful with דברי סופרים (a term usually applied to rabbinical law, though some analysis is needed regarding this) than one is with Torah law, seeing as Torah law is divided into positive and negative commands (the punishment for avoiding the former being less severe than the later,) whereas anyone who transgresses the words of the סופרים (lit scribes) is liable to death.

This phrase is used explicitly to refer to rabbinical law (Brachos 4b) regarding one who deliberately delays saying Shema until after midnight- We are told in that regard “כל העובר על דברי חכמים חייב מיתה “ – anyone who transgresses the words of the sages deserves to die.

While it is clear that neither of these refer to an official death penalty in a court, and it is even possible that this is also an example of exaggerated language used by Chazal to make a strong point (I am almost finished a detailed Hebrew analysis on this subject,) it is clearly more than enough to show us the seriousness with which rabbinical laws should be taken.

There are many other examples of both approaches we see in our sugya, some which treat rabbinical laws less strictly than biblical laws, and others that treat them even more stringently.

There is also a similar idea we see with Shabbos and Yom-Tov, this time both biblical commandments but of different severity.

Whereas intentionally desecrating the Shabbos can involve a capital transgression, doing the same on Yom-Tov is a regular negative prohibition which incurs at most corporal punishment.

There are also various melachot, namely some of those associated with food preparation, that are permitted on Yom-Tov but forbidden on Shabbos.

Despite the less stringent nature of Yom-Tov, and specifically because of it, we find that Chazal )Beitza 2b) were occasionally more stringent with Yom-Tov, and forbade forms of Nolad (a type of muktza status applying to “newly born/made “ things on Yom-Tov even though they are permitted on shabbos.

Much discussion is needed to define when “more severe” prohibitions are treated more seriously than less severe ones, and when the “less severe” ones are davka afforded extra “protection,” but the analysis required involves many more cases than can be brought in the scope of this post- I will thus make do for now with having raised the issues , and please stay tuned for a future post which will hopefully continue the discussion!

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.