Eruvin 2 Introduction, Technical measurements and clean language.

I was discussing my daf posts with my friend and colleague, Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg of Claremont Shul, Cape-Town, and he tried to warn me that keeping up the pace and variety of posts will be much more challenging when we get to Eruvin, which is known as a particularly complicated and technical masechta.

Though I could not deny that I share a degree of concern, I replied that Eruvin is actually one of my “favorite” tractates, assuming it is possible or appropriate to say such a thing. In addition to being filled with fascinating and extremely practical rules essential to understanding the practicalities of Eruv building, something almost all of us need to know, it also contains many general ideas and topics that apply to all of Torah holistically.

This combination of material typical of the Gemara can be found right here on the first daf as well.

The thrust of the first daf deals with the technical requirements for a quiet side-street or alley to be considered a private domain on Shabbos.

The typical neighborhood in the times of Chazal (as can still be seen in some older neighborhoods of Yerushalayim) consisted of a מבוי – a short and narrow side-street or alley which opened to the main public thoroughfare on 1 or 2 sides.

Various חצרות (courtyards) opened to this central מבוי and each courtyard had houses that opened to it.

מדאורייתא ( at a biblical level,) any area enclosed on 3 sides (the exact number of sides/partitions is subject to debate later) was considered a private domain, and carrying within it was permitted.

As such, as far as biblical law is concerned, it is permitted to carry from one house to another within the courtyard, from one courtyard to another within the common מבוי , or within the courtyards or מבוי , so long as the מבאי is only open on one side to the public domain.

If the מבוי is open on two sides to the public domain, it is more complex, as the מבוי itself could be considered part of it.

Our Mishna and sugya deals with a מבוי that is closed on 3 sides and only open on one side to the public domain.

We see later that there is a rabbinical requirement to symbolically mark or enclose such a מבוי with either a pole on one side, or a beam going from one side to the other (there is some debate about these precise requirements as well.)

Our Mishna focusses on the maximum height that this pole or beam may be, as well as the maximum width of the open side, and rules that if they are higher than 20 amos (arm-lengths/cubits) or wider than 10 amos respectively, they need to be lowered or narrowed.

Rabbi Yehuda disagrees and says there is no such requirement.

It is unclear from the Mishna whether Rabbi Yehuda holds that the fourth side can be of infinite height or width, or whether he too places a limit on this, but simply a higher or wider one, but it would seem that if the later is correct, one could have expected him to say what this limit is.

The Gemara notes that a similar maximum height is discussed regarding a Sukkah (Sukkah 2a,) but the language used there is different.

Whereas in our case, we are told that a מבוי that is too high needs to be lowered, regarding Sukkah, we are simply told that it is פסול (invalid.)

As in both cases, lowering it is both compulsory and effective, the difference in language needs to be explained, and the parallel sugya in sukkah asks the very same question and gives the very same answers.

Two answers are given :

  1. Seeing as the Sukkah is דאורייתא (biblical,) the Mishna uses the word “invalid.” As the pole or beam of aמבוי are only rabbinical requirements, the mishna simply tells us the תקנתיה (solution.)
  2. The later language is also appropriate in theory for the biblical requirement of Sukkah, but seeing as a Sukkah has multiple constraints, each requiring a different solution, the Mishna chooses one word that applies to all of them, for the sake of brevity. Rashi explains that this is based on the principle (Pesachim 3b) that one should always teach one’s students using concise language.

There are various approaches in the Rishonim as to how to understand the first answer.

Rashi seems to understand that when the Gemara contrasts the biblical Sukkah with the rabbinical מבוי , it is not referring to the actual requirement of dwelling in a Sukkah or putting a pole or beam on a מבוי, even though the distinction certainly applies to that as well, but to the maximum height of the Sukkah and the מבוי.

We derive the maximum height of a sukkah from a verse in the Torah: למען ידעו דורותיכם כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל (“So that your generations will know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkot” -Vayikra 23/43.)- the Sukkah has to be low enough for the roof to be noticed.

As such, this requirement predates the writing down of the mishna by far, and it is appropriate to say that it is already invalid.

In contrast, the requirement to mark a מבוי with a pole or a beam itself is only rabbinical and its maximum dimensions are also. Seeing as the Mishna is the first to teach us these maximum dimensions, it is not appropriate to label the מבוי as already invalid but only to tell us how to solve the issue from the beginning.

This explanation has various difficulties, but I shall not dwell on them in this post.

Tosfos understands the answer a little differently- Due to the strict biblical requirements of sukkah, we are concerned that using a softer language would make us think that the requirement to fix it up is only לכתחילה (in the first place,) but if one sat in the sukkah without making these corrections, one would fulfill the mitzva still בדיעבד (post-facto.)

As such, the harsher language is preferred.

In the case of Eruvin, seeing as the requirement is only rabbinical, we are less concerned that a person might make this error, and we choose to use the softer language, in keeping with the principle (Pesachim 3a) that it is always best to use לישנא מעליה (positive language ) where possible.

We see that there are 3 principles at work here, which sometimes need to be traded off against each other, and it is fascinating to note that both Rashi and Tosfos refer to the same sugya in Pesachim which discusses 2 of these principles and the trade-off between them, but for completely opposite purposes.

  1. Language needs to be נקיה (clean), and that doesn’t just mean avoiding foul language but specifically choosing לשון מעליא (positive language.)
  2. Language needs to be concise (probably to make it easier to comprehend and remember.)
  3. Language needs to be clear or strong enough to convey the historical timeline of the law (Rashi) or the stringency of the law (Tosfos)

According to the first answer in the Gemara, the third factor over-rides the first factor, and strength of message over-rides the need for positive language.

According to the second answer in the Gemara, either positive language still takes priority over strength of message, or the positive language given is still considered appropriate or strong enough to give over the importance of the message.

However, the second factor certainly takes priority over the first, and concise direct language is preferred over positive language, as is indeed the conclusion of the above-quoted sugya in Pesachim.

There is lots more to say about the requirements for language to be clean, concise, and strong enough and how they trade-off with each other, but we have certainly seen on this first daf how the Gemara is able to focus on the one hand on specific and technical rules relating to the subject at hand, and at the same time teach us multiple principles that could apply to every aspect of our lives!

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 84 “May Hashem save us from your opinion “

The ways of the Torah are described as “דרכי נועם ” , “the ways of pleasantness” (Mishlei 3/17), and one of the most basic rules for those of us who spread Torah is to speak gently and pleasantly to people, as Hillel was so well known for doing (see Shabbos 31a.) 

We also know very well the price that was paid by Rabbi Akiva’s students for not showing honor to each other (Yevamos 62b.)

We know that “תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם “, “Torah Scholars increase peace in the world,” (Brachos 64a) and our saintly Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Azriel Chayim Goldfein zt’l was well known for quipping the obvious corollary , that ” if he doesn’t increase peace, he is NOT a Talmid Chacham.” 

Furthermore, we are told ( Eruvin 13b) that one of the reasons we follow Beis Hillel over Beis Shamai is because they would quote their words together with the words of Beis Shamai, and even quote Beit Shamai first !

The correct approach to other views according to that sugya,  is one of “אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים ” ( Both these and those are the words of the living G-d), and this respect for other views is an intrinsic part of our approach to learning Torah .

Nevertheless, more than just occasionally, we are faced with what appears to be extremely harsh language by one scholar to the other .

For some of  very many examples:

 -In Brachos 32a, Rabbi Yannai tells Rabbi Chanina the reader “פוק קרא קראיך לברא” ( get out and read  your reading outside .)- this is a relatively common retort in the shas.

-At the end of שלושה שאכלו (Brachos 51b), Rav Nachman’s scholarly wife, offended at the Amora Ullah’s apparent chauvinism, responds  to his words by saying:

“ממהדורי מילי ומסמרטוטי כרמי  ( empty words come from peddlers and lice come out of old rags .) 

-Though not exactly the same, there is also the view that a Talmid Chacham who does not  “take revenge and bare a grudge like a snake” is not a Talmid chacham ” ( Yoma 23a.)

On our daf, there is a debate between Rabbi Ilai and Rabbi Chanina regarding the rule that a zav only causes impurity  when he sits on something that can be purified in a mikva ( as opposed to earthenware vessels than cannot be purified and certain types of simple wooden vessels like the מפץ  (see Rashi .)

Rabbi Ilai holds that so long as some things made of the same material ( namely wood ) can be purified in a mikva, even things of that material that cannot be purified in a mikva ( like the מפץ), can become impure.

Rabbi Chanina responds to what he seems to view as a ridiculous idea, by saying ” may Hashem save us from that opinion,”   to which Rabbi Ilai retorts in kind , that on the contrary :” may Hashem save us from YOUR opinion. “

Neither Chacham  seems to be satisfied with the usual respectful  give and take of the Talmudic discussion but seems to feel the need to speak extremely harshly and seemingly disrespectful about the other’s view.

It should also be noted that this debate is not  exactly about one of the main principles of belief, which makes this behaviour even more surprising. 

Interesting enough, the Masores hashas  points us to two other places where a similar exchange occurs, between the same two chachomim , both in masechtos commonly learnt in yeshivos –  and we really need to  take a deeper look  and try and find a common thread. (The case in Kesubos involves possibly giving someone a harsher death penalty than deserved, whereas the case in Bava Kama involves possibly making a thief pay back more than he needs to.)

But although these 3 cases must certainly hold clues as to when harsh language is indeed appropriate, it seems clear from them and so many other cases, that there is indeed a time for using such. 

Although counter examples can perhaps be found  the basic concept seems to me to be that in one’s relationship to people outside one’s immediate cozy learning environment , one has to always be extra careful with ones words and how one says things .

 Of course, there are times such as danger to life and public chillul Hashem where it is sometimes necessary to speak harshly in the public eye too, as did the Neviim, Chazal, and Gedolim through all the ages , but one needs serious סיעתא דשמיא to do this successfully and it is essential to show that one is not doing it out of ego or anger, but completely for the sake of heaven – much more to discuss in this regard, perhaps in a later post , Hashem willing .

In contrast, inside the walls of the Beis Midrash, more scope is giving for lively  and sometimes extremely strong “give and take ” so long as the argument is לשם שמיים .

As the Gemara says in Kiddushin (30b),  two Talmidei Chachamim who are fighting with each other over a halacha can temporarily become “enemies ” during the passion of the argument , and this is part of the passionate search for the truth, and is completely legitimate .

Similarly perhaps,  a Rebbe might use harsh language with his student in order to sharpen him and his thought process or stop him being lazy ( see Rambam hilchos Talmud Torah 4/5) – I would add that this is obviously ,provided he is confident that the student will be impacted positively by this and not negatively ( which in my experience is an extremely risky and often counter-productive strategy in our age.)

A Nasi may also be very strong with those under him in to strengthen the authority of the position ( see Kesubos 103b), as Rabban Gamliel did (perhaps going too far ) with Rabbi Yehoshua ( see Brachos 27b and parallel sugyos.) 

HOWEVER , as the Gemara  in Kiddushin continues , they do not leave the study hall without becoming friends again, and this is the true test of whether this harsh talk was in the correct spirit or not .

True debates  for the sake of heaven  might indeed get heated, but they may never get personal.