Eruvin 57 and 58 Nature trails on Yom-Tov and measuring the techum with Google Earth

Whereas most of daf 57 focusses on the extended boundaries of cities, in particular another possible leniency that according to some allows an additional 70+ amos to be added to the city- proper’s boundaries, the Mishna at the bottom of 57b takes us into new territory- the correct method for measuring the techum.

In a time where walking between close-by city’s was normal and often required, much effort was made by each community to measure and mark the techum of their city, and 2 people worked together to do this rather complex task.

This requirement, however, is FAR from obsolete and should be done in any community where leaving the halachik boundaries of the city on Shabbos or Yom-Tov is common- this would include walking between two suburbs of a city that are separated by more than 141 amos of open space, a fairly small area which is enough to make them considered two different cities halachically, as well as towns bordering natural areas where people like to enjoy the trails (Ramat Beis Shemesh being a great example, with our lovely nature walks.)

The method set out by Chazal, and hinted at in pessukim, was that a rope measuring 50 amos would be held at either end by each partner at chest level- after shifting forward 50maway from the city, this would be repeated until 40 such measurements had been taken, and the techum boundary would be marked at this point .

This process would be done 8 times, at each end of the 4 sides of the square/rectangle that the city had been fit into, after which the final process of squaring the techum itself could be carried out.

The Mishna tells us that ” אין מודדין אלא בחבל של נ’ אמה לא פחות ולא יותר” – We may only measure with a rope of 50 amos, no more and no less.

The Gemara bases this length on the passuk describing the width of the Mishkan’s courtyard. “ורוחב חמישים בחמישים” – its width was 50 with 50. The seemingly spurious “with 50” teaches us that it should be measured with a rope of 50 amos, and this seems to serve as a precedent that things which require precise measurements should be measured with a rope of 50 amos.

The Gemara understands ( as per Rashi’s explanation) that any more than this would be too hard to pull tight enough, resulting in some sagging and a shorter measurement for the techum.

Similarly, any less would result in too much stretching and hence a larger techum than required.

The Gemara proceeds to discuss what material the rope must be made of and seems to conclude that it needs to be made from flax, due to its relative accuracy.

Whereas the length of the rope used appears to be non-negotiable, it is still not clear whether the Mishna is telling us that a rope MUST be used, or simply that if a rope is chosen, it must fit the required length.

It is also not clear whether the Gemara requires the rope to be made of flax and nothing else or whether it is simply allowing anything as accurate as flax, and by “kal vachomer”, anything more accurate .

One Nafka Minah ( practical ramification) of the first question could be if one wanted to measure the techum with the car’s odometer, or with google Earth tools.

If the Gemara requires rope and only rope, then despite its greater accuracy and efficiency, this would not be acceptable.

If on the other hand a flax rope was simply the lower limit of how accurate the measure may be, then these modern tools would clearly be fine and perhaps even better.

In a Beraisa brought by the Gemara, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya points out that there is nothing better for measuring than “chains of steel”, but the Navi ( Zechariah 2/5 , in a vision describing the future messianic period) describes how Yerushalayim will be measured with a “חבל מדה”( a measuring rope.)

Although at first glance this might seem to prove that the rope is an absolute requirement even when more efficient methods are available, it is also possible to interpret this in a way that is consistent with the second more lenient possibility.

It could be that Rabbi Yehoshua is not bringing the passuk to exclude more efficient or easier methods of measuring, but just to exclude steel chains or other bulky materials which though more technically accurate, are not usually used as measuring tools due to their heaviness .

After all, handling a 50- amah wide metal chain is hardly a simple task even for two strong men!

The phrase “חבל מדה” would then not be taken completely literal but would teach us that the method used for measuring must not only be reasonably accurate but also something efficient enough to qualify as a “measuring rope.”

It is also possible that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya is not bringing the passuk as a stringency which comes to exclude more accurate or more efficient methods, but as a leniency to teach us that even though a rope is not the most accurate of methods, it is still acceptable!

In looking through the Rishonim, I did not see much discussion about this question, but was delighted to see that the Meiri actually interprets Rabbi Yehoshua precisely like the second suggestion above, and rules that steel chains ( and by implication other more efficient and accurate means ) certainly may be used .

He notes that some disagree and are stringent, and I found in my search that the Or Zarua (2/163-Eruvin) indeed does so.

Amongst the later Poskim, I have not found anywhere that the Shulchan Aruch or Rema discuss this issue, but did find that the Aruch haShulchan( O.C.399) takes it for granted that Rabbi Yehoshua came to exclude steel chains and that a rope specifically must be used.

As I first heard from Rav Asher Weiss שליט”א , the Rema ( C.M. 25/2) rules that even though we usually follow the rulings of the later authorities assuming that they have already seen and taken into account the rulings of the earlier authorities, if they were clearly not aware of an earlier authority’s ruling, a contemporary poseik can follow that earlier authority.

It is well known that the Meiri’s work was not known to the Mechaber, and while it might have been known to the Aruch haShulchan ( it certainly was to the Mishna Berura who quotes him) it is not clear how much of it was known to him.

Given that הלכה כדברי המקיל בערוב , there thus certainly seems to be strong reasoning in favor of following the lenient approach and using the modern tools of technology to measure the techum, provided it is done with the agreement of a top-level Talmid Chacham.

It should of course also be borne in mind that a car’s measuring device, as well as the standard distance tool on Google-Earth measures total distance including the vertical component of slopes.

In contrast, the laws of Techumim generally allow one to consider only the horizontal component of the total displacement between the two points.

As such, unless one uses technological tools that can measure the “as the crow flies’ horizontal component of the displacement, one could land up being much more stringent than required.

This brings up one more major leniency that could be applied to the “Table Mountain ” conundrum. (for those who have not seen the earlier posts, this is a unique feature of the City of Cape-Town, which surrounds the over 1000m base to summit peak on 3 sides. We have been discussing whether the entire mountain or parts of its can be included in the city-limits, given the rules of עבור העיר and the 4000 amos cut-off point.)

The vertical height of the mountain is well over 1000m above the sea-level neighborhoods- Up and down, that’s about 2000m from the “walking ” distance measured by google earth that can be deducted from the techum limits once one leaves the last house of the city (or from the 4000 amos cut off point for עיר העשויה כקשת!)-unfortunately, the almost 6000 metre gap measured through google earth between the two opposite legs of the city still seems to result in far too much empty space to include the whole mountain in עבור העיר.

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 44 and 45 Returning from emergency travel on shabbos

A very common issue faced by emergency workers is what to do after taking someone to the hospital.

Everyone agrees that whenever there is a chance of danger to life, one may desecrate shabbos in whatever way  necessary to try and save that life.

As such, it is obvious that taking a person whose life might be in danger to the hospital is not only permitted, but obligatory.

On the other hand, once the immediate danger has passed and the person has been taken to hospital, those who took him there could land up being stuck at the hospital for the rest of shabbos, unable to drive home, or even to walk home if the hospital is not within the techum of his house, assuming walking home is even safe.

Those who do this for a living or as a labor of love on a regular basis could thus land up being almost every shabbos in a hospital reception area.

Whereas halacha is halacha, and במקום שיש חלול ה אין חולקין כבוד לרב  (in the place of Chillul Hashem, such as when a Torah prohibition is about to be broken, we do not consider a person’s honor or dignity, no matter how great he is- Brachos  19b  ,) it would obviously be very useful to find a halachik way for him to return home.

There is also the very real concern that if a halachik way to return home is not found, people will be more hesitant in cases of doubt to take people to hospital, itself causing more danger to life.

At the bottom of Eruvin 44a, the Mishna tells that anyone who leaves the techum under permitted circumstances  and while on his journey, is told that he is no longer needed,  is allowed to walk within a 2000 amah radius from where he is at the end of his mission.

This is despite the usual rule that one who has left his techum, even by force, has to stay within his 4 amos.

At the end of the Mishna, we are told that anyone who left in order to “save” may return to his original place- this seems to mean that he may travel home even more than 2000 amos.

In order to reconcile this apparent contradiction, the Gemara on 45a attempts to distinguish between leaving for regular permitted reasons, and “to save,” the later being treated even more leniently.

Though neither the Mishna nor the Gemara has yet defined what either “with permission” or “to save” means, it seems likely that “with permission” means for certain approved mitzvos, whereas “to save” means for purposes of saving lives.

Yet as examples of leaving ברשות  (with permission,) Rashi on the Mishna  lists leaving in order to testify about the new moon, saving from invading troops or from a flooding river, and a midwife coming to assist with a birth.

Whereas the first example is not a matter of life and death, and the second might be referring to saving property which is also not a matter of life and death, the third example certainly seems like it could be .

Rashi on the Gemara, however, while explaining the possible distinction, seems to consider the birth not to be a life and death matter but saving one’s property from invaders to have the potential to become one (or at least a danger of injury) , should he fail to return home and be chased by them.

As such, the permission to return home would not be because he left for permitted purposes or even life and death purposes, but because his current situation is one of life and death.

However we explain the distinction, the Gemara rejects the distinction, seeing as there is an explicit Mishna (Rosh haShana 2/5 )  that includes one who left the techum to save from troops in the list of people who may only travel 2000 amos from the place where their mission ends.

It thus concludes that there is no blanket permission even for one who left “to save” to travel more than 2000 amos to return home, and 2 different opinions are brought as to what exactly the permission is, both based on current danger and not the fact that he left due to danger.

Based on this sugya, it seems that someone who travelled outside the techum on a life-saving mission, would be permitted to walk no more than 2000 amos back..

It seems that this is despite the concern that without permission to return home, people would be reluctant to return.

If even travelling more than 2000 amos, a rabbinical prohibition, was not permitted after such a mission, it seems to go without saying based on this sugya alone, that transgressing a biblical prohibition in order to return home would not be permitted.

It is, of course, still possible, that the phrase להציל in this sugya is referring to saving property, and that one who left in order to save lives might be treated more leniently.

If this was the fact, though, the Gemara’s suggestion that “to save” should be different to other permitted reasons seems to make little sense- after all, why should saving property be more important that testifying about the new moon, something the entire calendar is dependant on, and that even breaking shabbos on a biblical level is sometimes permitted for (see Mishna  Rosh haShana   )

However, this is not the only word on the subject.

There is a debate in the  Mishna (Beitza 11b) between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel regarding whether it is permitted to open and close  shutters on Yom Tov .  Beis Shamai rule that both are forbidden whereas Beis Hillel rule that both are permitted.

Ullah explains that the Mishna is referring to the shutters of shops(assuming one is selling for yom-tov needs in a permitted way.)

He also understands that this is an example of 3 things that are permitted סופן משום תחילתן (the end because of the beginning.)

He understands  that Beis Hillel permit opening them in order to supply the Yom-Tov pilgrims, which is considered a bona fide Yom-Tov food need, and  close the windows afterwards  because if one is not permitted to close it, he might refrain from opening it.

As such, we view closing it as a permitted need of Yom-Tov too!

The other examples that Ullah brings are:

1.        putting out the skin of a freshly slaughtered animal for people to step on, thus helping to preserve it. Even though this would normally be forbidden on Yom-Tov, if we do not permit it, the owner of the animal might refrain from slaughtering it for Yom-Tov, and thus this is also considered a need of Yom-Tov

2.       A Kohain who has a bandage on his hand  and needs to remove it in order to perform the Avoda (Temple service,) may also put it back, as if we do not permit him to do so, he might refuse to remove it and the Avoda will not be done. This is thus also considered “part” of the Avoda and permitted.

What we seem to learn from these cases is that when an otherwise forbidden action is permitted for a certain essential  purpose, “undoing” that action might also be permitted if failure to permit doing so will result in the essential purpose not being fulfilled- Essentially, the “undoing” action is viewed as a need of that essential purpose as well.

It is not clear from the sugya whether these 3 (and another 2 that some in the sugya add) are meant to be the only such examples, or examples of a general rule- how such lists are generally viewed is beyond the scope of this post.

While based on the way we interpreted our sugya back in Eruvin, it is understandable why returning from a permitted journey outside the techum is not included in this list, given that there seemed to be no such blanket permission to do so, we need to understand why.

Making things more complex, Tosfos on our daf, as well as the Rashba (on the sugya in Beitza) asks why Ullah did not include this in his list, seeing as it seems clear that this is the reason for the Mishna’s leniency here, and answers that it is because in the case of the Eruv, it is so clear from the Mishna that the reason for leniency is סופן  משום תחילתן that there us no need for Ullah to mention it.

How these Rishonim  understands the conclusion of our sugya which seems to have rejected a blanket permission to return home, requires further analysis.

What is clear is that they indeed view the permission in our Mishna to return to one’s place as permission to return home, and even if they would admit that it is limited to 2000 amos, they certainly hold that the reason for the leniency is סופן משום תחילתן . It also seems that they hold that Ullah’s list is not exhaustive and that he only mentions things that we might have thought were not permitted or were permitted for other reasons.

In fact, The Ritva indeed quotes the Ramban who takes issue with this Rashba based on the conclusion of our Gemara!

Once we have established the scope of this principle and whether it applies to one who left the techum or not, we also need to examine each example given and establish whether the principle only applies to rabbinical transgressions or even  to biblical ones.

At that point, we might be closer to being able to work out whether someone who has left his home for a permitted purpose like saving a life on shabbos should be permitted to return home, and whether he may transgress only rabbinical or even biblical transgressions to do so.

As usual, much more to analyze and discuss, but hopefully this is a good start.

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 33 and 34 שבות בין השמשות and Eruv Techumim

Eruvin 33 and 34 שבות בין השמשות and Eruv Techumim

Our Masechta is starting to move deep into the detailed laws of עירוב תחומין, another type of Eruv that we have not focused on much till now.

In addition to the forbidden melacha of transporting things from one domain to another, there are also limitations on where a person himself may walk on Shabbos.

Though there is no prohibition on walking from one domain to another, there is a prohibition of walking outside one’s תחום של שבת, one’s shabbos domain.

This domain is measured 2000 amos (around or a little less than a km) from the place where one is or intends to base oneself for shabbos, as at nightfall before shabbos.

By default, it is measured from one’s own house, or if in a halachically defined city or enclosed private property, from the halachik boundaries of that city or private domain.

There is a debate on the next daf (Eruvin 35) as to whether the law of תחומין is biblical or rabbinical, but the 2000 Amah domain is very stringent, to the point that if someone leaves this area on shabbos, he might have to stay put within his own 4 amos for the rest of the shabbos!

Clearly, this has a major impact on people who wish to walk from one village to another on shabbos, sometimes even from one suburb to another, if the suburbs have significant open space between them (about 139 amos, which is not very much.)

In suburban neighborhoods with large open yards, this could even affect walking from one house to another, as each house might make up its own תחום!

This also applies to going for nature walks or hikes outside fenced resorts, or even within unfenced resorts.

To address this problem, Chazal allowed one who intends in advance to travel more than 2000 amos but less than 4000 amos from his shabbos base, to make an ערוב תחומין before shabbos.

By placing some food just under 2000 amos away from his base and intending to make that place his symbolic shabbos base, he would be permitted to go anywhere with a 2000 amah radius of where he put his food, rather than from his house.

The disadvantage of doing this, is that his house will now be on or at least closer to the boundaries of his new shabbos domain in the other direction, limiting his walking over the same shabbos in that direction- as such, his shabbos movements need to be planned very carefully.

One of the requirements for the food used for the Eruv is that the food has to be accessible from the place that one makes one’s new symbolic shabbos base.

The Mishna on 32b tells us that If one places one’s Eruv food on top of a tree, this might thus present a problem.

If one’s intended shabbos base is at the bottom of the tree, but the Eruv is more than 10 handbreadths high, and more than 4 handbreadths wide, the part of the tree above 10 handbreadths might form its own private domain.

This means that carrying his Eruv from the top to the bottom, assuming the tree is in a public domain, would be forbidden, and the Eruv would thus be invalid.

The mishna rules that if the Eruv is below 10 handbreadths, the Eruv is valid.

This seems to be despite the fact that an area between 3 and 10 handbreadths above a public domain might be considered a כרמלית (neither a private or public domain) and carrying the Eruv from there to one’s shabbos base at the bottom would thus be rabbinically forbidden.

In addition, there is a rabbinical prohibition against making use of a tree on shabbos, which extends to removing something from it.

As such, regardless of where it has been placed, it should be forbidden to remove it, and the Eruv should be invalid.

The Gemara solves the later problem (and according to Rashi, by implication the former too) by explaining that the validity of the Eruv is based on whether it may be carried to one’s shabbos base during the period of בית השמשות on shabbos eve.

Although its precise time and definition is also subject to much debate, this is generally viewed as the time between שקיעה (sunset) and צאת הכוכבים (the time the stars come out), and is also referred to as ספק חשכה ספק אינה חשיכה , a time when there is a doubt whether it is considered night yet or not.

This means that during this time, it is a doubt whether it is shabbos yet or not.

When it comes to biblical law, it goes without saying that one has to treat this time as if it is shabbos, due to the rule of ספק דאורייתא לחומרא .

Yet when it comes to rabbinical law, it is possible that Chazal followed the general rule of ספק דרבנן לקולא and did not treat that time as shabbos, thus making performing rabbinically prohibited activities (שבותים) permitted during that time.

It is also possible that seeing as Chazal were aware of the ambiguous nature of this period, but did not want to confuse us whether it is shabbos or not, they intentionally applied rabbinical prohibitions during this time as well, making it no longer a question of doubt.

The Gemara explains further that the author of our Mishna follows the view of Rebbe, who holds that Chazal did not impose their own rabbinical shabbos restrictions during this twilight period.

As such, at the crucial time of בין השמשות that determines the validity of the Eruv, the biblical prohibitions of removing something from a tree (or transferring it from a כרמלית to a רשות הרבים) does not apply, and the Eruv is valid!

On 33a, the Gemara brings an explicit Beraisa where Rebbe and the רבנן argue about an Eruv placed at a height of between 3 and 10 tefachim on a tree.

Rebbe is of the view that even though this area is a כרמלית and the Eruv may thus not be moved to the public domain at the base of the tree on shabbos itself, seeing as this rabbinical prohibition did not apply during בין השמשות, the Eruv is valid for the entire shabbos.

The Rabbis disagree, arguing that any Eruv that cannot be moved to one’s shabbos domain, is invalid- the Gemara seems to understand that while they agree that בין השמשות is the definitive time, they hold that these rabbinical prohibitions apply during בין השמשות as well.

This crucial debate is also found on 34b, regarding the same Mishna’s permission to place the eruv in a pit deeper than 10 tefachim, even though it too forms its own private domain.

The Gemara understands that this part of the mishna is referring to a case where one’s chosen shabbos base above the pit is a כרמלית , and that this once again reflects the lenient view of Rebbe that rabbinical restrictions of Shabbos do not apply בין השמשות.

It follows from all the above that according to Rebbe, though biblical prohibitions of shabbos apply from sunset on Erev shabbos, activities that are only forbidden rabbinically remain permitted until dark, which could be extremely useful for those well versed in shabbos laws (and very dangerous for those who are not.)

According to those Rabbis who disagree with him, both biblical and rabbinical prohibitions come into force the moment the sun sets on Friday. (I have assumed for purposes of this post that what we refer to today as sunset is the same as the talmudic concept of שקיעה, something which is in fact the subject of an entirely different discussion.

Given the rule that הלכה כרבי מחבריו, (the law usually follows Rebbe against his colleagues,) it seems likely that his lenient ruling here might actually be authoritative.

However, we need to examine closely at least one other major source on this subject.

This is an explicit Mishna (Shabbos 34a ) which states that during ספק חשכה ספק אינה חשיכה , the twilight period, certain actions forbidden on shabbos are forbidden, but others are permitted.

At first glance, this might seem to support the lenient view of Rebbe.

However, when examining the list, one finds some things that are only rabbinically forbidden on shabbos which one may also not do during twilight!

The list of forbidden things:

  1. separating tithes from ודאי (produce that has definitely or probably not been tithed)
  2. Immersing new vessels (טבילת כלים)
  3. Lighting candles

Whereas lighting candles is clearly a biblical prohibition, separating tithes and immersing vessels seem to be rabbinical prohibitions, yet they are still forbidden during twilight!

The list of permitted things:

  1. Separated tithes from דמאי (produce bought from an ignorant person who has probably but not definitely already separated tithes.)
  2. Making an Eruv
  3. Insulating hot food

The above 3 are all rabbinical requirements.

This Mishna seems to take a view between that of Rebbe and the Rabbis and permit certain rabbinically forbidden actions during twilight but forbid others.

This needs serious clarification, and there seem to be two main approaches to reconciling these Mishnayos amongst the commentators, but that is it for our daf!

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.