Boxing down the Talmud (Daf Yomi Eruvin 6)

Embed from Getty Images

“The fool walks in darkness”

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Saturday night’s Rabbinic boxing match. We feature two weight divisions tonight and have lined up Rabbis who will pair off with their verbal sparring. The winner will receive an acknowledgement by the Gemara that his position will prevail in the Talmud for all eternity. Let’s have a clean fight. Rabbis: shake hands and acknowledge each other’s point of view and then head to your corners until the referee gives the signal to proceed.

In the middleweight match we have Rav Huna, son of Rav Yehoshua, and Rav Hanin bar Rava. Both are equally matched for their scholarly prowess. And now let the sparring begin. And we have Rav Hanin bar Rava coming on strong when he says that an alleyway that was breached from its side does not allow for the carrying forth on Shabbat if its breach is ten cubits wide. Wow! What a starting punch. He further elucidates that if the alleyway is breached from the front, one must not carry forth if the breach is only four handbreadths. He steps into the center of the ring and punches out four handbreadths with a closed fist – one-two-three-four.

Rav Huna jabs back deftly at Rav Hanin. He says that we are in fact dealing with a case where the breach is in a corner of the alleyway. He surprises with a punch from behind and says that if the breach is larger than four handbreadths there is no carrying about, and it must be sealed. Rav Huna punches hard and says there should be no distinction between the side and front and that in both cases a breach up to four handbreadths is allowed. The fight is heating up and Rav Huna says to Rav Hanin: “Do not dispute me.”

Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak enters the ring as a referee. He calls the match in favor of Rav Huna. The winning hooked punch came from Rav Huna’s quote from the great Rav who said that a crooked L-shaped alleyway that opens onto a public domain at both ends must be constructed with an opening at the point where the two arms of the alleyway meet with a cross beam placed at each end. The fight is over, but there is some bitterness left between Rav Huna and Rav Hanin and they leave the ring with their respective entourages.

The heavyweight match convenes between Shammai and Hillel. The two Rabbis enter the ring side-by-side and shake hands. They are fighting over the honor to render the final opinion on whether a public thoroughfare is fit for carrying out on Shabbat by means of an eruv. Shammai says that one constructs a doorway on each side of the thoroughfare and must close and lock the door when he exits and enters. This is a surprising punch from the left by Shammai during a fight that has focused on crossbeams and signposts.

And wow. The crowd is now going nuts. Shammai has introduced the concept of a locked door. Hillel enters the center of the ring cautiously and lays out his counter punch of an argument. He says that one can construct a door on one side and a signpost or crossbeam on the other. He delivers a hard punch when he says the door need not be locked. Rav Nahman steps into the ring in his role of referee and calls a draw. The crowd is going wild because it looks like no one is going to win this fight. Rav Nahman says that both Rabbinic opinions prevail.

The voice of the Gemara intercedes as the crowd is booing the referee’s equanimous conclusion. The spectators have not paid good money to watch a match in order to be told in the end that no one wins. They want a final decision on whose opinion shall triumph.  It’s getting tense. A divine voice intercedes and reverses Rav Nahman’s call. It renders Hillel the winner and states definitively that his view shall always prevail.  Shammai is down and out for the count.

And there you have it ladies and gentlemen. This was the fight of the century with the intervention of a divine voice. But there is more. The fight which took the Rabbis to a dark place of cubits, handbreadths, doorways and crossbeams has brought them closer together through their diversity of opinion. They raise their hands clenched together in the middle of the ring in a display of unity. They have shown how two opponents who fought the good fight can come together again once the sparring is over for the sake of learning and scholarship. And what a night it has been.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
Related Topics
Related Posts