“Hurry, and do whatever you must do before the day goes out.”
Anyone who lives in a high-rise apartment in the middle of a large city like I do, will understand the significance of respecting one’s neighbors. The discussion continues today (and seems like it has been going on forever) of the renunciation of courtyard rights to one’s neighbors in order to create an eruv on Shabbat. It takes a great display of trust to do so. There is self-interest involved because it is an act that benefits all inhabitants who border an open courtyard if they want to carry anything out of their homes of Shabbat. (And the list of what they cannot carry is quite long and constitutes a major inconvenience if no eruv is established.)
The equivalent of a courtyard in a high-rise is the hallway. I live in a building where all I really know of my neighbors are their apartment doors. We live in close quarters among a diverse group of people, although many doors on my floor have mezuzahs. We are told in today’s Daf Yomi reading that a non-Jew cannot participate in the neighborly renunciation of courtyard rights in order to establish an eruv on Shabbat.
But there is a rub to this confusing state of affairs. A non-Jew who renounces his courtyard rights in private can do so, but it is not a valid act if he does so in public. Of course, if he sits in his home and says to himself that he has renounced his rights to a courtyard in order to help out his Jewish neighbors so that they are not stuck at home on Shabbat, who would ever know? And there is more complexity to this issue: Rabbi Yehuda ruled that a “brazen-faced person” is also prohibited from renouncing his rights in favor of his neighbors. Such a person is defined as “one who publicly displays his deviation from Torah.”
If someone who is not Jewish or observant shows deference toward a Rabbi and Jewish law, he may indeed renounce his courtyard rights. The example is given of a certain person who went out with a coral ring in the public domain, which violated the prohibition against carrying on Shabbat. It is unclear if this person was a non-Jew or a non-observant Jew, but when he came upon Rabbi Yehuda Nesia he covered up the ring. The Rabbi said that “a person such as this, who is careful not to desecrate Shabbat in public, may renounce his rights in his courtyard according to the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda.”
Although I grew up in a suburban home with a lawn and a backyard and a driveway and sidewalks that no one ever walked on, I have lived in apartment buildings for about 40 years, with all types of neighbors. I lived in an apartment in Brooklyn for a year where there was constant pounding above me from hard rock music all hours of the day and night. I was that person who would poke at the ceiling with a broom trying to quiet the noise down. It soured me on living in Brooklyn forever.
I lived for about seven years in a walk-up apartment in a tenement building in the East Village with a group neighbors down the hall who felt like family. It was a horribly managed building with the heat and hot water going out during the coldest months on a fairly regular basis, but we were young and would huddle over pizza and hot water bottles and ride out the frigid weather together.
I lived for almost 30 years in a cooperative apartment where my neighbors were shareholders in the residential corporation and how we contributed to the building and maintained our individual spaces could impact the collective property value of the building. The annual cooperative meetings often resembled a therapy session where the shareholders would air their grievances against each other. We were wedded together as a community of common shareholders, but there was always an uneasiness with what that meant.
Today after selling my cooperative apartment I am back in a rental building and it’s a different experience when one does not own their living space. There are fewer grievances but also less of a connection with one’s neighbors. But the coronavirus has connected us in a different way. The building has instituted a series of rules since the pandemic hit: masks must be worn at all times, only three people on the elevator, no food or grocery deliveries to the door, and no hanging out in the lobby. We are exposed to each other as we touch the same elevator buttons, enter the building through the revolving door, open our mailbox, and dispose of garbage down the shoot in the compactor room. Even if we only know each other from our closed doors, we are linked together in this dance of common surfaces.
What makes it worth living in a place as dense as New York is the diversity of people who have come here from around the world (although it seems a lot less populated lately). It is a very individualistic place where authenticity matters. If someone wants to walk down the street with a massive coral ring on his finger any day of the week no one thinks much of it. He can wave it in the air and bless everyone who he passes. If he is sensitive enough to refrain from blessing a Rabbi who may be walking on the street, all the better.
My neighborhood in Chelsea is very diverse and I like to think of its streets as a form of symbolic eruv that provide a safe place for its neighbors to feel free to be themselves. It is a place where diversity is not only tolerated but celebrated.