Clearing out gutters (Daf Yomi Eruvin 88)

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“Gutters ordinarily flow with water in the rainy season.”

Today’s Daf Yomi requires some expertise in waste management, which I don’t have. Nor am I especially adept at understanding complex spatial relationships, like the suspended balconies that appeared in yesterday’s reading. I am a bit squeamish in general and the discussion of discarding waste is above my current tolerance level of discomfort. Today’s text brought me back to all those difficult portions of Berakhot where we dealt with bodily functions and warnings against encountering demons in the bathroom.

We are provided with the example of a courtyard with a portico which together comprise four cubits. If there is a pit in the courtyard and the house overlooking it has multiple stories, the residents of the upper floors are permitted to dispose of their wastewater by pouring into it. A waste management expert would be needed to determine the proper dimensions of the pit, which is necessary if the residents of the house are permitted to discard of their waste on Shabbat

Once again, the pertinent measurement is four by four cubits. If the courtyard and portico meet the dimension requirements, pouring water directly in the yard without a pit is permitted. We are told this is allowable because the area is large enough to absorb the water, which would not spill over and contaminate other properties. If the area is less than four by four cubits, pouring wastewater is prohibited because it would not be absorbed by the ground and presumably create a health hazard. There is some debate on whether one can pour wastewater on the roof and watch it run off. I imagine one would need a sturdy pair of Wellington boots in order to walk through the muddy courtyard that collects the wastewater from below.

This is Tractate Eruvin after all, and so, the perspective is not just public health, but also respecting the laws o f Shabbat. We are presented with a scenario that is about the appearance of intention. If one pours water from the roof of his home during the rainy season, when the ground is already moist, his neighbors will assume that the water is rainwater. But during the period when the ground is dry, a scandal might ensure if the neighbors confuse the pouring water with prohibited watering of one’s garden on Shabbat. We are told that “as gutters ordinarily flow with water in the rainy season, people do not entertain this suspicion.”

Today’s reading reminded me of a television commercial that has been interspersed with election advertisements over the last few weeks for a company that makes a device that automatically clears one’s gutter of debris. The television spot tells us that 164,000 ladder related injuries occur each year in the US and ask why anyone would climb to the roof and tie oneself to the chimney in order to clear one’s gutters when there is a better alternative. For some reason, this advertisement has been appearing in my Facebook feed even though I do not own a home, let alone a chimney or a gutter.

The television ad advises people, who are home these days and attempting more do-itself-projects, to be safe and purchase the elaborate system that utilizes a scientific principle of “liquid adhesion” to push out leaves and other debris from the gutter with rainwater. I know nothing about gutters. But I know about the feeling of accomplishment that comes when a closet is cleared out or a drain unclogged.

Perhaps the ads are appearing in my social media feed as a reminder to clean out my closets? There are lots of pandemic projects I had meant to do while locked up. But climbing chimneys and cleaning gutters is not on my list. I have yet to start the novel that I know I have deep within me, or to donate to Housing Works all the shoes I will probably never wear again. But then, as the pandemic drags on and we are told our lives may not return to normal for at least another year, there is time.

As I write this blog, police helicopters are circling above my building, with the steady drone of their whirling blades. There is trouble somewhere near me, and I am hoping it is good trouble that comes from a community coming together in support of voter enfranchisement.

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
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