Exceptions matter (Daf Yomi Eruvin 30)

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“The law is determined by the measure of each particular person and not by some general measure.”

Today’s Daf Yomi continues the discussion on foodstuffs that are used to create an eruv that allows someone to walk 2,000 cubits beyond what would normally be allowable on Shabbat. Today’s discussion, however, makes allowances that accommodate individual differences. Two meals that provide for nourishment are the relevant measurement for determining a food-inspired eruv, and the size of the meal can vary according to individual needs. If someone is elderly or ill, the size of the two meals can be smaller than average. However, the accommodation is not made for what is described in the text as the “glutinous” who eat more than the average person. I am not sure if this is because the Rabbis are reminding people to only consume their share of what they have coming to them and no more, or if it’s a judgement on people who may have larger appetites than most.

By an odd extension of the argument for proportionality (and the Talmud is often about odd extensions), the discussion turns to the outsized king of Bashan, Og, who was said to be a giant. We are told that such a large man would leave the dwelling where he died ritually impure at all its entrances, unless there is one that is larger and can accompany the size and bulk of a giant corpse. The point of this story is to understand that the “law is determined by the measure of each particular person and not by some general measure.”  It is a reminder to consider individual needs, to tailor solutions to specific circumstances and to reconsider the appropriateness of one-size-fits-all solutions.

There are always exceptions and we are once again advised against accepting generalizations too readily. Water and salt are generally considered not appropriate for an eruv because they do not meet the standard of nourishment. We are told that “one who vows that nourishment is prohibited to him is permitted to eat water and salt.”  The Gemara infers from this that only salt and water are not considered nourishment and all other foods would be appropriate for an eruv. This flies in the face of an instance where Rav and Shmuel agree on something, for they have determined that nourishment consists of “five species of grain alone.” The Gemara takes the bold stance of refuting their position.  Rav Huna steps in and turns the cube of the discussion and addresses the nuances of what the two sages were addressing. He says that they were referring to the blessing over food, which is specific to the five species of grain.

If one says that a certain food, such as a loaf of bread, is forbidden to him, it cannot be used to establish an eruv. However, he has to be careful with his words, because if he simply says he will not eat it, then it can indeed be used for this purpose. There is some debating this topic and what it means for a loaf to be forbidden, consecrated, or simply not eaten for whatever reason. Rabbi Eliezar takes a more liberal view and says that only if the loaf in question is considered consecrated property is it prohibited from being used for the purpose of an eruv. I am on a low-carb diet because I was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes. So, although I am not eating bread at the moment, Rabbi Eliezar would allow me to use it for the purpose of an eruv. I am not about to consecrate the bread I currently have in my refrigerator, so it would be a good use for food I am not currently eating.

The Gemara asks about statements that are specific to the particular person involved. This includes the measure of flour or incense offered up by a priest or the amount of wine he would drink on Yom Kippur or as discussed, the measurement of two nourishing meals that would comprise an eruv. We are told that “All these measures are determined by the particular individual involved.”  Rabbi Zeira echoes guidance from Summakhos on this matter, who said: “We require that which is fit for him, the particular individual, and we do not follow a standard measure.”

Today’s reading is a reminder that one-size-fits-all is almost never an appropriate measure. In any endeavor we should consider the specific needs of individuals. It is important to consider the diversity among us, for it is what makes life interesting and we are a society that celebrates individualism (for better or worse.) We must continue to seek out perspectives different from our own and develop solutions that are flexible enough to account for individual differences. Today’s Daf Yomi is a reminder that exceptions matter.


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 https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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