Giving up air space: (Daf Yomi Eruvin 66)

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“There is no renunciation of property rights in a ruin.”

There are many parallels in today’s Daf Yomi to the consequences of poor urban policy and planning, and the sale of air rights that can result in lop-sided city blocks. There are a lot of residents running around in today’s reading renouncing rights in a similar way that building owners can renounce air rights in New York City and sell them off to developers who gather them up in a strategy that allows for the construction of buildings that are taller than their zoning rights would allow.

Today’s Daf Yomi is an obtuse read that describes the practice of renting from a non-Jew who may live across the way. We learned over the last few days that if the eruv that is to be created involves one Jewish and one non-Jewish household, then the non-Jewish one, if it is so willing, can rent its courtyard out for purposes of allowing the Jewish household to carry on Shabbat.

Things become much more complicated if more than two households are involved. If one household is non-Jewish and the others are Jewish, the Jewish households can band together and form a single courtyard through the renunciation of all but one. They are now considered a single entity and rent the adjoining courtyard from the non-Jewish family. The act of renting and denouncing rights is a display of trust among households who come together for the purpose of creating a common eruv.

The coming together of families across a courtyard is not unlike the community spirit I witnessed when I lived across from the New School of Social Research on lower Fifth Avenue in New York City. It seemed ironic that the school that has a well-known urban planning and policy department wanted to build a “campus in the sky” that would have dwarfed all the buildings around it and cast a long dark shadow over lower Manhattan. Neighbors fought the New School plans relentlessly, until the university conceded and agreed to build a structure that was shorter and set back from the sidewalk.

An organization that wants to build a colossal building in New York City can do so by purchasing the air rights from surrounding structures, which essentially renounce their rights to their rightful air space. This can result in one towering building that rises above all other properties without concern for its impact on the neighborhood.

We are told that in regard to a ruin that separates two houses, it is not possible for one household to renounce its rights to the ruin in favor of the other. This is because both households have equal access to the ruin. We are told that the “sages instituted renunciation of rights only with regard to a courtyard, as that is the typical case.” 

New York City commercial property follows as confusing a path of logic as today’s Daf Yomi reading about the renunciation of courtyard rights. On many blocks, storefronts are boarded up and lay empty. When I questioned many of the shop owners a few months back as they were clearing out their stores, they said that they were unable to come to terms with the landlords and could no longer afford the rent. Many of the landlords are small business owners themselves who are trying to pay their bills, and I am not necessarily painting them as greedy, heartless overlords. But we are the richest country on earth, and we cannot come up with a solution that would allow small business owners to remain in their shops.

With all the boarded-up buildings, New York City is starting to resemble a ruin, as small businesses break their leases and renounce their property rights. And our local, state and federal governments are standing back and letting it happen. Certainly, with all our resources and great minds and all the policy papers that have been written over the years on urban planning, there must be a solution to what may turn out to be a self-fulfilling cycle of urban blight.

In the meanwhile, I am mourning the businesses that have been lost that were so much a part of my pre-pandemic life: the Pilates studio that I frequently for 20 years that was run by two sisters who put their hearts and souls into the business, the 14th Street diner that had the best Greek omelet in town where I would go Saturday afternoons, and the everything is $2 coffee shop on 7th Avenue that was here one day and gone the next.

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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