Imaginary partitions (Daf Yomi Eruvin 93)

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“They are provided with all the space they require.”

In today’s Daf Yomi, we are provided with various considerations of when it is appropriate to be lenient or stringent, depending on the circumstances. Of course, the entire concept of an eruv and what we have been reading about for months, is predicated on the concept of being lenient through workarounds. Without the concept of an eruv, strict Shabbat laws would require people to be homebound on Shabbat, without the ability to travel beyond four handbreadths, or to carry anything when they did venture out.

The first leniency we are presented with is one that Rabba bar Rav Ḥanan told to Abaye regarding a house that is only partially sheltered from the elements. If half the house – perhaps a greenhouse — is covered by a roof and the other half is uncovered, the crops can be mixed; the vines can be sheltered under the roof while a crop can be planted in the open space. We are told that this is because the edge of the roof descends to the ground and forms a partition. This is a leniency allowed for those who want to grow grapes and crops in a hothouse, which is possible.

If, however, the roof was extended to cover the entire greenhouse, then there can be no mixing of crops, because we now have one contiguous private domain. The roof serves as a partition to create the single space. But Abaye adds an element of imagination to this scenario. He says that in this instance “it is prohibited to sow not due to the added roofing; rather, it is prohibited due to the negation of the imaginary partition.” Abaye’s concept of an imaginary partition, perhaps established by the roots of the vines, creates an opening for all kinds of potential leniencies.

There is a leniency associated with the base of a vine that is attached to a partition. We are told that one can sow crops on the other side of a vineyard’s partition without regard to distance.  If there were no partition present, then four cubits would be necessary between the vineyard and the diverse crops. If, however, a vineyard was spaced eleven cubits from a wall, one cannot plant a crop between the vineyard and the wall. We are told that this is a stringency that cannot be relaxed due to the lack of a real or imaginary partition.

I am intrigued by the idea of an imaginary partition. We create partitions around us in order to protect ourselves from danger. This has never been truer than during these pandemic days when we are told to keep six feet apart, to wear face masks and wash our hands and use hand sanitizer.

I experienced an incident over the weekend when I was on a small elevator in an older building in Union Square and headed up to a private exercise session. The elevators have signs that say only two people are allowed, but they constitute very close quarters and the entire standing space is barely six feet. After I entered this small elevator and the doors were closing, a woman stuck her hand in the door and hopped on. It was a moment of panic for me to stand so close to a stranger in such a small container. I jumped out of the elevator and waited for the next one. I am sure she thought I was one of those people.

It struck me that I have erected very thick partitions around me since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in New York City. I have internalized within me the signs that appear everywhere that say keep your distance, remain six feet apart. Every person that I encounter is a potential source of infection and I wonder if I am destined to live my life six feet apart forever. Will there ever be a time when I will feel free to move around the world again without the fear of the unseen virus particles that I imagine floating everywhere in the air?

I dreamed last night that I was on a crowded city bus that traveled quietly but steadily through downtown Manhattan. I was seated at the window seat and there were people standing over me as they hung on to the hand straps above them. I was looking out the window transfixed on the street life that unfolded before me. No one wore masks and we were all shoulder-to-shoulder. It was a different time. The dream ended without me arriving anywhere.

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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