“Did the Sages penalize an unwitting offender due to an intentional offender?”
The Eruvin Tractate is running out of steam on the topic of eruvs, as I am. Today’s reading offered a reprise of greatest hits from prior days, and the ongoing discussion that seems endless about courtyard etiquette.
We revisit the previous discussion on asking a non-Jewish person to perform a prohibited labor on Shabbat. If one remembers from Tractate Shabbat, the non-Jewish person cannot be asked directly to perform a prohibited act. A laborer can be asked to return to one’s home without the stated purpose of organizing a work detail on Shabbat. If a house is on fire on Shabbat, the owner must stand aside and watch it burn. He can turn to his non-Jewish neighbor and nudge him to pick up the hose and put out the flames, but he cannot ask directly.
In today’s reading, the non-Jewish person is relied upon to heat water for a baby who is being circumcised, and whose purification water has been spilled. We are told that one cannot say to the non-Jew who is trying to help to go and heat the water. Instead one would ask him to transfer something from one domain to another in the hope that he would get the hint and heat the water which is a prohibited act on Shabbat.
We also revisit the rules from Tractate Shabbat regarding stored food, which is set-aside. The set-aside discussion still reverberates with me, because I was intensely reading it during the worse of the pandemic shut-down, when I was setting aside every item that entered my apartment on my balcony in hopes any virus hijacking on its surface would dissipate. At the time, there was a great deal of speculation that one could become infected with the coronavirus from surfaces. Today, we know it is mostly air borne.
Today Rabba bar Rav Ḥanin asks if a quarter-log of vinegar, which can be used if one is too poor to acquire wine or bread, that is set-aside in a barrel is appropriate for establishing an eruv. Abaye reminds Rabba that one cannot use food from the storage room for the merging of alleyways in order to establish an eruv, because of set-aside rules. It would be unclear what portion of the vinegar was set-aside for the purpose of an eruv.
We are reminded from an earlier portion of this current Tractate that if a corpse is in a house with many entrances, all are considered impure because it is unknown through which one the corpse will be removed. In Eruvin 30 we were introduced to the giant Og, who was so large that all entrances would be impure in his home after he died, unless there was one that was larger than the others and the obvious exit point. We were told at the time that the “law is determined by the measure of each particular person and not by some general measure.” By the same token, we are told today that if only one entrance is open, then only that one will be impure, since it is the obvious path for removing a corpse.
In a story that reminds me of the tale of the Rabbi who sat and watched women bathing in Tractate Berakhot and described them as “white geese,” we told of another Rabbi who ended up sitting in the woman’s inner chamber (of his home?) Rava observed the spilling of warm water that was prepared for a baby’s circumcision on Shabbat. He resided in a place where the courtyard was not joined with another in order to form an eruv. He rose to the occasion by clearing out his belongings from the men’s chamber and moving them into the women’s. And what a scene that must have created when he barged into the women’s private space! Once in the women’s chamber he renounced his rights to the courtyard in favor of the baby’s parents, so that they could transfer warm water from one courtyard to another.
In a reminder of the argumentative friendship between Rav and Shmuel, today’s text examines their differing opinions on renouncing courtyard rights. Shmuel said that one person may not renounce his rights in favor of another and then have the person in turn renounce his rights in favor of the first. We are told that Shmuel ruled in this way because in essence he did not want to be mocked for allowing two people to renounce each other’s rights. We are told that allowing such an occurrence would result in a sage’s pronouncement losing all meaning.
The point where Rav and Shmuel disagree is on how rights over a home should be considered when a courtyard is renounced. Rav went along with the majority of Rabbis who ruled that if one renounced his rights to a courtyard, he does not give up rights to his house. Since he still has rights to his house, other residents can renounce their rights to a courtyard in his favor. Shmuel, however, disagrees and says that all rights have been forfeited and others cannot renounce their rights in favor of the person who has already forfeited rights to his courtyard.
The discussion of using bread or wine or even vinegar if one is poor is a reminder of how food binds us to each other. The symbolism of using a loaf of bread to join courtyards among neighbors so that they have freedom to move about on Shabbat is a reminder of how conjoined we all are and the greatest lesson of this Tractate. The expansion of restaurants outdoors to sidewalks and street curbs is the equivalent for me of establishing an eruv through the joining of courtyards through food.
I did not see my friends or family between the months of March and June. Allowing restaurants to reclaim outdoor space has allowed me to reclaim some of the city space that I was forced to renounce through the shut-down and to share a meal with the people who I love. I have told the managers and owners of my favorite restaurants that I will be there sitting on the sidewalk claiming my space at one of their tables regardless of the weather. When it snows, I will be there, with my snow boots and parka and gloves. Weather will not be the cause for my return to an isolated indoor life.
Today’s reading was a reminder of how far us Daf Yomers have come since the halcyon days of Tractate Berakhot. We are ten months in and have somehow managed to keep going. To be honest, during the past few days when the text has seemed especially opaque and frankly, not that interesting, I have been on the verge of skipping the day and reading something else. A poem or a chapter of a novel I have put aside for a quiet day or the current issue of the New Yorker would be nice. Who would know? Who would care? But somehow, after dissecting one line and then the next and the next, I manage to find some small kernel of meaning that is enough to give me the confidence to keep on reading.