Penny Cagan

Listening to outside voices (Daf Yomi Eruvin 9)

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It has found its own type and been awakened.”

In today’s Daf Yomi text Rabbi Zakkai is banished from the study hall for having a contrary point of view regarding the designation of a domain beneath a crossbeam. I read the story of the banishment of the Rabbi against the backdrop of the Democratic National Convention in the U.S which kicked off last night. The deep divisions between “blue states” and “red states’ has not abated in the face of the worse public health crisis of our lifetime. The response to the pandemic has been politicized along party lines and early on when so many in red states denied the severity of this crisis, it appeared that they somehow thought it was a blue state disease that would not impact them.

In today’s reading Rav Adda bar Mattana raised an objection to a statement by Rava in the continued discussion on crossbeams. The ongoing discussion takes a new twist when Rav introduces the concept of a crossbeam that is attached to only one side of an alleyway and does not reach the other side or is suspended in the middle. He establishes a principle passed down from Rava: if the crossbeam is drawn away from a wall or suspended in air and is less than three handbreadths from the wall, a supplemental crossbeam is not required. But if it is more than three handbreadths from the wall, an extra crossbeam would be required if one is allowed to carry in the alleyway on Shabbat.

Rav Ashi takes the discussion in a new direction when he envisions two bent pegs on the top of two alleyway walls with a crossbeam that rests on top of them. I envision a cross-like structure in this scenario in the middle of an alleyway passage. We are told the bent pegs on top of the walls are less than three handbreadths in height and their bend inward is also less than three handbreadths. This scenario does not breach the three-handbreadth rule and would allow for carrying in the alleyway on Shabbat.

Rabbi Zakkai makes an appearance in today’s text before he is in banished from the study hall for his opposing view. He taught that the area between the side posts and beneath the crossbeam had the status of a karmelit and as a result, would not allow for carrying on Shabbat. It is a contrary view and one that was not well tolerated.  Rabbi Yohanan, who took the matter of crossbeams quite seriously, told Rabbi Zakkai to take his contrary view outside. In essence, he is told that because his view is not the acceptable one, he must leave the formal academy.

Despite Rabbi Zakkai’s banishment, Abaye finds some truth in his perspective. He agrees with Rabbi Yohanan who said that one is allowed to carry in the area beneath a crossbeam due to its status as a private domain. But he also stated that Rabbi Zakkai was correct when he said that it is prohibited to carry in the area between the side posts. Abaye appears to be crossing party lines in his assessment and considering the validity of two divergent points of view. Rabbi Yohanan, however, is steadfast in his position that carrying would be permitted even in the second scenario. I wonder if Abaye might have also been expelled from the inside sanctum of the study hall.

Without going deeply into my political beliefs and making this a political treatise, it is remarkable that there are a number of Republicans who are supporting the Democratic nominee during this election cycle. They are the dissenters who are willing to step outside the study hall and cross their party lines at a time when the U.S. is in such disarray. It is a demonstration of independent thinking and a reminder that it is worth listening to the voices of the people standing outside the study halls, perhaps those with signs advocating for social justice, who may have something important to say.

Today’s quote – “It has found its own type and been awakened” – is a reminder of the importance of understanding one’s ancestry and heritage. But such a search can devolve into a form of tribalism if one does not keep an open mind, as has happened in today’s political environment. It takes bravery to step outside one’s comfort zone and consider opposing points of view like Abaye. And there has never been a more critical time to do so. Covid-19 is now the number three cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer. It pushed the economy to the brink of a depression. And yet, in the U.S. there has been no national crisis response to the pandemic or the resulting deep recession. If there was ever a moment to leave behind tribalism and singular thinking, it is now.

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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