Navigating in dangerous times (Daf Yomi Eruvin 91)

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“Who whispered to you.”

Today’s Daf Yomi text reads like a final exam for the discussion of eruvs with a summation of all the permutations of roofs, and courtyards and alleyways considered.  I wish it was in fact the final exam, but I fear it is only a late term exercise, with many more days to come. The final examination looks like it is going to be the type of multiple-choice exam that is designed to confuse you with complex combinations of answers. Those of us that have gotten this far should be allocated 50 points for just showing up.

We are provided with an expansive view of the space that surrounds a home. It is a continuation of what constitutes a public and private domain and inside and outdoors life. Rabbi Shimon ruled that roofs, courtyards, and enclosures are one domain and it is permitted to carry between any of them without an eruv. Similarly, enclosures are a domain in and of themselves, and one is therefore permitted to carry from one enclosure to another.

According to Rabbi Shimon, roofs, courtyards, and enclosures, are one domain, and therefore it is permitted to carry between any of them without establishing an eruv. We are reminded that all the roofs of a city are one domain, but in contradiction of Rabbi Shimon, one may not carry objects up or down between the roof and the courtyard on Shabbat if an eruv has not been established.

Rabbi Meir holds the opinion that vessels that are on one roof can be moved to another roof on Shabbat, if the roof is neither ten handbreadths high or ten handbreadths lower than the other. The chorus of Rabbis remark that a roof is a domain in and of itself and one may move objects only within four cubits. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi remarked that carrying is allowed from roof to roof and courtyard to courtyard and courtyard to enclosure, because he has done this very act himself when he carried oil and a towel for his Shabbat bath.

Rabbi Yehuda relates how once during a time of danger, a Torah scroll was carried in this way, from courtyard to roof and from roof to courtyard and from courtyard to enclosure. He is told by the unidentified sages, that this comparison does not hold up because a time of danger is a special circumstance when acts are allowed that are normally prohibited.

These are certainly times of danger, with the United States faced with the specter of civil unrest and steadily increasing numbers of coronavirus cases as we head into the winter. Coronavirus cases surpass new records seemingly every day, and directly impact the economy, which cannot recover until we get the virus under control. We are also faced with climate change which has led to devastating fires and storms.

The US has retreated into isolationist policies which have made it impossible to respond to any of these existential threats, because just like the rooftops we have been reading about the world is connected. We cannot solve for climate change or stop the pandemic in its tracks if we do not respond as citizens of the world. For some reason, being a “globalist” over the last four years became a bad thing.

With a senate that may likely remain republican, and a political climate that appears to have forgotten what “crossing the aisle” means, the incoming Biden administration will have a lot of challenges with reclaiming our place in the world. It is going to take some bravery on the part of the political establishment to find solutions in these dangerous times. It will take some metaphoric jumping agilely from roof to roof. I am not sure anyone can succeed in this climate.

When the Talmud asked today who whispered to you, I would like to answer that it is hope.

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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