On being someone’s foot (Daf Yomi Eruvin 70)

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“An heir is like his father’s foot.”

The discussion continues (and continues) on renouncing rights to a courtyard for the sake of establishing an eruv that would allow someone to carry about on Shabbat. Today’s reading deals with matters of life and death: what happens if someone dies without renouncing his rights? Are the residents of the houses that face the courtyard all trapped inside during Shabbat?

We are told that Rava raised this dilemma before Rav Nahman and asked “if a person who had forgotten to establish an eiruv died on Shabbat, may his heir renounce his rights in his stead?” The voice of the Gemara analyzes the issue from two perspectives and intention matters. If the deceased had intended to establish an eruv the previous day, then his rights can be renounced. But if it is the heir who had intended to do so, he cannot renounce them after the fact.

We are provided with another point of view through the analogy that an “heir is like his father’s foot.” In other words, the heir is an extension of his father or deceased relative or friend and has full agency to act just as the deceased would have. There is much back and forth in today’s text on the issue, with Rav Nahman agreeing that the heir can indeed renounce rights in the courtyard, while Shmuel disagreed.

Rav Nahman appears to settle the matter by stating that “anything that is permitted for part of Shabbat is permitted for all of Shabbat, and anything that is prohibited for part of Shabbat is prohibited for all of Shabbat, apart from one who renounces his rights in a courtyard, for renunciation can provide an allowance halfway through Shabbat.” In summary, there is a leniency when it comes to renunciation rights, most likely out of respect for the impact the decision would have on one’s neighbors and perhaps because the grieving relative would need to move out the deceased body if he died on Shabbat.

Today’s reading reminded me of a time when I was someone’s “foot.” I had a friend named Anne who was a very talented poet and artist. We met in a writer’s workshop and immediately bonded over our shared love for poetry, cats and the artwork of Carolee Schneemann. Anne was married to an architect and lived in a gorgeous loft not too far from where I live now. Her husband designed homes for the wealthy and celebrities and I often helped her pick out dresses for the gala events that she was invited to. To some degree, I lived vicariously through her glamorous life.

But there was a horrible disease growing within Anne’s breast when we met. She had a rare sarcoma tumor that I later read is a virulent form of breast cancer. I watched Anne grow sicker and try to treat her cancer with alternative remedies. She did not like the prognosis that the doctors gave her and instead turned to Chinese doctors and acupuncturists and nutritionists for the hope the medical establishment could not give her. She refused surgery and the tumor continued to grow and fester in her breast. This was the first time in my life that I not only was able to see cancer up close, but also to experience and smell it. It was a lesson that I carried with me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer thirty years later.

Anne died in 1993 at 35 years old. She asked two things of me before she died: to make sure her husband was looked after and to publish her poetry. I worked with her sisters to put together a hand printed book of her poetry and artwork that was a tribute to her life. Her husband gave me some of her jewelry that I continue to cherish today: it is chunky and silver and roughly sculpted together and somehow reminds me of the creative spirit that she was. I lost touch with her husband, but I feel that I fulfilled my duty as her “foot.”


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 https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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