Seeing a city from the roof (Daf Yomi Eruvin 89)

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“All the roofs of the city are considered one domain.”

We spent quite a lot of time earlier in this Tractate reading about how to best measure the boundaries of a city, including squaring off its edges. But the only way to really understand the shape of a city is from a roof. It is one thing to be immersed in a crowd on a bustling pre-COVID street at rush hour and to feel part of the flow of the city, but to stand above allows for a view into how everything and everyone is interconnected through the streets and subway stations and city trees. When was the last time any New Yorker actually paid attention to the trees that grow from the concrete sidewalks? When you view them from above you understand how brave they are to stand out on the sidewalks each day entirely exposed and unappreciated.

Although there are permutations involving roof tops that are of different heights and lots of Rabbinic disagreement, we are told that it is permitted to carry from one roof to another on Shabbat without an eruv. This seems quite radical. With all the restrictions that we have read about involving alleyways and courtyards, there is a freedom to know that one can move from one roof to another without the need for an eruv, because “all the roofs of the city are considered one domain.” There are restrictions in terms of height, which our downer Mishna says must be “neither ten handbreadths higher nor ten handbreadths lower than the adjacent roof.” But mostly we can climb up into the open air and jump freely from roof to roof.

I spent time in Jerusalem last October and had hoped to return this year but have been grounded since the onset of COVID from any travel further than Philadelphia. I love visiting souks and had spent a lot of time in the Medina in Marrakesh the previous year. I was drawn immediately to Jerusalem’s Old City bazaar, with its spice markets and jewelry and Judaica shops. There is something about a souk that allows one to leave the modern world behind, although many sell electronic devices along with all the spices.

I am a magnet for the shop owners who must see “American” scribbled across my forehead when I walk through their markets. In other words, I am sure I look very American. I am probably too neat and groomed and have never been very successful “grubbing myself up” in order to not attract attention. One shop-owner successfully persuaded me to enter his shop. It was hot and I was tired and for a moment, just gave into the smile of someone who seemed desperate to sell me a necklace. Before I knew it, he had me seated on a little stool sipping pomegranate juice.

Maybe it was the pomegranate juice or the heat, but the shop keeper convinced me to follow him up to the roof of the market. He told me that one could not visit Jerusalem without seeing it from the rooftops, where all the buildings truly seemed connected. It did strike me for a moment that I had put myself in a precarious position. We were alone on the tin roof of the market and anything could happen.

He was a perfect gentleman and at the end of the day, just wanted to sell me a necklace by showing me a different view of Jerusalem. We returned to his shop and he took out a bag of beads and a pendant and designed a necklace for me on the spot. He said I had to have the one he had just crafted because it was made especially for me. And of course, he would give it to me at a special price. I could not resist after the rooftop tour and the pomegranate juice and the photo album he shared of his ancestors. I wore the necklace out of the store.

This guy has a shtick that helps him sell necklaces to tourists. He was not the only vendor in the market who offered to show me the city from the roof. What I could not know at the time was that one year later I would read about roofs in the Talmud with the image of the old City of Jerusalem floating in my head. Everything happens for a reason through the flow of life.

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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