Standing in place (Daf Yomi Eruvin 17)

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“This being the case, their opinion on this matter is that of the many.”

Today’s discussion includes an assessment of how many people are required to be permitted to carry on Shabbat in an eruv. This is never more pertinent than this moment in time when public spaces are limited due to public health concerns. We are told that each person is allowed a certain amount of space for carrying on Shabbat, which reverberates with the images of red circles that now appear everywhere I go to remind us that we must stay six feet or two meters apart. I envision those red circles in the courtyards under discussion in today’s reading.

We are told that three people are prohibited from carrying in an area of five beit se’a but they are permitted to carry in an area of seven beit se’a. The voice of the Gemara says this seems irreconcilable and at the very least it takes social distancing to an extreme because I am told that one beit se’a equals 576 meters. Rav Ashi attempts to elucidate and says that if they needed six beit se’a in order to be able to carry legitimately but are enclosed in a space of seven, the one empty space does not create a prohibition. However, if they needed five beit se’a and are enclosed in a space of seven, carrying is prohibited by a measure of two. Each person is allowed two beit se’a, when the permissible area is calculated, plus on extra beit se’a. The overriding principle is that one may not carry in an enclosed space if there is an empty area of two beit se’a.

The odd extension that is becoming common in this Tractate includes a discussion of a caravan where three people are traveling and one dies, or two people are travelling, and one is added to the group on Shabbat. Rav Huna and Rabbi Yitzhak engage in debate on the matter. Rav Huna returns to a principle established in a previous reading: the prevailing situation at the onset of Shabbat determines what is permissible. Rabbi Yitzhak says the number of people present at any given moment determine the status. An example is presented about an eruv that is permissible at the onset of Shabbat but undergoes a change in its physical appearance on that day, such as a facing window that is sealed. It is determined that the eruv would still be legitimate, and the prevailing principle resides with Rav Huna’s perspective.

The argument takes another twist, which reminds me of the internet puzzles that are floating around concerning how many people are in a room if thirty die. The principle is established that the condition of a courtyard at the onset of Shabbat determines what is allowable for carrying on the day. A riddle is posed: if during Shabbat a courtyard or house is breached from two of its sides, or if crossbeams or sideposts are removed from an alleyway, is it permitted to carry within them in the future? Rabbi Yehuda says it is permitted to carry within them on that specific Shabbat but not in the future. Rabbi Yosei says if it is permitted to carry on that Shabbat, it is also permitted to do so in the future. The logic is also extended to the future: if it is permitted to carry in such a space in the future, it is permitted to carry there today.

Today’s Daf Yomi comes at a time when some restaurants in New York City have opened limited outdoor seating but their interiors remain dark. The mayor of New York has indicated that indoor seating in restaurants will not be allowed until sometime in 2021. An owner of a restaurant across the street from where I live has managed to keep about ten tables occupied during lunch and dinners, but he is worried about what will happen on November 1st when the special allowances for outdoor dining expires. And cold weather is approaching. He indicated that if he has to close again, he may not survive. I assured him that I will be willing to sit in cold weather in my winter coat in order to support his restaurant. He runs a business that has been open for decades and is a neighborhood institution. I spent the months between March and when the restaurant opened in July walking past the dark windows dreaming of his perfect huevos rancheros.

It is devastating that so many restaurants that are part of what make New York City have not survived or if they are limping along may not make it if they have to close again in the cold weather. I am willing to sit in the cold eating my eggs on a dark November Sunday afternoon with all the other steadfast New Yorkers who have stayed in the city out of love for everything that makes it great: the overheard discussions on the street, meeting people’s eyes on public transportation, a theater that is devoted solely to dance, the museums and galleries, the thin crust pizza, the lectures at the 92nd Street Y, and the perfect plate of huevos rancheros.

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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