Where have they all gone? (Daf Yomi Eruvin 47)

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“This teaches that one should not rely on these principles.”

Today’s Daf Yomi is a reminder of the importance of community and how for better or worse, our neighbors impact our world. This is true even during a pandemic – and especially during a pandemic – when a small nod in the hallway of a high-rise apartment building between neighbors who are masked up goes a long way toward civility. This is true even when we stand six feet apart and getting on an elevator together requires a risk calculation of whether it is worth it to stand on our little circles in the moving box in order to save a few minutes, or if we should wait for the next elevator in order to be the sole inhabit of the space. One neighbor made me laugh through my mask when he put one leg on each circle on the elevator’s floor in a pandemic version of the game twister.

The floor where I live has emptied out since the Pandemic, with many of the apartments unoccupied. Where did everyone go and why are they so willing to give up on the great city of New York? In today’s Daf Yomi reading we are told that if someone leaves his home without establishing an eruv among the courtyards of the adjoining homes, and moves to a different town, “his lack of participation prohibits the other residents of the courtyards in which he has a share to carry objects from their houses to the courtyard, because he did not establish an eiruv with them, and failure to include a house in the eiruv imposes restrictions upon all the residents of the courtyard.”

This is true even if the person who moved away is not Jewish. This is the first time that I have gleaned from the readings since we started this difficult Tractate that the Rabbis from the time of the Talmud and their followers might have lived in a diverse neighborhood with people of different beliefs and persuasions. I had the sense, perhaps falsely, that the eruvs under discussion were in towns that were primarily Jewish where people lived in closely guarded streets with homes that faced each other through courtyards.

Rabbi Yehuda says that if someone has moved, he may not necessarily have left his neighbors without a valid eruv, “since he is not present there.” Rabbi Yosei further clarifies that the neighbors are left with an invalid eruv only if the person who left is not Jewish, because he may return on Shabbat (perhaps to collect some forgotten belongings.) But our Jewish neighbor, who moved away from the city during the most difficult of times, would not invalidate the eruv through his actions because he would know better than to return on Shabbat. Although it is never explicitly stated, there is an assumption that an eruv can be created with non-Jewish neighbors as long as they agree to participate.

I said goodbye to a neighbor a few months ago who was leaving the city and moving in with her daughter in the suburbs because it was “safer.” Rabbi Shimon says in today’s reading that even if someone leaves his home and establishes residence with a daughter in the same town, the eruv is still permissible. He extends the argument to say that even if this neighbor came back to his forsaken home on Shabbat the eruv is legitimate because he has already removed the idea of “returning from his mind.” We are told that anyone, including a pauper or a rich person, can establish an eruv with their feet “by walking to the spot that he wishes to acquire as his place of residence.” This brings to mind how one can claim his neighborhood by walking through its landmarks and establishing an imprint of belonging: This coffee shop, this bakery, this drugstore, this shoemaker, this dry cleaner belongs to me.

I love this city but have always wanted it a little bit to myself. I have resented the tourists who stroll through the streets of Times Square (which I would avoid like the plague itself if I didn’t work there) as if they were in Disneyland taking in sites that were manufactured just for them. The irony is that I hate crowds and have mumbled under my breath that all the people in the city need to go somewhere else when I found myself in a crush of humanity during more normal times. An upside of this new normal is that so many have indeed left and there is more room to move around in places that I love, like the Whitney Museum and the Highline. But then of course, there is the coronavirus. And the boarded-up businesses. And the broken hearts of the all the small business owners who have lost their savings, and their livelihoods and their dream of creating something truly theirs in this city.


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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