Letter and Spirit of the Law - Shabbat 8
On the question of limits, we find another example of the eruv extension in today’s page. We read recently that the eruv is a rabbinic legal fiction that enables someone to extend the bounds of what is considered private space so as to facilitate carrying objects on Shabbat. We read today that one may also use the mechanism of placing food in a discrete location to extend walking distance – the 2000 cubits one is allowed to walk from a private abode may actually be measured from where one places special food just before Shabbat, thus enabling one to call that spot “home” to begin the 2000 cubit radius. At question here is not the proposition that a home can be defined by some food in a hole in the ground, but rather how deep that hole must be to count! And the answer here is less than 10 handsbreadths deep, because then it would be another private space, while if less than 10 it is still part of the space above it.
As many who are outside of or question the halakhic worldview have done, one begins to consider the possibility that such an extension of a legal fiction begins to make the original rule seem ignored. I have the same reaction to “kosher for Passover” chocolate cakes – if the point is to eat lekhem ‘oni [the bread of affliction], then don’t dodge that by sticking to the detail rule about leaven/yeast [hametz] while eating chocolate cake! In the end, it becomes a battle between the “letter” of the law, and the “spirit” of the law, and for individuals who don’t accept the law’s authority in the first place, even more removed than that.
Rabbi Adam Chalom