Survey – Eruvin 71-75 (December 15-19)
BUT don’t think that the Rabbis of Meir’s generation have the last word, for later Rabbis claim three ways Rabbi Meir wins out in the long run:
- Rab Judah claims Rab said “the halakha [religious law] is as Rabbi Meir [says].”
- Rabbi Huna says, “the minhag [custom, lower force than halakha] is as Rabbi Meir.”
- Rabbi Yokhanan says, “the people act [nahagu ha-am] as Rabbi Meir.”
In other words, three sources of authority for a particular practice: halakha, minhag, and what the people actually do. Personally, I’ve always found the second two both more relevant and more interesting to my life than the first. Would you really rather think through the permutations of five courtyards and an alley – an eruv in one with no shittuf in the other, or a shittuf in the alley but one inhabitant of one of the courtyards forgets to chip in for the eruv, or one forgets about the shittuf – or hear about the cultural customs and daily life conditions as actually lived in Talmudic times? In truth, both are important: after all, halakha is a testimony both to some lived experience and to what the rabbis wanted people to do (even if they didn’t). And even the rabbis draw on actual experience: one common phrase used in this survey is ta sh’ma – come and hear of a real example that demonstrates the legal principle under debate.
The Talmud considers still more possible eruv situations – if several groups stay in a room, need they contribute one eruv portion to the common courtyard eruv for each group, or one for the whole room? How much of a partition counts to treat them as if they were in different rooms? And if children eat for Shabbat at their father’s table before going back to their own homes (on the same courtyard, a commentator clarifies) to sleep, can they participate in his eruv without contributing on their own, or need they renounce their share of the courtyard to be able to use it? The most important consideration in that last case is whether the son receives pras, or a maintenance allowance, from his father. Where does the Talmud learn that? From the case of a man who has 5 wives or 5 slaves he maintains with a pras – there is unrestricted movement between households automatically (though we can only imagine what the 5 wives thought about that). In fact, a similar relationship also applies to teacher and student.
Again, architects and urban planners would find the discussions of what to do when there is an inner courtyard entirely contained by an outer one – can those in the inner court walk through the outer courtyard to travel their permitted 2000 cubits, even though their eruv technically only applies to their own courtyard? Or can those from the outer go through the inner, since it’s contained in their own? I could draw a stretched analogy about how this could be compared today to relationships between inner cities and suburbs, or the “inner” person and the “outer” person, but to be honest, the rabbis who wrote this discussion were talking about inner and outer courtyards and what kind of restrictions on personal behavior they thought were required – NOT moral behavior, just private personal behavior! And whether people carry something in or out of their houses, in my mind, is much less important than whether they love their neighbors as themselves. Sharing a lawnmower, now THAT’S significant.
Rabbi Adam Chalom