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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays General Laws

Part 2

Carrying in Public and the Use of an Eruv

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Last week, I began discussing many of the background issues germane to whether one can erect an eruv to permit carrying in a city. We discovered that the Torah prohibits carrying an object from one’s house or any other enclosed area (halachically called a reshus hayachid), to an area available to the general public, a reshus harabim, or vice versa; or to carry an item four amos (about seven feet) or more within a reshus harabim. Even when there is no Torah prohibition involved in carrying the item, there may still be a rabbinic violation.

As we noted there, with reference to the melacha of carrying on Shabbos, the terms reshus hayachid and reshus harabim do not relate to the ownership of the respective areas, but are determined by the extent that the areas are enclosed and how they are used. A reshus hayachid could certainly be public property, and there are ways whereby an individual could own a reshus harabim. I also mentioned that the construction of an eruv consisting of poles and wire cannot permit carrying in an area that is prohibited min haTorah. In addition, we learned that a reshus harabim must meet very specific and complex requirements, including:

(A) It must be unroofed (Shabbos 5a).

(B) It must be meant for public use or thoroughfare (Shabbos 6a).

(C) It must be at least sixteen amos (about twenty-eight feet) wide (Shabbos 99a).

(D) According to most authorities, it cannot be inside an enclosed area (cf., however, Be’er Heiteiv 345:7, quoting Rashba; and Baal HaMaor, Eruvin 22a, quoting Rabbeinu Efrayim). The exact definition of an "enclosed area" is the subject of a major dispute that I will discuss.

(E) According to many authorities, it must be used by at least 600,000 people daily (Rashi, Eruvin 59a, but see Rashi ad loc. 6a where he requires only that the city has this many residents). This is derived from the Torah’s description of carrying into the encampment in the desert, which we know was populated by 600,000 people.

(F) Many authorities require that it be a through street, or a gathering area that connects to a through street (Rashi, Eruvin 6a).

Some authorities add additional requirements.

We explained that an area that does not meet the Torah’s definition of a reshus harabim, yet is not enclosed, is called a karmelis. One may not carry into, from or within a karmelis, following the same basic rules that prohibit carrying into a reshus harabim. However, since the prohibition not to carry in a karmelis is rabbinic in origin, Chazal allowed a more lenient method of "enclosing" it.

At this point, let us continue our discussion.

600,000 People

An early dispute among Rishonim was whether one of the requirements of a reshus harabim is that it be accessible to 600,000 people, the number of male Jews over twenty the Torah tells us left Egypt (see Tosafos, Eruvin 6a s.v. keitzad). According to Rashi and others who follow this approach, one may enclose any metropolis with a population smaller than 600,000 with tzuros hapesach to permit carrying. (In some places Rashi describes the city as having 600,000 residents, and in others describes it as having 600,000 people using the area constantly. The exact definition is the subject of much literature; see, for example, Shu"t Mishkenos Yaakov #120 s.v. hinei harishon; and Shu"t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:139:5.)

However, other early authorities contend that an area with less than 600,000 people still qualifies as a reshus harabim, if it fulfills the other requirements that I listed above. In their opinion, such an area cannot be enclosed with tzuros hapesach. Although many authorities hold this way, the accepted practice in Ashkenazic communities was to follow the lenient interpretation and construct eruvin in places with less than 600,000 people (see, for example, Aruch Hashulchan 345:18). Nevertheless, the Mishnah Berurah discourages carrying in such an eruv, since many Rishonim hold that an eruv in such a place is not acceptable (364:8; Bi’ur Halacha to 345:7 and to 364:2). There are different opinions as to whether Sefardim may follow this leniency, although the prevalent practice today is for them to be lenient.

Modern City

Most large, metropolitan areas today are populated by more than 600,000 people. Some authorities still define many of our metropolitan areas as a karmelis, based on the following definition: Any area less concentrated than the Jews’ encampment in the desert is considered a karmelis. Since this encampment covered approximately 50 square miles (or approximately 130 sq km), these authorities permit an eruv in any place where the population density is less than 600,000 people per 50 square miles (Shu"t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:87). However, other authorities consider any metropolitan area or megalopolis containing 600,000 people to be a reshus harabim, regardless of its population density. Does this mean that there is no heter with which to construct an eruv in a large city? Indeed, many authorities contend this (Shu"t Mishnas Rav Aharon 1:2).

A Large Breach

Nevertheless, the Chazon Ish presented a different approach to permit construction of an eruv in a large contemporary city. His approach requires an introduction.

In general, an area enclosed by three or four full walls cannot be a reshus harabim (Eruvin 22a). What is the halacha if each of the three sides of an area is enclosed for most of its length – however, there are large gaps in the middle of the enclosure? For example, if walls or buildings enclose most of an area – however, there are gaps in the middle of the area between the buildings, where streets cross the city blocks. Does the area in the middle, surrounded by buildings and other structures, still qualify as a reshus harabim, or has it lost this status, because it is mostly "enclosed"?

The basis for the question is the following: There is a general halachic principle that an area that is mostly enclosed is considered enclosed, even in its breached areas (Eruvin 5b, et al.). For example, a yard enclosed by hedges tall enough to qualify as halachic walls may be considered enclosed, despite open areas between the hedges, since each side is predominantly enclosed by either hedges or a house.

On the other hand, a breach wider than ten amos (about 17 feet, or about 5 meters) invalidates the area from being considered enclosed. Therefore, one may not carry within a fenced-in area that has a 20-foot opening, without enclosing the opening in some way.

The issue that affects the modern city is the following: Granted that a large breach needs to be enclosed to permit carrying within the area, is this required min haTorah or only rabbinically? If one encloses a large area with walls that run for miles but have large gaps, is this area considered enclosed min haTorah on the basis of its walls, or is it considered open because of its gaps?

This question was debated by two great nineteenth-century authorities, Rav Efrayim Zalman Margoliyos of Brody, known as the Beis Efrayim, and Rav Yaakov of Karlin, the Mishkenos Yaakov. The Beis Efrayim contended that a breach invalidates an enclosure only because of a rabbinic prohibition and the area is considered enclosed min haTorah, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov held that the breach renders the area as a reshus harabim min haTorah. The lengthy correspondence between these two authorities covers a host of other eruv-related issues (Shu"t Beis Efrayim, Orach Chayim # 25, 26; Shu"t Mishkenos Yaakov, Orach Chayim, #120- 122).

What difference does it make whether this area is considered open min haTorah or miderabbanan, since either way one must enclose the area?

The difference is highly significant. If we follow the lenient approach, then even if the area in the middle meets all the other requirements of a reshus harabim, the Beis Efrayim contends that it loses its status as a reshus harabim because of its surrounding walls, notwithstanding their large gaps – in which case it may be possible to construct an eruv.

On the other hand, the Mishkenos Yaakov contends that this area is considered a reshus harabim because of the gaps, and we ignore the walls. According to the Mishkenos Yaakov, it is impossible to construct an eruv around this area.

How one rules in this dispute between these two gedolim affects the issue of constructing an eruv in a contemporary city. Most modern cities contain city blocks that consist predominantly of large buildings with small areas between the buildings, and streets that are much narrower than the blocks. One can easily envision that both sides of the street are considered enclosed min haTorah, according to the Beis Efrayim’s analysis. This, itself, does not sufficiently enclose our area, because the street is open at both ends. However, at certain points of the city, the street dead-ends into a street that is predominantly enclosed with buildings, fences, walls or something else. The result is that this section of the city can now be considered min haTorah as enclosed on three sides by virtue of the parallel buildings along both sides of the street and those at its dead end. Since, according to the Beis Efrayim, this area now qualifies as an enclosed area min haTorah, he also holds that the entire area is considered a reshus hayachid min haTorah.

The Chazon Ish now notes the following: Once you have established that this part of the city qualifies as a reshus hayachid min haTorah, this area is now considered completely enclosed halachically. For this reason, other city blocks that are predominantly enclosed on both sides of the street that intersect with this first area are now also considered to be enclosed areas min haTorah. As a result, a large section of most cities is considered min haTorah enclosed on at least three sides, according to this calculation. Although one cannot carry in these areas miderabbanan because of the "breaches" in their "enclosures," they are no longer reshus harabim min haTorah, and one can, therefore, enclose the entire area with tzuros hapesach (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 107:5). As a result of this calculation, the Chazon Ish concludes that many large cities today qualify as a karmelis, and therefore one may construct tzuros hapesach to permit carrying there.

However, other authorities reject this calculation for a variety of reasons. Some contend, as explained above, that the gaps between the buildings invalidate the enclosure, thus leaving the area a reshus harabim, which cannot be enclosed (Shu"t Mishkenos Yaakov; Shu"t Mishnas Rav Aharon).

In conclusion, we see that a dispute among poskim over eruvin is not a recent phenomena. In practice, what should an individual do? The solution proposed by Chazal for all such issues is "Aseh lecha rav, vehistaleik min hasafek – Choose someone to be your rav, and remove yourself from doubt." Your rav, or your halachic authority, can guide you as to whether it is appropriate to carry within a certain eruv, after considering the halachic basis for the specific eruv’s construction, the level of eruv maintenance, and family factors. Never underestimate the psak and advice of your rav!

This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site

Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff
Was the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, the Congregation Darchei Tzedek and also served as a dayan on the Beis Din of Baltimore. Now is a Rabbi in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem. His Shiurim and Q&A can be found on his site:
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