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Tammuz 5768

An Eruv Primer


Written by the rabbi


Before leaving for summer camps, bungalows and tzimmerim is a good opportunity to study some of the complicated halachos of carrying on Shabbos and the halachos of Eruvin. We cannot do justice to this vast and complicated topic in one short article. However, I will attempt to provide an introduction to some of the issues involved.
The Torah prohibits carrying from an enclosed area, called a "reshus hayachid," to a public, non-enclosed area, a "reshus harabim," or vice versa. It also prohibited carrying something for a distance of four amos (about seven feet) or more inside a reshus harabim. For our purposes, we will loosely define reshus hayachid as an area completely enclosed by walls, doors, or a combination of both, and a reshus harabim as an unenclosed area at least sixteen amos wide (about twenty-eight feet) meant for public use or thoroughfare. Many additional technical details define a reshus hayachid and a reshus harabim, some of which will be discussed later in this article.
A non-enclosed area that does not qualify as a reshus harabim is categorized as a "karmalis." According to Torah law, one may carry inside, into and from a karmalis. However, Chazal ruled that a karmalis must be treated with the stringencies of both a reshus hayachid and a reshus harabim. This means that under most circumstances it is forbidden to carry inside, into, or from any area that is not completely enclosed. This is the way we are familiar with observing Shabbos - one does not carry in any unenclosed area. (I will later point out a significant halachic difference between a reshus harabim and a karmelis.)
Chazal also forbade carrying from one reshus hayachid to another when they are not owned by the same person. Thus, I may not carry on Shabbos from my house to my neighbor's even if both properties are completely enclosed. If both areas are owned by the same person, I may carry from one house to the other, as long as I don't pass through an unenclosed area or an area owned by someone else. I may carry from my house to my neighbor's if we make an "eruv" which allows the two areas to be treated as if they have common ownership.

BUT I THOUGHT "ERUV" REFERS TO A PHYSICAL STRUCTURE?

The word eruv refers to several different conventions instituted by Chazal. We just mentioned the "eruv chatzeiros" that permits carrying between different areas that are enclosed but have separate ownerships. We create this eruv by making the property owners partners in a loaf of bread or a box of matzohs, which for these purposes is sufficient to consider the properties jointly owned. Once this eruv chatzeiros is made, one may carry from one residence within the eruv to another since the eruv gives them common ownership. Common practice is to make the eruv with matzohs since they last a long time. Custom is to renew the eruv every Erev Pesach so that it is not forgotten.
One must make sure that the matzohs remain edible. I know of instances where the eruv was forgotten about and long afterwards it was discovered that the matzohs were no longer edible. Who knows how long people were carrying in a prohibited way because no one had bothered to check the matzohs!

WHAT IF THE AREA IS NOT ENCLOSED?
Our discussion until now has been dealing with an area that is already fully enclosed. However, someone interested in carrying in an area that is not fully enclosed must close in the area before making an eruv chatzeiros. The most common usage of the word eruv is in reference to this enclosure.

HOW DOES ONE ENCLOSE AN AREA?
The area must be completely enclosed by halachically acceptable "walls" and "doors." Walls, buildings, fences, hills, and cliffs can all be used to enclose an area. However, when using structures and land features that already exist, invariably there will still be gaps between the structures that must be filled in to complete the enclosure.
The most common method to bridge the gaps is to make a "tzuras hapesach." A tzuras hapesach vaguely resembles a doorway, consisting of two sideposts and a lintel that passes over them, which are the basic components of a doorway. According to halacha, a tzuras hapesach is considered a bona fide enclosure. Thus, if all gaps between the existing "walls" are "closed" with tzuros hapesach, the area is regarded as fully enclosed.
Some opinions allow small gaps to remain within the eruv's perimeter without a tzuras hapesach. Many eruvin in North America rely upon this leniency, whereas in Eretz Yisrael the accepted practice is not to.
I was once visiting somewhere when I noticed a large gap in the perimeter of the local eruv. It turned out that there was a minority opinion that considered the eruv still kosher despite the fact that the gap was larger than normally accepted in halacha. Needless to say, I was disappointed to discover that the people in charge of the eruv were unwilling to make a minor repair in the eruv that could resolve the problem completely.

A COMMON PROBLEM
There is a halacha that a planted or overgrown field the size of 5000 square amos (approximately 14,000 square feet) inside an eruv will invalidate the eruv. This is a very common problem that is often overlooked. Although every responsible eruv has mashgichim to check the perimeters of the eruv, there is also a need to check periodically within the eruv to see that no areas are overgrown to the point where they can no longer be traversed.

OTHER DETAILS OF TZURAS HAPESACH
There are myriad details of how to make a tzuras hapesach; far more than can be detailed here. For example, one may use a wire for the lintel of a tzuras hapesach, although many opinions require it to be extremely taut (see Mishneh Berurah 362:66 and Shaar HaTziyun). For this reason, standard practice is to use telephone wires as the "lintel" of the tzuras hapesach, although there are poskim who prohibit this. Posts are places directly below existing telephone wires, with care taken that the wire passes over the post. The lintel must pass directly above the sideposts, although they do not have to actually reach it (Gemara Eruvin 11b). For example, if the wire used as lintel is twenty feet high and the side posts are only four feet tall, this is perfectly legitimate as long as the wire passes directly above the sideposts. To guarantee that the wire remains above the posts, it is a good idea to use fairly wide "posts" and also to periodically check that the wire is still directly above the posts. From personal experience I can tell you that as the posts or the telephone polls settle it is not unusual that they shift so that the post is no longer under the wire. This is also something that eruv mashgichim often do not check but must.
The tzuras hapesach is invalid if something intervenes in the gap between the top post and the side post. Thus, it is invalid to rest a side post against the side of a house and attach the top post to its roof, if any overhang of the roof extends below the lintel and above the side post. Similarly, the eruv is invalid if a sign intervenes between the sidepost and the wire being used as lintel.
I mentioned above that there is a major difference in halacha between a reshus harabim and a karmelis. A tzuras hapesach can only be used to enclose an area that is a karmelis where the prohibition against carrying is only rabbinic. It cannot be used to permit carrying in a reshus harabim where it is forbidden to carry min haTorah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 364:2).
This leads us into our next discussion.

CONTROVERSIAL ERUVIN
A strange phenomenon of hilchos eruvin is that although Chazal created the concept of eruv to facilitate peace among the Jewish people, probably no other mitzvah has been involved in so much controversy. Why is this?
The details of hilchos eruvin are extremely complicated and often subject to strong dispute. It is not unusual to find a situation where one rav forbids a certain eruv min HaTorah, while another rav rules that it is perfectly kosher. Although both decisions are based on the same Gemara and halacha, one posek condemns as chilul Shabbos what the other considers a mere chumrah or less.
This is not a new phenomenon. Let us share a halachic discussion that is over a thousand years old.

600,000 PEOPLE
There is a very old dispute whether a reshus harabim (min haTorah) only exists if the area is used by at least 600,000 people, just as the reshus harabim of Klal Yisrael in the Desert had 600,000 people using it, the members of the Jewish nation. (Indeed the question is raised that a reshus harabim should require several million people because the 600,000 only included men over twenty and did not include the women and children.)
Rashi (Eruvin 59a) writes that only an area with this number of people constitutes a reshus harabim that cannot be enclosed with a tzuras hapesach. This excludes all the towns and cities inhabited by Jews from the Middle Ages until fairly modern times. They did not have 600,000 people and could therefore be enclosed by a tzuras hapesach. However, many rishonim disagree with Rashi and rule that any street or marketplace sixteen amos wide is a reshus harabim and cannot be enclosed with a tzuras hapesach. This issue is confused further by a contradiction in Shulchan Aruch. (In 345:7 he rules strictly, whereas in 303:18 he rules leniently.) Many major poskim follow the lenient interpretation (Magen Avraham; Taz in 345), and it was upon this basis that most Eastern European communities constructed eruvin. However, according to most poskim this lenience cannot be used today since most large Jewish communities are in places with more than 600,000 people.

A FIGHT OVER AN ERUV
In the thirteenth century, Rav Yaakov ben Rav Moshe of Alinsiya wrote a letter to the Rosh explaining why he forbade a tzuras hapesach eruv in his town. In his response, the Rosh proved that Rav Yaakov's concerns were groundless and that he should immediately construct an eruv. Subsequent correspondence reveals that Rav Yaakov did not change his mind and still refused to erect an eruv in his town. The Rosh severely rebuked him for this recalcitrance, insisting that if he (Rav Yaakov) persisted he would be placed in cherem. The Rosh also ruled that Rav Yaakov had the status of a zakein mamrei, a Torah scholar who rules against the decision of the Sanhedrin. This is a capital offence! All this demonstrates that heated disputes over eruvin are by no means a recent phenomenon.

OTHER ERUV DISPUTES
A different dispute that surfaced among great poskim about 200 years ago is the basis of many contemporary controversies. The question is whether an area that is mostly enclosed by walls is considered a reshus harabim or a carmelis. If it is a reshus harabim, then it is not eruvable (a word of my own invention) and building tzuros hapesach to close the gaps between the walls will not permit carrying. If it is a carmelis, then tzuros hapesach will permit carrying.
This question was disputed by two great nineteenth century poskim, the Beis Efrayim (Shu"t Orach Chayim #26) contending that this area is eruvable, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov (Shu"t Orach Chayim #121) disagreed. To this day, one will find poskim who side with one or the other of these two great authorities.

OVER-RELYING ON AN ERUV
Although there are many obvious advantages to having a kosher eruv, we should always be aware that there are also drawbacks. One major drawback is that people become much unprepared if the eruv goes down one week. Suddenly, they cannot take their reading glasses to shul and their plans of pushing the stroller so they can eat the Shabbos meals at someone else's house are disrupted.
Another disadvantage is that people become so used to having a eruv that they no longer pay serious attention to the prohibition against carrying. Children raised in such communities, and even adults who always lived in cities with an eruv, sometimes hardly realize that there is any prohibition against carrying.
In Israel, where virtually every town has an eruv, the assumption that there is always an eruv can be a tremendous disadvantage as the following story illustrates.
A moderately-learned frum Israeli moved to an American city with no eruv. He was hired by a Yeshiva as cook and was responsible for the everyday kashrus of the yeshiva's kitchen. The first Shabbos on his job, the new cook went for an afternoon stroll with his family, baby carriage and all. This raised a whirlwind in the yeshiva -- people were shocked that they had entrusted the Yeshiva's kashrus to someone who openly desecrated Shabbos! Only later was it clarified that the cook was unaware that a city might not have an eruv. Living his entire life in cities with an eruv, he had automatically assumed that every city with a Jewish community had such a fixture!
In conclusion, we see that disputes among poskim over eruvin are not recent phenomena. In practice, what should an individual do? The solution proposed by Chazal for any such shaylah is "Aseh lecha rav, vehistaleik min hasafek," "Choose someone to be your rav, and one removes yourself from doubt." He can guide you to decide whether it is appropriate for you to carry within a certain eruv, after weighing factors of construction heterim, care of eruv maintenance and family factors. The psak and advice of one's rav can never be underestimated!
This article was originally published in Yated Neeman

This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site


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