Making Masechet Eruvin More Practical: Camping And Personal Vs. Communal Responsibility

By: Temmi Lattin  |  September 30, 2020

By Temmi Lattin 

Anyone who is following the daf yomi (learning one page of Talmud daily) cycle will remember the many posts and messages about “how to get through Masechet (tractate) Eruvin” attesting to the masechet’s difficult and technical content. Some view the detailed halachot (Jewish laws) of eruv (an enclosure permitting items to be carried on the sabbath according to Jewish Law) as largely inapplicable, given that many people live in suburban communities with well-established eruvin (enclosures), which the Jews in the area hardly need to think about. For me, however, eruvin proved to be a practical and exciting topic because of my family’s annual Shabbat (Sabbath) camping trips. One of the most memorable parts of every camping trip was scoping out the site for the best trees to construct our eruv. Every year we bring our eruv supplies — wooden rods, ratchets (to attach them to trees), metal loops at the top of the rods and a bright colored string — all necessary to build an eruv, which allows us to carry throughout the campsite on Shabbat.

On Eruvin 2b, the Gemara (Talmud) speaks about a korah — a crossbeam over a doorway needed to permit carrying inside an alleyway — and discusses the many opinions on its required measurements. The debate centers on the maximum height of a korah — with one of the concerns being that it won’t be noticeable if placed too high. Daf (page) 3a raises the opinion that if the korah has a maltrah — a cornice, or decorative molding the korah is especially noticeable and may be higher than the suggested 20 amot (cubits) limit; carrying in an alleyway with such a korah would therefore be permitted — and in support of this ruling, a comparison is made to the roof of a sukkah (booth), which has similar qualifications. The Gemara explains that, according to the rabbis, a korah serves as a heker — a conspicuous marker that demarcates the boundaries between the alleyway, where one may carry objects, and a public domain, where one may not. The addition of a cornice thus brings attention to the korah, which consequently becomes kosher even if its height is greater than 20 amot. This passage in the Gemara highlights the importance of being aware of an eruv — knowing where carrying is permissible and where it is not. Many Jews lack this awareness as they live in suburban neighborhoods, where kosher eruvin are often taken for granted, so I therefore recognize how much camping with my family on Shabbat has made me appreciate what goes into constructing an eruv. But for those who aren’t crazy about the idea of roughing it in the outdoors, there are other ways to make this masechet practical and learn some meaningful lessons that the dapim (pages) have to teach us. 

Later on daf 3, the Gemara discusses a situation where part of the korah of an alleyway is above 20 amot and part of it is below this measurement. Rabbah says that this setup is OK for an alleyway, but not a sukkah. Rava MiParzakya explains that in a sukkah, which is generally made for a yachid (individual), if the kosher part of the roofing — which is under 20 amot — was removed, that individual would not have anyone to remind them to fix this issue and will end up using what has become an invalid sukkah; an alleyway, by contrast, is used by many people — so if the kosher part of the korah became detached, all the Jews using that eruv would make sure the problem was resolved. 

The Gemara later cites Rav Adda Bar Matanah, who quotes Rabbah saying the opposite: a sukkah roof that is partially over 20 amot is valid, but an alleyway korah that’s partially over 20 amot is not kosher. The Gemara explains that because a sukkah is built only for a yachid, this person will accept all responsibility and make sure on his own that the sukkah is kosher instead of relying on others — whereas regarding an alleyway that many people utilize, everyone might rely on each other and assume that someone else has taken care of the issue, ultimately providing no guarantee that the eruv is in fact kosher. 

These two conflicting views toward the requirements of two different structures — a sukkah roof and a korah — highlight both the benefits and challenges of two types of responsibilities: personal and communal. While personally taking accountability for something can mean that one is more likely to make sure that the task will be performed, when a single person shoulders all of the responsibility without any help, they might be less likely to execute the task properly or even remember to do it at all. At the same time, communal responsibilities also have pros and cons: having everyone be “in it together” can fuel joint effort and collaboration, or can instead lead to each person relying on everyone else to accomplish something that, in the end, may never come to fruition. Having a reliable communal eruv is one of the many wonderful aspects of living in a Jewish community, but maybe — once in a while — it’s worth it to venture out of your comfort zone, spend a weekend away from home and build your own personal eruv for Shabbat.

*** ***

Photo Source: Temmi Lattin