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Thought for the Day: Moving Objects On Shabbos Comes In Two Flavors

The עירוב; much maligned, much abused.  Here are two of my favorite quotes (and my responses):
  • Oh yes, I know that R' SuchAndSuch, shlita/ztz"l doesn't believe in eiruvs [sic].
    • Response: Hmmm... Given that there is a masechta eiruvin, I am pretty darn sure that R' SuchAndSuch, shlita/ztz"l, does actually believe in עירובים just as much as he believes in kashrus.  Maybe it is his knowledge of the issue that is the source of his concerns?
  • I really don't know what the issues are with the eiruv, so I just use it.
    • Response: Hmmm... In case of doubt about a Torah prohibition, the rule is always to stringent.  Using ignorance as an excuse to risk spiritual excision seems as reckless as walking along the Grand Canyon with your eyes closed.
The problem is, of course, that people are all fired up that they are in broadcast mode before any discussion begins, so there is no dialog; only a lot of shouting.  My first Shavous in Dallas, the rabbi proposed that we discuss the Torah viewpoint on abortion.  Everyone agreed that would be interesting, and one fellow in particular was excited to show the rabbi the error of his ways.  When the rabbi walked in on Shavuous night, he said that we first needed to lay out the underlying issues.  Three or four hours later we had finally finished prerequisite materials.  What about Mr. ShowTheRabbiTheErrorOfHisWays?  After only an hour or so, it had become very clear to him  that his opinions were based on misconceptions and half-truths.  Faced with the shocking realization that he would need to alter his opinions if he took actual facts into account, he had left.

In that spirit, I would like to steadily develop a base of facts before actually formulating opinions about this or that עירוב.  Siman 346 develops the basic parameters in which all discussions of עירובים.  There are two distinct issues with carrying items on Shabbos that are problematic (read: forbidden) at the Torah level.

We need two definitions prior to stating the halacha: רשות היחיד/private domain and רשות הרבים/public domain.  Please note well that these terms have nothing to do with ownership.  A private domain -- at the Torah level -- is area enclosed by fences/walls, regardless of size.  There is a discussion about how this definition is affected by man-made vs naturally occurring (such as steep mountain sides and rivers/oceans) and also by the number of people crossing daily; but that's the basic idea.  A public domain is an open area that either has or could support (that's a BIG discussion) a daily throng of 600,000 people.

Issue #1 (in no particular order): Transporting an object between public and private domains.  The mode of transportation is irrelevent: carrying, throwing, or handing over; regardless of the direction, from public to private domain or from the private to public domain; in all cases the transportation is forbidden by the Torah.  Notice that there is no minimum or maximum distance; it is the crossing of the boundary itself that is forbidden.

Issue #2 (ditto on the order thing): Transporting an object more than four cubits (the ever popular ד' אמות -- irrelevant aside: Google translate got that exactly right!) in a public domain is forbidden by the Torah.  Interestingly, transporting an object up to (but not including) four cubits is completely permissible; both at the Torah and even Rabbinic levels.

Now... since these are Torah prohibitions, there is nothing that can be done to permit them.  That would be boring, so Chazal added their own prohibitions: (1) to and from and through a new domain (the כרמלית, a sort of pseudo public domain), and (2) crossing boundaries of any two domains (even one private to another).  Since Chazal forbad, Chazal can permit; enter (drum roll please...) the עירוב!  Now, as they say, the fun begins.


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