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Thought for the Day: Why I Do My Utmost To Avoid Relying On Any Metropolitan עירוב

I had a close friend in college who was (is still, actually) a heavy smoker.  I once talked to him about the health risks.  I was pre-med at the time so really thought I probably knew more about the details of the health risks than he did.  I expected him to say something like, "Really?  I don't know that aspect/detail/depth/breadth of the health risks!"  Instead he replied, "I really enjoy smoking."  That, of course, was the end of not only that conversation but all future conversations.  I have no argument that smoking is not enjoyable; I only have data that smoking is a serious (very, very serious) health risk.  If that is taken out of the equation, I have nothing to say.

Given that introduction and the title of this TftD, one can make his own assessment if it is advisable to read further.

Recall that an עירוב can only be effective when you have an area that is only a public domain at the rabbinic level, but private at the Torah level.  There are two opinions in the rishonim about the criteria for a public domain at the Torah level.  One opinion is an area that regularly (daily) has a traffic of 600,000 people (men, women, children; doesn't matter whether the population is Jewish or non-Jewish); that is the opinion of Rashi (and others).  The other opinion is that any area that can support a traffic of 600,000 people regularly -- even though there are not 600,000 people there regularly -- people regularly is a public domain at the Torah level.  That is, it has streets that are 16 cubits wide; almost every street in America fulfills that condition, which makes this quite a stringency for any Metropolitan עירוב.  Whose opinion is this?  The Rambam, Rabeinu Tam, Ramban, Rashba, Ritva, Rahn, T'rumos HaDeshen, and Rashbam.  Oh... and the Shulchan Aruch.

Next we have the wall issue: a private domain needs to be surrounded by a wall made for that purpose.  There is a leniency that allows natural barriers to be used as walls, but then there are those who say that a natural barriers are ineffective when you have a huge throng of people.  Then there are ways to construct halachic walls צורת הפתח/the form of a doorway, for example; all of those have a range of opinions about how much of the wall has to be physical and how much can be halachic.  And then there is the issue of closing it at some point.

As one sees, there are many leniencies that need to be applied to rely on even the best metropolitan עירוב.  Now, since one is talking about a delicate procedure on which his spiritual health relies, is seems to me that this is analogous to evaluating surgical centers before I entrust them with my life.  I found a site that details the standard surgical room procedures.  That page itself is merely a portal to 36 sites that cover each dimension (preoperative skin prep, scrubbing, draping the patient, etc) of preparing the arena for surgery.  I drilled down into scrubbing, and found 17 detailed steps -- including several iterations of exactly how and how many times to scrub the hand and each finger.

As a layman, I can't really evaluate what would happen if one only scrubbed 18 times instead of 20, or for 25 seconds instead of 30.  What I do know is that the experts in the field say that's what you need.  I am sure you can find places that cut corners and offer lower rates.  If a person was at risk of dying and needed emergency surgery, I am sure any licensed surgical center would do.  If he had more time and it was more elective surgery, I think he would think differently.  My body and physical life is important, so I want a place that follows all the rules and doesn't cut corners just to save money/time.  If my soul is just as important to me, I should be at least as careful.  Which is, by they way, how the Mishna Brura finishes (345, sk 23):  It is out of line to rebuke someone who relies on , but everyone who is concerned about his spiritual well-being  (בעל נפש) should certainly be stringent.

I'll just finish with a story.  One Friday night I saw someone sprain their ankle walking down some stairs outside on their way home.  The host happened to have a wheel chair and I went to get a goy to push them.  I called R' Fuerst after Shabbos and told him what I did.  He said I did the right think.  "But," I persevered, "I understand that the rabbi says that there are reliable opinions -- albeit using leniencies we don't usually accept, but appropriate none the less in some circumstances -- that hold the עירוב is acceptable."  He told me yes, but I shouldn't rely on them.  "But," I persevered again, "What if I couldn't have found a goy to push the wheelchair?  What that be a circumstance extreme enough to warrant relying on the עירוב?"  R' Fuerst answered, and I quote: "Michael; you don't live in Bnei Brak."

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