Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Case of the Vanishing Comment

Part of an ongoing commentary on the bias against city eruvin

While R’ Gil Student’s blog, Hirhurim, is one of the finest Jewish interest blogs on the net, when the subject is eruvin, like many others, he consistently shows a partiality. In this post I will illuminate what transpired in the comment section of a post on Hirhurim titled, “The Weirdest Eruv on the Block.” In one of R’ Gil’s prior posts regarding the Flatbush eruv (see the comments to Flatbush Eruv II) he claimed that pirtzos esser is me’d’Oraysa and therefore the mechitzos encompassing Brooklyn are deficient. In the course of that exchange he was shown that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l and 99 percent of the poskim maintain that a pirtzos esser is only d’rabbanan. No longer sure what Rav Moshe maintained, R’ Gil fell back on Rav Ahron Kotler zt”l (see comments to The Weirdest Eruv on the Block). Not surprisingly when he was shown that even Rav Ahron would allow the mechitzos circumscribing Brooklyn he summarily deleted that comment. So much for being open minded. What follows is the dialogue - note the last comment which was deleted.

R’ Gil Student commented - It doesn't matter. Eruvin without mehitzos are perfectly acceptable.

Reply - For many reasons there is no comparison between an eruv consisting mostly of tzuras hapesachim with an eruv made up of mechitzos. For one we don’t have to rely on shishim ribo as a heter.

R' Gil Student commented further - If Brooklyn is, indeed, a reshus ha-rabim, then the mehitzos they are using for the eruv are insufficient to enclose the area according to R. Aharon Kotler (I don't know about R. Moshe Feinstein) because they have breaks of more than 10 amos. If Brooklyn is not a reshus ha-rabim then an eruv of tzuros ha-pesah is sufficient.

Reply - Rav Ahron Kotler zt”l would agree that if a tzuras hapesach closes a pirtzas esser and it’s not crossed by a rabbim, even a pirtzos esser does not negate the mechitzos (see Mishkenos Yaakov, O.C. siman 122 p. 144). Since the Brooklyn mechitzos are at the waterfront there is no rabbim traversing the pirtzos. Never mind that Rav Aharon is a daas yachid and even Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l didn’t agree with him concerning pirtzos esser (see Igros Moshe, O.C. 2:89). To begin with, this whole issue really has no basis since there is no question that the first Flatbush eruv relied on some kulos such as tzuras hapesach min hatzad. Therefore, there is no question that the new Flatbush eruv is superior.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Obligation of Eruvin

The Gemara in Eruvin (68a) describes an encounter between the Amoraim Rabbah bar Rav Chanan and Abaye. Rabbah bar Rav Chanan asked Abaye why in a city of two great Amoraim [himself and Rabbah] neither of them had erected an eruv. In an attempt to vindicate himself and Rabbah, Abaye answered that it was not fitting for Rabbah’s dignity to go from door to door collecting the requisite matzos, and that he, Abaye, was so preoccupied with his learning that he had no time to supervise the eruv of the city.

The Mordechai infers from this Gemara that under normal circumstances when the rabbi of an area is not similarly preoccupied, he has an obligation and a mitzvah to erect an eruv for his community.

Following this reasoning the Rosh in a famous teshuvah (21:8) sharply criticizes the leadership of a city whose policy was not to erect an eruv: “ I have already written to you concerning the concept of an eruv, that it is customary in all areas where Jews [reside] to allow carrying in those streets that are open on either end to the [streets where the] gentiles [reside] with [the rectification of] a tzuras hapesach. You forbade such [an eruv] for the congregation of Freres, and you wrote me your proofs, and I informed you that they amount to nothing. I warned you that you must recant and notify the congregation that they should rectify their streets [with an eruv] as their gedolim have accustomed them to. Now I have been told that you still uphold your position, and are thus causing the multitudes to desecrate the Shabbos. I therefore compel you, upon receipt of this letter before witnesses, to rectify the streets that open into the reshus harabbim of the [streets where the] gentiles [reside], with a tzuras hapesach, within a span of a few weeks upon seeing this letter. If you do not rectify the streets as I have written, I will excommunicate you. If you had been in the times of the Sanhedrin they would have executed you, as your aim is to uproot the Talmud edited by Rav Ashi, and to argue with all the gedolim until our times, those who are no longer with us z”l, and those who are still alive” (see also Tashbetz, 2:37).

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Historical Overview of City Eruvin

Since the times of Shlomo HaMelech, cities were fortified with walls that qualified as eruvin. Although these walls at times had breaches, the breaks were small and rectifiable. Relying on city walls for the purpose of eruvin (see for instance Chacham Tzvi, siman 5) was a practice that continued well into the 17th century at which time practically all the Jewish citizenry lived on the Judengasse. The Judengasse usually consisted of a few streets that were sealed with doors, which unintentionally eliminated the need to rectify any breaks in the city’s walls because the boundaries of the Jewish neighborhood were now intact.

During the latter part of the 17th century, when Jews were allowed to move outside those streets, cities had outgrown their walls and newer cities were built without walls altogether. For the purpose of eruvin it was no longer a given that cities were closed and therefore mechitzos had to be constructed. It was obviously easier to use natural walls that circumscribed entire cities, such as riverbanks and canals, than to erect tzuras hapesachim, which would have required permission from the civil authorities. Teshuvos written at that time addressed the possibility of utilizing canals and rivers as the necessary walls to enclose cities such as The Hague (Chacham Tzvi, siman 5 and Ohel Yaakov, siman 73) and Rotterdam (Shev Yaakov, siman 17 and Shvus Yaakov, 3:28). During the latter part of the 19th century, as telegraph, telephone, and electric wires sprung up all over the countryside, they were incorporated into the community eruv as well (Eitz HaChaim, siman 246-249; Maamer Mordechai, siman 31, and Nefesh Chayah, siman 34).

Prior to World War II almost all cities with Jewish populations established eruvin including Vilna (Mishmeres Sholom, 24:10) and Radin (Dugmah M’Darchei Avi, p. 31). In the times of Rav Shmuel Salant zt”l tens of thousands of people utilized the eruv and carried in Yerushalayim on Shabbos (Chazon Ish O.C. 39:5). Even the following large cities with populations of 600,000 erected eruvin: Warsaw (Mishmeres Sholom, 24:10; Divrei Menachem, O.C. vol. 2, pp. 42-43, and Rocznik Statystyczny Warszawy 1921 i 1922, 1924 p. 14), Lodz (Mishmeres Sholom, 24:10 and Encyclopedia Judaica, 1996 vol. 11 p. 426), Odessa (Divrei Malkiel, 3:14-18, 4:3; Tikkun Shabbos, and Tuv Yehoshua), Manchester (introduction Bais Av vol. 2 and Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 vol. 17 p. 547), St. Louis (Tikvas Zechariah and Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 vol. 24 p. 24), and New York in 1905 (Oznei Yehoshua, 1:18; Tirosh VaYitzhar, siman 73; Eruv V’Hotzaah, and US Census, 1900).

In order to satisfy the civil authorities and remain inconspicuous, the eruvin of our grandparents’ time relied on existing enclosures such as riverbanks and telegraph wires. As a result of the circumstances under which these eruvin were constructed, the poskim usually permitted major leniencies. As is evident from nearly all the teshuvos written about eruvin prior to World War II, the question then was not whether an eruv was permissible, only how to construct one. Just as it was the responsibility of each rav to insure that there be a kosher mikveh in his community it was incumbent on each rav to erect an eruv as well (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos, 1:844; see also Chasam Sofer, O.C. 99). If the rav of the city did not erect an eruv, it was not for the lack of effort; the civil authorities did not permit the construction of one.

Today we are fortunate that we can erect our own tzuras hapesachim and to construct eruvin that are far superior to the ones that were erected in the preceding era.