Eruvin 17

Where private property ends.

The first chapter of Eruvin ends with a mishnah that lists a number of leniencies for soldiers who are in a military encampment during wartime, among them an exemption from having to construct an eruv to permit carrying on Shabbat. This rule stands in contrast to the laws we encountered on yesterday’s page about how members of a caravan must construct an eruv when they pause their journey for Shabbat.

Another of the leniencies is a rule that allows soldiers to collect wood for kindling without concern that the wood is owned by others and that, by collecting it, the soldiers would be liable for theft. The Gemara then explains that this rule is rooted in a set of stipulations that Joshua established as the Jewish people entered the land of Israel. Among other things, Joshua allowed the people to gather wood from the fields of others for personal use.

Using a rabbinic logic that recurs frequently in the Talmud, the Gemara reads the second source as a challenge to the first: if Joshua granted people the right to use kindling found on the property of others, why do we need another source to tell us that this right was given to soldiers as well? If everyone has the right to use wood, certainly that would include soldiers.

The Gemara provides three possible explanations for why we need both texts:

There, Joshua’s ordinance permitted gathering various types of shrubs and thorns, with regard to which people are not particular; here, the ordinance in the mishnah pertaining to a military camp is referring to other types of wood.

Alternatively: There, Joshua’s ordinance referred to gathering thorns still attached to the ground, as removing those thorns benefits the field’s owner. Here, however, the mishnah is referring to gathering thorns that are already detached.

Alternatively: There, Joshua’s ordinance referred to gathering moist thorns. Owners are not particular about them because they are not immediately suitable for kindling. Here, the mishnah is referring even to dry thorns.

Perhaps Joshua only permitted gathering shrubs and thorns about which landowners are not particular. Or perhaps Joshua allowed only for the gathering of thorns still attached to the ground, which provides a benefit to the landowner who is relieved from having to clear them. Or perhaps Joshua only allowed for the gathering of moist thorns, which cannot be used as kindling and are therefore not useful to the landowner. In all these cases, we would need the mishnah to extend that permission to all types of wood, or detached thorns, or dry thorns.

As we’ll see when we begin to study sections of the Gemara that deal with personal property, the rabbis draw upon biblical legal principles to establish a system of laws that protect a person’s property rights and deter others from infringing upon them. Yet as we see from today’s daf, those rights are not absolute.

Certain items, like kindling, must be available for public use even if they are found on private property. And certain property rights are suspended to meet the needs of an army headed out to war. By limiting the ability to claim ownership rights to wood and kindling, the rabbis are ensuring that travelers have access to fuel for cooked food, light and heat, and that those providing for the common defense can meet their basic needs without functioning supply lines.

The rabbi’s message is clear: Although the principle “what’s mine is mine and what’s your is yours” can serve us well most of the time, there are situations in which “what’s yours in mine and what’s mine is yours” may serve us better. Today’s daf offers an example when this is so.

Read all of Eruvin 17 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 26, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Judaism and Pets: Questions and Answers

What Jewish tradition says about cats, dogs and other companion animals.

Who Was Rabbi Akiva?

The second-century sage was the inspiration for many legends and may have died as a martyr.

Valuing Debate and Conversation

Jewish tradition, informed by the precedent of the Talmud, prefers to promote discussion rather than correctness.