Today’s daf finds the rabbis continuing their discussion about how much food is required to constitute an eruv. On yesterday’s daf, we learned that the amount must be enough to last for two meals, but how much is that? Do we go by the average or by what a specific person or community considers enough?
In trying to figure this out, the rabbis bring this teaching:
Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: Og, king of the Bashan, or any similar giant, requires an opening as big as his full size.
Why are we suddenly talking about giants in Tractate Eruvin?
To answer the question of whether the food requirements for an eruv go according to a general measure or by the needs of the specific person making the eruv, the Talmud draws an analogy from the laws of ritual purity. According to the Bible, death causes a body to become ritually impure, and this impurity can spread to nearby objects, people, and spaces. Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar’s teaching tells us that in order to minimize the spread of ritual impurity, an opening must be made large enough for a corpse to be removed from a house — even if the corpse is as big as the giant Og.
Og first appears in the Book of Numbers 21, where he and his army attack the Israelites and are dramatically defeated. You may remember that we’ve already met Og in our Daf Yomi cycle. In Tractate Berakhot, the rabbis vividly describe his attack on the Israelites in the desert and his death at the hands of Moses: “How tall was Moses? He was ten cubits tall [15 feet], He took an axe ten cubits long, jumped up ten cubits, and struck Og in the ankle and killed him.” According to this math, Og’s ankles are 45 feet above the ground!
So when the rabbis in Eruvin are asking whether to use the average size of a man, or the actual size of a particular man like Og, the difference is no small thing. So how to make laws that account for the vast size differential between some human beings and others?
The Talmud explains that Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar’s ruling doesn’t apply to the laws of eruv. This is because in the case of a corpse in a house, there is no other option. A corpse can only be removed from a house without being desecrated if there is an opening large enough for it to pass through. But in the case of establishing an eruv with food, logistics do not actually require that the food be enough to sate a giant.
Where necessary, we take into account individual bodies and individual needs; but when it is logistically unnecessary, the average is just fine. Og might have been enormous, but we can theoretically establish an eruv for him without setting aside enough food for an army.