On today’s daf, the conceptual significance of an eruv bumps up against the particulars of creating one, affording us some insight into the eruv’s potential community-building power.
As we saw several weeks ago, in order for neighbors to carry objects within a shared courtyard, or in and out of each other’s homes, on Shabbat, they must create a type of eruv known as an eruv hatzerot — literally “a joining of courtyards.” This is done by having all the neighbors contribute to a single food basket that is placed in one neighbor’s house. The food collection is a tangible expression of the fact that all the neighbors have joint ownership over the yard, almost like a kibbutz that eats communal meals together.
But what if the actual neighbors are a little standoffish? Can you build an eruv if the neighbors don’t buy into the group mentality?
Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: With regard to one who is particular about his eruv, his eruv is not a valid eruv. After all, what is its name? Joining [eruv] is its name.
Rabbi Ḥanina said: Even in that case, his eruv is a valid eruv, however, that person is called one of the men of Vardina. The men of Vardina were renowned misers, meaning that he is considered to be stingy like them.
The case described involves a person who is particular about the loaf of bread they contributed — in other words, they are anxious to get back their own food from the collection bowl. Shmuel believes that maintaining individual ownership over one’s contribution invalidates the eruv because the joining of several homes and a courtyard into a single domain is accomplished by the symbolic relinquishing of individual ownership over the food and the yard. Later on the daf, the Gemara makes this point more explicit when it suggests that the collecting of food in one person’s home effectively joins all the various households into one commune for the duration of Shabbat.
But Rabbi Hanina disagrees. It may be miserly to take back your personal loaf from the bowl, but the ritual act of eruv is symbolic. As long as you go through the motions of adding to the joint basket, the eruv is kosher.
We might think of these two positions with a modern analogy. Shmuel pictures the eruv as a potluck, where everyone contributes and no one checks whether you bought expensive cheese or cheap crackers. If you come to a potluck with one sandwich and eat it by yourself, you’re missing out on a core part of the experience.
Rabbi Hanina thinks of the eruv like a school pizza party, where each parent pays for exactly what their child eats. The parents might not be friends, but a partnership exists nonetheless. To Rabbi Hanina, that kind of partnership suffices for an eruv.
Today, we still fulfill this food collection requirement when constructing an eruv, if minimalistically. In addition to the string or fence that marks the outer boundaries of the domain covered by the eruv, one synagogue holds a quantity of food — often, a box of matzah — that represents the food contributions of all the communities included in the eruv. No one is likely to enjoy that box of matzah, certainly not at a celebratory citywide picnic, but it is a symbolic gesture of partnership. While this box of matzah fulfills just the minimum form of partnership, we may also aspire to use the eruv as a means of building camaraderie between communities and the diverse people who rely on it.