Today’s daf continues the conversation about how to make a public domain into a private one — that is, fit for carrying objects in it on Shabbat. In previous pages, we’ve seen the rabbis debate how high and wide a crossbeam must be for it to turn an alleyway open to the public on one side into a private domain. Today, we encounter an even sharper dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai over how to turn a public thoroughfare into a private one.
Beit Shammai say: He constructs a door from here, on one side, and a door from here, on the other side, and when he exits and enters, he must lock the door. And Beit Hillel say: He constructs a door from here, on one side, and a side post or a cross beam from here, on the other side.
Beit Shammai insists that in order to turn a public space private, you must actually make it private through the use of walls and doors that lock. Beit Hillel disagrees, stating that posts or beams are enough to mark a public space for private usage. At issue is the profoundly practical question of where one can carry on Shabbat. But the dispute is also theoretical: What makes a space private? What even is a door or a barrier?
Beit Shammai’s position is the more literal one: For a space to be private and marked for carrying on Shabbat, it must have a way to form a barrier to keep people out (or in). It must be walled off. Beit Hillel’s position is more abstract, suggesting that a symbolic marker that is recognized as a barrier is enough. No doors are necessary, just a subtle recognition that the space is marked as different in some way. Even a relatively open space can still be understood as private if a gesture is made towards privacy.
The Talmud is full of debates between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, but as today’s daf reminds us, “the halacha is always in accordance with Beit Hillel.” And so we rule that a space doesn’t need a locked door to mark it as private. It is enough to gesture towards privacy. The community can decide to mark a space as private even if others can (and do!) enter the space. The traffic of people into and through that space does not disrupt its relationship to those who marked it.
Though we tend to think of a private space as one defined by the fact that not just anyone can enter it, the rabbis determine differently. For the purposes of carrying on Shabbat, a private space can be big enough, and marked off enough, both for those who observe the laws of eruv — and for everyone else at the same time.