While Jews have always lived among people of all faiths, the Talmud suggests some ambivalence about Jews and non-Jews living in close proximity, ambivalence that we might find problematic in our own day. We find an example of this in the mishnah on today’s daf.
One who resides with a gentile in the same courtyard, or one who lives in the same courtyard with one who does not accept the principle of eruv, this person renders it prohibited for him to carry from his own house into the courtyard or from the courtyard into his house.
According to the mishnah, it’s forbidden to construct an eruv that includes property owned by a non-Jew, or even a Jew who doesn’t accept the laws of eruv. This ruling would clearly deter observant Jews from living among non-Jews. After all, everyone likes to be able to carry a Shabbat meal into a courtyard, and if living among non-Jews (or non-observant Jews) makes that impossible, life may be much easier lived exclusively among observant Jews.
Despite this ruling, generations of observant Jews have lived peacefully and comfortably among both non-Jewish and non-observant neighbors. Clearly, some sort of accommodation had to be made. And we find one in the Gemara that follows.
According to the Gemara, one can construct an eruv in a mixed neighborhood by means of something called a sechirat reshut, a property rental. If you have a neighbor who doesn’t observe the laws of eruv, you can lease their property from them and thus create a valid eruv that includes their property. In a large city, this requirement would render an eruv virtually impossible to construct. But as the 16th century legal code the Shulchan Aruch explains, in a large town you can lease the properties of all residents from a minister or public official. The official can rent out private homes, the Shulchan Aruch reasons, because governments have the right to quarter soldiers in private homes during wartime. In a democracy, of course, this isn’t possible, which is why some authorities today don’t accept the validity of a city-wide eruv.
But most do. And for such an eruv to be kosher, a sechirat reshut is required. This process has certainly made for some interesting moments in municipal politics!
Jews have a long history of navigating their way through the secular world. And while this mishnah may have intended to discourage our living among other nations, the Gemara and later Jewish law created practical pathways to co-existence. In the words of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi in the Jerusalem Talmud, the very act of combining courtyards through the creation of an eruv hatzerot creates community, and in so doing furthers peace among its participants.
Sharing property and building connections within larger cities can move us out of the insularity of our own homes and create ties to the world around us. Jewish law creates livable observant communities even among non-Jews, bringing the power of eruv into the non-Jewish, non-observant world. The eruv then offers the potential for shared recognition of community and, at its best, can be a true symbol of peace.