The logistics of eruvim could be read as one big metaphor for community-building. Like other community structures, the eruv combines individual units into one larger unit for the purpose of making people’s lives better and easier. And in order for it to work, the participants must be willing to give up some of their personal privileges for the sake of the whole: namely, if they live around a shared courtyard or alleyway, they must give up their rights to their portion of that shared space in order to make it a public domain in which everyone can carry on Shabbat.
But are there limits on who may be admitted to the community? On today’s daf, the rabbis ask whether someone who is not a practicing Jew can participate in the creation of shared Jewish space.
The Talmud brings an ancient teaching to bear:
An apostate and a brazen-faced person: behold, they cannot renounce their rights.
According to this teaching, someone who is an apostate — that is, a person who rejects Judaism — and someone who is unashamed of their own actions cannot participate in the creation of the eruv.
The Talmud then comments:
But an apostate is a brazen-faced person!
That is to say: why does this teaching mention both an apostate and someone who is not ashamed of their actions? Aren’t these the same thing?
Rather, the Talmud clarifies, the teaching mentions both because it refers specifically to an apostate who is also brazen-faced. It is that type of person, and only that type of person, who is excluded from the ability to create an eruv. Therefore, by implication, an apostate who is not brazen-faced can participate in this communal act, even though this person does not share the community’s beliefs.
What might this person look like? The Talmud offers an example:
A certain person went out on Shabbat with a coral ring (which would be prohibited to wear on Shabbat because it would constitute carrying). When he saw Rabbi Yehuda Nesia, he covered it. A person such as this may renounce their rights.
The person who hurriedly covers the Shabbat-violating ring when passing a great rabbi is not someone who doesn’t know the laws, but someone who doesn’t want to follow them. But this person is also invested in being part of the normative Jewish community and does not wish to publicly challenge its customs. This is not the brazen-faced apostate. In counting this person as part of the community for the purposes of eruv-building, the Talmud makes a small but radical statement: people must be considered part of the Jewish community if they convey that they want to be part of it, even if they disagree with other community members about some fundamental principles.
The idea of apostasy may feel a little archaic to us today, but this daf can still encourage us to ask: who do we reject from our community because we believe they disagree with us, and what would it look like to include them in the project of community-building solely on the basis of their desire to participate?