Much has been written over the years on America’s turn to individualism, and the loss of community and neighborhood connections that have traditionally supported families and individuals. We write about “Bowling Alone,” and about the loss of the “village,” particularly for parents raising young children. Many of us, should we need the proverbial cup of sugar, are more likely to Instacart or text a friend 10 miles away than turn to our next-door neighbors, whose name we may not know. At the same time, Facebook groups like Buy Nothing, MeetUp groups for new parents or hiking enthusiasts, and synagogue chavurot or small groups are helping us create and curate the networks that we need. As today’s page reminds us, human beings have always lived in networks, often complex ones; we have always shared spaces, along with sugar and, sometimes, a business opportunity.
If a homeowner was in business partnership with his neighbors, with this one in wine and with that one in wine, they need not establish an eruv (they are considered as one household).
If, however, he was in partnership with this one in wine and with that one in oil, they must establish an eruv.
Rabbi Shimon says: In both this case and that case (i.e. whether they were in partnership with the same items or different ones) they need not establish an eruv.
We are to assume here that these neighbors live in separate domiciles, presumably centered around a shared courtyard. As with other conversations in this chapter, the question at hand involves the Shabbat usage of and passage through this courtyard. If the households are separated, each would need to establish an eruv in order to carry through the courtyard on Shabbat. But members of a single household, even if that household is spread across a courtyard, do not need an eruv. And so, the mishnah introduces a new category — a shared household not based on familial ties, but on economic ones.
There is some debate about which business partnerships can be said to link households together as one. Is the distinction, the rabbis will go on to ask, based on the physical vessels in which the liquid is stored? The architectural design of the houses? The business agreement? And, even more fundamental: who is the “they” establishing the eruv? The homeowner and his tenants or just the tenants?
To this last point, the Gemara expounds:
What is the subject of the phrase “they need not establish an eruv”? It refers to the neighbors together with the homeowner. But with regard to the neighbors with each other, they must establish an eruv.
Imagine, therefore, houses A, B, and C. House B is the homeowner in this scenario, bordered by A and C. If the homeowner of House B is in a business with House A, and in a business with House C, no eruv is necessary to pass in the communal space. But, the Talmud clarifies, if only House C and House A have a shared physical domain, even though they are both in business partnerships with House B, they are not considered housemates; they would need to establish an eruv to use their shared space on Shabbat. Because they are not in relationship directly with each other, their spaces are not considered shared.
And so, on a deeper level the Gemara suggests, more than questions of which vessels are used or the architectural layout, are questions of relationship. What connects people first and foremost are not the physical structures around them, but the deliberate decisions they make to intertwine their lives.