Today’s daf marks the beginning of a new chapter in our tractate and a new topic: Who is covered by the eruv set up by the head of the household? Which members of the household have agency to accept or decline? And do they need to know that the eruv is being created for their benefit at all? The answer is, as usual, “it’s complicated.”
The Gemara teaches:
A person may establish an eruv on behalf of his adult son or daughter, and on behalf of his Hebrew servant or maidservant, and on behalf of his wife, only with their knowledge. However, he may establish an eruv on behalf of his Canaanite servant or maidservant, and on behalf of his minor son or daughter, either with their knowledge or without their knowledge, as their hand is like his hand (i.e., their status and the domain in which they are located are determined by his status and domain).
The Gemara differentiates between two groups: those that have free agency, including a Hebrew servant, an adult child or a spouse, and those such as a minor child or non-Jewish servant that do not have agency because they are considered to be part and parcel of the householder himself — “like his hand” in the language of the text. Sometimes, the Talmud groups women with servants and minors and offers them no more agency than it does a child or a slave — but not in this case.
Why would it be problematic for a spouse to automatically be covered by the household eruv that her husband sets up? Wouldn’t that just be a convenience? Well, not always.
The Gemara continues:
And all of these who established an eruv for themselves, and at the same time their master established an eruv for them in a different direction, they may go out by means of their master’s eruv, except for a wife, because she can object by saying that she does not want her husband’s eruv.
The type of eruv under discussion here is an eruv techumim, one which is established to extend the Shabbat boundary past the allowable 2,000 cubits. The Gemara seems to assume that a person may be covered by only one such eruv on any given Shabbat, and here considers the possibility that married people might want or need to be in different places — for instance, visiting different family members for friends — thus necessitating each one to create his or her own eruv in their preferred direction.
Staying silent doesn’t automatically mean that the wife agrees, either. The Gemara concludes by stating that a husband cannot create an eruv for his wife without her knowledge. If he does, she is not bound by it.
Today we celebrate equality among people and diversity of all types of families. And yet, even within Talmudic society, a woman’s agency – and her independence to go where she wants on Shabbat – is explicitly protected. A woman’s consent is not assumed.
May it be ever so.