Eruvin 91

Skipping over rooftops.

For the last few pages, we have been discussing the case of interconnected roofs and a debate in the mishnah between Rabbi Meir and the rabbis as to whether one can carry on a single roof or between contiguous rooftops without an eruv. The mishnah also presents a third opinion in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that we haven’t discussed yet — until today. Here it is:

Rabbi Shimon says: Roofs, courtyards, and enclosed yards are all one domain with regard to vessels that were inside them when Shabbat began.

Rabbi Shimon links together three kinds of property that are all privately owned and not regularly used as living spaces. (This list does not include streets or alleyways, which are public property, or the quasi-public karmelit.) According to Rabbi Shimon, when these spaces are contiguous one may carry across all of them. Rabbi Shimon’s leniency creates a kind of “wormhole” that enables people to transfer objects over quite a distance without an eruv!

Two very interesting precedents are reported in first person and brought as examples of Rabbi Shimon’s lenient ruling:

Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi said: When we were studying Torah with Rabbi Shimon in Tekoa, we would carry oil and a towel from roof to roof, and from roof to courtyard, and from courtyard to courtyard, and from courtyard to enclosure, and from enclosure to enclosure, until we reached the spring in which we would bathe.

Here Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the august editor of the entire Mishnah, reminisces about his youth, studying with Rabbi Shimon and taking leisurely Shabbat afternoon baths in the nearby spring, having carried his towels and moisturizing oils to boot! Rabbi Shimon’s leniency about carrying makes this idyllic activity possible.

Then a precedent of a very different tenor is described by Rabbi Yehuda, who lived a generation earlier and experienced Roman persecution around the time of the Bar Kochba revolt.

And similarly, Rabbi Yehuda said: There was an incident during a time of danger (when decrees were issued that banned religious observance) and we would carry a Torah scroll from courtyard to roof, and from roof to courtyard, and from courtyard to enclosure, to read from it.

Here, Rabbi Shimon’s leniency allows Jews to smuggle sacred texts around town on Shabbat so that they can be studied, in defiance of Roman proclamation.

What do we make of these colorful first person accounts? Do they prove that Rabbi Shimon’s ruling was accepted? The Gemara does not accept Rabbi Yehuda’s story of moving Torah scrolls through courtyards and rooftops during a period of persecution as proof of halakhah — presumably because the behavior was performed under duress. Moreover, there is no follow up comment on Yehuda HaNasi’s shortcut to the natural spring. Are these both marginal cases — one about leisure, and one about persecution — not meant to be taken seriously?

Even if the stories explore potentially marginal cases, the ruling is taken seriously. Rabbi Shimon’s lenient ruling was accepted, and moving objects along rooftops, courtyards, and enclosed yards is permitted on Shabbat, even in the absence of an eruv!

Read all of Eruvin 91 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on November 8th, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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