Masechet Eruvin - An Introduction to the Tractate

October 07, 2005

This month's Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by:

Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris

The Lewy Family Foundation

Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

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See that HaShem has given you the Shabbat; therefore He has given you on the sixth day the bread of two days; remain every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.

(Shemot 16:29)


If you turn away your foot because of the Shabbat, from pursuing your business on My holy day; and call the Shabbat a delight, and the holy of HaShem honorable; and shall honor it, by not doing your usual ways, nor pursuing your business, nor speaking of it, then you shall delight yourself in HaShem, and I will make you ride upon the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father; for the mouth of HaShem has spoken it.

(Yeshayahu 58:13-14)


Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the Shabbat day, neither do any work; but make the Shabbat day holy, as I commanded your fathers.

(Yirmiyahu 17:22)

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Masechet Eruvin, in its entirety, is an extension and completion of Masechet Shabbat, as it focuses on one aspect of the laws of Shabbat not previously covered in a comprehensive way. Masechet Shabbat opened with a discussion of the rules and regulations surrounding the Melakha of Hotza'ah ? carrying on Shabbat. Masechet Eruvin examines the details of the Rabbinic laws that apply to this act. This Melakha is unique in that it is not an inherently creative act; rather, what is forbidden is the act of transferring an object from one domain to another.


In essence, Hotza'ah points to the importance of Shabbat as a "Shabbaton" ? not only as a day on which specific activities are forbidden, but also as a day on which a premium is placed on quiet, rest and a sense of relaxation. Shabbat demands that we rest from the everyday hustle-and-bustle of moving and carrying from the public to the private domain and vice versa. Similarly, the public thoroughfare quiets down from its weekday business and trade. This is accomplished by the creation of domains that are unique to Shabbat (they do not correspond with the domains that have force with regard to the rules of commerce, nor the rules of ritual purity), forbidding transference between different domains, as well as carrying in the public domain.


The laws of Shabbat recognize four basic domains:

A private domain (Reshut ha-Yahid)

A public domain (Reshut ha-Rabim)

A Carmelit, which is neither "public" nor "private"

A Makom Petur, a "free space," which is not really a domain, at all

In effect, there are only three domains on Shabbat: private and public, both of which are Biblically defined, and the Carmelit, which is defined by the Rabbis. All other areas are really in the category of "free spaces."

The Reshut Ha-Yahid is an area of four tefahim by four tefahim (one tefah is a handbreadth ? the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the pinky) or larger that is separated from the area around it by walls that are at least 10 tefahim high. For the purposes of hilkhot Shabbat, this is true even if the area is open to the public and available for its use.


The Reshut ha-Rabim is a thoroughfare whose width is at least 16 amot (one amah is a cubit, or the measurement from the elbow to the end of the index finger). According to some opinions, to be defined as a public domain it also needs to be frequented by more than 600,000 people daily. The laws of the Reshut ha-Rabim only apply to a height of ten tefahim.


On a Torah level these are the two main areas, but the Sages of the Talmud added a third ? the Carmelit ? which is treated on a Rabbinic level like a Reshut ha-Rabim. The Carmelit is an area of at least four tefahim by four tefahim that has no walls around it. Examples would be fields, lakes, etc.


An area of less than four tefahim by four tefahim, or the airspace above ten tefahim in a Reshut ha-Rabim or a Carmelit, is considered a free space ? a Makom Petur ? where the rules of carrying do not come into play.


For many years, these basic divisions informed all of the rules and regulations of hotza'ah, or carrying on Shabbat. After the Jewish people settled in their land and began to develop it, the Rabbinic leadership became concerned that Shabbat was not fully recognized in day-to-day life. In particular, the separate domains of Shabbat, whose theoretical definitions did not match any practical division of activities, were found to be confusing to the people. After all, a Reshut ha-Yahid that was full of people and activity appeared, superficially, to be indistinguishable from a Reshut ha-Rabim. Moreover, people could engage in most of their normal weekday activities without achieving the desired rest mandated by Shabbat on a conceptual level.


Already in the time of the first Temple, the Rabbinic Sages began to add ordinances to raise the level of consciousness regarding the safeguarding of Shabbat. These additional regulations were referred to as "Shevut," meaning a Rabbinic law whose purpose is to add to the element of Shabbat that emphasizes rest and relaxation. One of the areas in which the Rabbis added legislation was carrying on Shabbat, where the permissible uses of the Reshut ha-Yahid became more limited and the simple meaning of the passage in Sefer Shemot ? "let no man go out of his place on the seventh day" ?is understood as binding. The Rabbis qualified the definition of Reshut ha-Yahid to include only those places truly belonging to one individual or family. Areas accessible to a number of households, like a courtyard (hatzer) ? into which multiple houses open, as well as the streets and alleys leading to the hatzer, are treated by the Sages as a Reshut ha-Rabim on a Rabbinic level.


These Rabbinic ordinances are the springboard for Masechet Eruvin. The tractate is an examination of these laws and an attempt to ascertain how we can practically overcome the obstacles they create. The idea is not to do away with the regulations, which were established to protect the serenity and sanctity of Shabbat, but rather to find other acceptable ways to highlight the division between the public and private realms. This is accomplished by a careful examination of walls and separations, trying to clarify from a legal perspective what can be considered an adequate division between domains. While a solid brick wall is certainly a separation, in most cases we deal with divisions that are less clear. There are bound to be partial walls, walls which include openings for doors and windows, and even symbolic walls.


The first chapter of Masechet Eruvin deals with a Mavoy ? an area that is open to the public domain on one side, into which a number of courtyards open. In order for all members of the houses leading to the courtyards to carry in the Mavoy, two things must be done:


  1. Every household must contribute to a food item that will be jointly owned by all. This enables all of the people living there to be viewed as one large household (this is actually the "Eruv" for which our tractate is named).
  2. A physical change must be made in the Mavoy to symbolically close it off from the Reshut ha-Rabim. This change involves the addition of a Lehi (a pole standing near the entrance) or a Korah (a beam across the entranceway) that will help people recognize that they are entering a Reshut ha-Rabim.

The rules and regulations that are studied in this tractate are not just theoretical. The Eruvin that have been erected in cities and towns throughout the United States and around the world are based on real-world applications of the principles found in this Masechta. The Boston Eruv is one such example.

Masechet Eruvin is divided into ten chapters, most of which deal with these issues. A separate topic that is examined in this tractate is Eruvei Tehumim ? the preparations needed to enable a person to travel on Shabbat beyond the 2000-amah boundary that surrounds the community. This issue is discussed in detail in the 3rd, 4th and 5th perakim (chapters) of the tractate.


[Some additional online resources that may be of help while studying Masechet Eruvin, particularly with the definitions of the technical terms, include:]


This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud. It is also featured on the website of the Orthodox Union (OU) at

To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.


Next: Eruvin 2a-b