The Private and the Shared (Eruvin 79)

Thank you Julius for your comments.

I agree with you that the gemara is not very consistent in applying some of the principles that it introduces – the respect for a teacher that you mention being a case in point. I can see that you were somewhat annoyed by the goings-on in that respect in daf 74, but, although I see where you are coming from, I don’t agree with the sentiment. To me, the beauty of gemara is that it is a real life document. I shows, so to speak, how the sausage is made. Other than the founding documents of some other religions, the gemara is not handed down to us as a perfect, infallible document. The rabbis are very real people, who are grappling to implement a divine code in a decidedly undivine world. They do this to the best of their ability. But in doing so, they stumble sometimes. They forget certain traditions and need to be reminded of them, misquote one another and sometimes contradict themselves – and that is all fine. The gemara records all of this and makes no comments. We stumble our way to what we hope is a better world.

The daf continues its way through Eruvin. I find it all a bit tough going – it is very technical and the link with real life seems to be tenuous. For the past few days we have been discussing what would constitute a fence between two courts (chatzeirot) that would still allow such courts to make an eiruv chatzeirot together, which would allow the inhabitants of one court to carry to the other court. We also spent some time discussing stairs, ditches and balconies. The main question seems to how two functionally separated, but structurally integrated domains can still belong together – but then in granular, mind-numbing detail.

The discussion made me realize, though, that there is an interesting point here: that a wall does not have to be an absolute division. There are walls that separate (the Berlin wall comes to mind, or the largely allegorical edifice that the hopefully soon-to-be ex-president of the United States keeps referring to as being built) and there are walls that, while they demarcate domains, allow for such domains to stay together to a certain extent. The gemara wants to find out the exact point to distinguish between these types of walls.

The larger point here is that this discussion serves as a model how we want to relate to our neighbors and the world we live in. Do we want to fence ourselves off (so that we are stuck to our own domain and our own eiruv) or do we want create a shared space. And if we choose the latter: how do we do that while guarding our property and individuality? Seen through this lens, Eruvin addresses a very current issue. The delineation between the public and the private, the shared and proprietary is one of the most hotly debated topics of our time. So perhaps between all the technicalities we can find a way to be inspired to think these matters over.

On a separate point: last Sunday was the yahrzeit of R’ Meir Shapira (7 Marcheshvan), who famously instituted the daf yomi. Although he would probably not have foreseen that one day people would be blogging about the daf, I think that we honour him and the institute he founded by keeping the conversation about the daf going. It is only fitting that we dedicate our discussions on the daf these days a little bit to memory so that his neshama, as they say, may have an aliya.

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