Many communities must grapple with the issue of including intercity highways within the Eiruv. For example, the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway is within the Yerushalayim Eiruv, Route 4 runs through Teaneck, New Jersey, and the Henry Hudson Parkway enters the Eiruv of the Riverdale section of The Bronx, New York. Different communities grapple with this issue in varying manners, and we shall explain the basis for the variety of practices.
Reshut HaRabim Limitations
A most fundamental point is that an Eiruv consisting of Tzurot HaPetach (doorframes, which are poles connected by wires above them) may be constructed only in an area within which it is forbidden to carry only on a rabbinical level. Such an Eiruv is forbidden to enclose an area defined as a Reshut HaRabim (public domain). For many centuries, many Jews have relied on Rashi’s (Eiruvin 59a s.v. Ir Shel Yachid) opinion that an area is not defined as a Reshut HaRabim if less than 600,000 people reside within the area. Rashi explains that a city in which fewer than 600,000 people live is too dissimilar to the manner of the Diglei Midbar (our ancestor’s Biblical desert encampment), the paradigm of an area where it is forbidden to carry on a Biblical level.
An Intercity Road
The Gemara (Shabbat 6a) states that a road one travels when going from city to city (Seratya) is categorized as a Reshut HaRabim. This passage in the Gemara is codified by Magein Avraham (345:5) and Mishnah Berurah (345:17) without dissent. The question is whether even Rashi would agree that an intercity road is defined as a Reshut HaRabim even if 600,000 people do not regularly travel on that road.
Ramban (Eiruvin 59a) writes that “it is possible” that Rashi’s leniency does not apply to an intercity road, since such a road is a public domain similar to the Diglei Midbar, even if 600,000 people do not regularly travel the road. Rav Hershel Schachter (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 5:13 and Kol Tzvi 5765 page 84) explains that this approach views an intercity road as the paradigm of a Reshut HaRabim (the aforementioned passage in Shabbat 6a seems to support this assertion) and believes that the various conditions to constitute a Reshut HaRabim (such as Rashi’s requirement of 600,000 people) are not necessary to define an intercity road as a Reshut HaRabim. A city or street must have 600,000 people, according to this approach, in order for it to match a highway and constitute a Reshut HaRabim.
Biur Halachah (345 s.v. Yeish Omerim) cites the suggestion of Ramban, but it is not clear whether he rules in accordance with it. There is no straightforward statement in either Mishnah Berurah or Biur Halachah stating that those who rely on Rashi’s lenient approach should refrain from doing so regarding an intercity road. Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 345:17) rules that 600,000 people are required even in regards to intercity roads. However, he explains the 600,000 people rule as referring not to 600,000 people passing on this road every day (as implied by the manner in which the Shulchan Aruch, ibid., presents the 600,000 people position) but rather to 600,000 people passing through the road “in the course of time.” Teshuvot Maharsham (3:188) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:139:5) rule that the 600,000 people requirement applies even to an intercity road. It is clear that Rav Moshe considers the 600,000 people rule to refer to daily passage (Maharsham even writes explicitly that the 600,000 people requirement refers only to a city where it is usual to have 600,000 people within it on a daily basis). He does not regard the bridges that connect Brooklyn and Manhattan as a Reshut HaRabim, since 600,000 people do not travel on these roads daily, even though 600,000 people definitely pass on these very heavily traveled bridges in the course of time. Netivot Shabbat (3:1 note 9) writes that Machatzit HaShekel (357:11) seems to agree with Maharsham and Rav Moshe.
Rav Mordechai Willig (personal communication) notes that both the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 303:18) and Rama (O.C. 346:3) present Rashi’s requirement by saying, “There is no Reshut HaRabim in our times,” without stating that intercity roads constitute an exception. He infers that these leading authorities regard Rashi’s leniency to apply even to an intercity road. Indeed, Rav Willig does not exclude the Henry Hudson Parkway from the Riverdale Eiruv (Rav Willig is the Rav of the Young Israel of Riverdale), and Rav Eliezer Waldenburg (cited in The Contemporary Eiruv page 54 note 119) supports the fact that the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway is not excluded from the Yerushalayim Eiruv, since the 600,000 people requirement is not satisfied by this road. Rav Hershel Schachter, on the other hand, rules in accordance with Ramban’s suggestion. The Teaneck Eiruv, which meticulously excludes Route 4, follows his ruling.
Defining an Intercity Road
Rav Willig (personal communication) argues further that the Henry Hudson Parkway is not included in Ramban’s definition of an intercity road, since Riverdale residents commonly use this highway as a convenient and quick manner to travel from one section of Riverdale to another. Indeed, a careful reading of Ramban supports this contention. Ramban speaks of roads “that are outside the city which people use to travel from the city to another city and from one country to another until the end of the entire world.” Ramban seems to be speaking of a major highway, such as the New Jersey Turnpike, that lies, for the most part, outside city boundaries and is used almost exclusively as an intercity road.
On the other hand, there are Eiruvin in North America that exclude even intercity roads that are fully integrated into the city, with traffic lights and parking for automobiles on their sides. This approach seems to run entirely against the aforementioned words of Ramban.
Rav Hershel Schachter adopts a very reasonable approach to this issue. Rav Schachter argues that only a limited-access highway is defined as an intercity road for this purpose. Only such a highway can be described as being “outside the city” (even if it runs within municipal boundaries, such as Teaneck’s Route 4), since it is set apart from the rest of the city. Thus, Rav Schachter (personal communication) ruled that the Matawan, New Jersey, Eiruv may include Route 34 and that the Parsippany, New Jersey, Eiruv may encompass Route 46.
Aruch HaShulchan (ad. loc.) rules that heavily traveled railroads are defined as a Reshut HaRabim, and railroad tracks must, therefore, be excluded from an Eiruv (though he maintains a unique view that a road is defined as a Reshut HaRabim only if it is the only major road in the area, see ad. loc. number 20; Rav Moshe Feinstein, in Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:87, dismisses this view as entirely unreasonable). This ruling is somewhat surprising, since the Gemara (Shabbat 6a) states that a street must be sixteen cubits (approximately twenty-eight feet) wide to qualify as a Reshut HaRabim, and railroad tracks are not this wide. Indeed, the Chafeitz Chaim (Sha’ar HaTziyun 345:18) following Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 14:1), rules that even an intercity road must be sixteen Amot wide to be classified as a Reshut HaRabim.
Maharsham (ad. loc.) in fact rules that a railroad does not qualify as a Reshut HaRabim since it is not sixteen Amot wide and does not usually have 600,000 people traveling on it each day. Rav Yeshayahu Bloi (Netivot Shabbat 3:1 footnote 3) notes that since railroads are made only for train travel and are not accessible to pedestrians, they might not qualify as Reshuyot HaRabim. He compares railroad tracks to a sea, which is not defined as a Reshut HaRabim (Shabbat 6a) even if many ships transverse it. Shulchan Aruch HaRav (345:19) explains that even though the sea is traveled by many, it is not defined as a Reshut HaRabim, since it differs so much from the Diglei Midbar, where there was ready access to all traffic. We may add that Rav Bloi’s point also applies to a limited-access highway where there is no room for pedestrian traffic (and civil laws often prohibit walking along such highways).
I asked Rav Schachter if the train tracks that are used only by freight trains (and are included within the Teaneck Eiruv) constitute a Reshut HaRabim. He replied that they might not, since Ramban’s reference to an intercity road seems to refer to a road which people commonly travel. Indeed, Mishnah Berurah (345:17) writes that intercity roads constitute a Reshut HaRabim since “many people are often there.” It is highly counterintuitive to label a road as a Reshut HaRabim if very few people travel on that road.
Even those who do not exclude an intercity road from an Eiruv often must address the fact that the highways run above or below the local streets upon which the Eiruv runs. Rav Yechezkeil Landau (Teshuvot Noda BiYhudah O.C. 42) rules that if a community uses a seawall as a border for its Eiruv and a bridge is constructed above the seawall, the bridge constitutes a breach (Pirtzah) in the Eiruv and must be excluded from the Eiruv. This authority believes an Eiruv on one ground level is ineffective on a ground level below or above it. If the other ground level is not excluded, the entire Eiruv is disqualified, according to the Noda BiYhudah, since the area is exposed to an area that is not encompassed by the Eiruv (Nifratz LeMakom HeAsur Lo) and is thus not completely enclosed. Mishnah Berurah (363:118) and Chazon Ish (O.C. 108:1-2) rule in accordance with the Noda BiYhudah, although Rav Moshe Feinstein (ad. loc.) rules that aboveground Eiruvin are effective for a second ground level. The Riverdale Eiruv encounters this problem, and Rav Willig created Tzurot HaPetach to ensure that the Henry Hudson Parkway, while not excluded from the Riverdale Eiruv, does not cause a problem of Nifratz LeMakom HeAsur Lo.
It is sometimes extremely difficult to fully exclude intercity roads from an Eiruv. Some communities are blessed with the infrastructure to do so, but in some communities, the cost to exclude intercity highways is exorbitant, as some intercity highways run at ground level and are not separated from local roads by a fence. Communities which follow a lenient approach regarding moderately sized intercity roads, such as the Henry Hudson Parkway, have ample basis for their practice in the rulings of Maharsham and Rav Moshe Feinstein and in the practice in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh, although it is best (when practical) to exclude such highways from an Eiruv. It is certainly advisable to effectively manage a problem posed by a highway running at a different ground level.