Sechirat Reshut: Part I - The Implementation & Challenges of Sechirat Reshut in the Modern Age by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


As part of creating a community Eruv, one must rent the entire area from the local authorities.  Sometimes this can prove challenging, as some community leaders are somewhat resistant to what they view as a foreign concept.  A thought occurred to me that could possibly solve this issue. Perhaps I could rent the entire country from President Trump, who has connections to the Orthodox Jewish community.  For an explanation, we must first explain the concepts of Eruv Chatzeirot and Sechirat Reshut.

Eruv Chatzeirot

Even after a proper community eruv has been constructed, and the area encompassed is thereby rendered a Reshut HaYachid, one may still not carry within it on Shabbat.  Despite the fact that it is permitted on a Torah level to carry from one Reshut HaYachid (one's house) to another (in our case, the outside area enclosed by the eruv), Chazal prohibited this in many cases.  Similarly, this rabbinic prohibition often precludes carrying from one household to another even within the same building. For example, this prohibition applies to an apartment building with at least two observant families.  In such situations, it is required to make an Eruv Chatzeirot (referred to by Chazal as an eruv) in order to permit carrying.

An Eruv Chatzeirot (literally "mixing the courtyards") is established through the communal donation of bread to the collective group of households located within a Reshut HaYachid. Each household donates a portion of bread, and the entire collection is stored in one of the houses within the encompassed area.  The Halachah then views the participants as if they all live in that one house, removing even the rabbinical prohibition against carrying (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 366:1).

The Gemara (Shabbat 14b) records that Shlomo HaMelech instituted this requirement and a heavenly voice acknowledged the profound wisdom in it.  The reason for this rule, as explained by the Rambam (Hilchot Eruvin 1:4), is that otherwise people would become confused about the laws of carrying.  The process of the Eruv Chatzeirot is designed to familiarize the community with the laws of carrying. This goal seems to be a reason for the time-honored practice of storing the Eruv Chatzeirot in the synagogue (see Rama, O.C. 366:3).  Rav Elazar Meyer Teitz told this author that his father, Rav Pinchas Teitz (of Elizabeth, New Jersey), prominently displayed the Eruv in a place within the synagogue where it was easily seen, noting that this was commonly done in Europe. Another advantage of storing the Eruv in the synagogue is that community members have full access to the Eruv, which is an important requirement (see Rav Moshe Shternbach's Teshuvot Vehanhagot 1:250).

In practice, we do not require every household in a Reshut HaYachid to contribute some bread for the purpose of the Eruv.  Instead, everyone in the community is granted a portion of the Eruv by the process known as Zachin Le'Adam Shelo BeFanav, acquiring something on behalf of another person (see Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 366:9-10,15).  This is accomplished by one person handing another the Eruv food and the second person lifting the Eruv into the air. It is lifted with the intention of acquiring the Eruv on behalf of all present and future residents of the area encompassed by the Eruv.

A blessing ("Al Mitzvat Eruv") is recited prior to the procedure of acquiring the Eruv on behalf of the community.   Then, the formula of "BeHadein Eruva" is recited, explaining the eruv's intended purpose (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 366:15).

Sechirat Reshut

The procedure of Eruv Chatzeirot is effective solely for Jews who believe in the Oral Law, and thus believe in the efficacy of an Eruv.  However, one must rent the apartments, homes, and common areas (such as streets and parks) from every non-Jewish and non-observant Jewish residents of the Reshut HaYachid.  This procedure is known as Sechirat Reshut.

A Communal Sechirat Reshut

Renting every non-Jewish house within the Tzurot HaPetach is a virtually impossible task to accomplish in a community Eruv.  Fortunately, Halachah provides an alternative method of performing the Sechirat Reshut (see Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 391:1, based on Teshuvot Rivash number 710).  The Jewish community may rent the entire enclosed area from the head of the city (Sar Ha'ir) or from one to whom this leader has delegated his authority. The Shulchan Aruch rules that the head of the city has the Halachic ability to rent out not just the public property within the Tzurot HaPetach, but also the homes of its residents.  His ability to rent out private homes stems from his right to quarter soldiers and military equipment in those homes during a time of war without consulting the residents.

Communal Sechirat Reshut in a Democracy

The United States Constitution (Amendment 3), however, forbids quartering soldiers under most circumstances.  This places the Sechirat Reshut in a democracy into grave doubt. In fact, Rav Kenneth Auman of Brooklyn, New York informed me that the Satmar Rebbe was willing to create an Eruv in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn for the Shabbat of Sukkot, were it not for the problem of making a community wide Sechirat Reshut in a democracy.  Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv is also quoted (The Laws of an Eruv, pg. 156) as seriously questioning the validity of a community wide Sechirat Reshut in a democracy.

Nonetheless, Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (Teshuvot Har Zvi Orach Chaim 2:17) rules that a Sechirat Reshut in a democracy is even more valid than one conducted within a totalitarian regime.  A government that is (in the iconic words of Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address) “of the people, by the people and for the people” is indeed the people’s government. Thus, a Sechirat Reshut from a government leader is fundamentally a rental conducted by the official on behalf of the people.  It is for this reason, rules Rav Zvi Pesach, that the Sechirat Reshut need not be renewed when a new leader is installed in office (as we discuss later). Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Moshe Heinemann cite Rav Moshe Feinstein as also permitting a Sechirat Reshut in a democracy.

Tikvat Zechariah (pg. 39-40), discussing the possibility of constructing an Eruv in St. Louis in the 1890s, rules that a city government in America does have the right to lease private homes for Sechirat Reshut.  He reasons that local governments may search and inspect private homes, in addition to maintaining the right to expropriate private land for public use (eminent domain).

Others, including Rav Hershel Schachter (in a lecture at Yeshiva University), strongly question this reasoning.  They point out that the right of eminent domain is rarely used and is quite difficult to apply. According to their opinion, it is forbidden to carry on Shabbat (even within an Eruv) from one's home to the private property of a non-Jew or non-observant Jew.   Nonetheless, they acknowledge that the mayor and police do possess the authority to close the public areas of the city.

Rav Mordechai Willig told me that in his assessment, the basis for a Sechirat Reshut in a democracy is weak.  Although he created and serves as the Halachic authority for the Riverdale Eruv, he refrains from using any community Eruv.  I even saw Rav Willig remove his watch before leaving his home to walk into an area encompassed by an Eruv under his own auspices!  Rav Willig’s reservations about the validity of a Sechirat Reshut in a democracy seems to be a major reason why he (on a personal level) refrains from using a community Eruv.  Common practice in the Orthodox community, however, is to rely on Sechirat Reshut performed with the local government officials.

With Which Government Official Should the Sechirat Reshut be Performed?

Identifying the appropriate authority to lease the area from is challenging (see Mishnah Berurah 391:18 and Aruch Hashulchan Orach Chaim 391:4).  In order to avoid this problem, rabbis often perform Sechirat Reshut from a number of local authorities, such as the mayor and the police chief.

Rav Mordechai Willig told me that he prefers to use the chief of the fire department to perform a Sechirat Reshut as the fire department enjoys the right to enter a home without warning in case of a fire emergency.  Rav Moshe Heinemann mentioned (in a talk delivered to a convention of the National Council of Young Israel rabbis) that at the insistence of one of the local Rabbanim he also conducted a Sechirat Reshut with the governor of the State of Maryland, when he created the community Eruv in Baltimore.

Rav Zvi Lieberman told me that when he created the Eruv for the Edgware section of London, he conducted the Sechirat Reshut with the representative of the Queen of England for his area, in addition to other government officials.  Rav Lieberman told me that the land in England is formally under the control of the Queen, and thus conducting the Sechirat Reshut with the representative of the Queen to Edgware further strengthens the validity of the Eruv.

When expanding a community Eruv, care must be taken to ensure that the Sechirat Reshut includes the expanded areas.  It is for this reason it is worthwhile to rent the entire area from the government official rather than the area encompassed by the borders of the Eruv.

Once when inspecting a community Eruv, I discovered that a tiny portion of the Eruv juts into the neighboring town from which a Sechirat Reshut was not performed.  This disqualified the entire Eruv since the Eruv is Nifratz L’Makom HaAsur Lo, exposed to an area in which it is forbidden to carry. It is for this reason I prefer conducting a Sechirat Reshut with a county executive.  In this manner one most often avoids the risk of overlooking a town that unexpectedly juts into the area encompassed by an Eruv. Both Rav Schachter and Rav Willig permit performing a Sechirat Reshut with a county executive.  I know of at least six counties in the United States that were “rented” in such a manner.

Expiration of a Sechirat Reshut

In addition, a community Sechirat Reshut should not be allowed to expire.   Unfortunately, I have encountered more than one community where the local Rabbanim unwittingly let the community’s Sechirat Reshut expire.  When conducting the Sechirat Reshut for the greater Teaneck Eruv, I rented the area for twenty years (in conformity with Rav Schachter’s standards; other Poskim permit a Sechirat Reshut of a much longer duration).  In addition, I stipulated that the Sechirat Reshut would automatically renew in case we forgot to update the Sechirat Reshut. Rav Willig told me that he thought this would be effective as a backup in case of failure to rent before July 2036.

Many authorities require renewing Sechirat Reshut when the non-Jewish official from whom it was performed leaves his office.  The Netivot Shabbat (37:28 and notes 96-99) cites these authorities, but he argues that Sechirat Reshut remains effective in democracies even when the government changes.  He reasons that a newly elected government is bound by agreements made by its predecessors. In practice, many Jewish communities today usually do not renew Sechirat Reshut every time the town government changes (also see Mishnah Berurah 382:26 and the aforementioned Teshuvot Har Tzvi, Orach Chaim 17), although Rav Mordechai Willig informs me that he makes make an effort to renew the Sechirat Reshut for the Riverdale, New York Eruv when there is a change in local government leadership (Rav Willig serves as the Rav of the Young Israel of Riverdale).


In next week’s issue of Kol Torah, we will Be’Ezrat Hashem discuss the possibility of performing a Sechirat Reshut for an entire country.

Sechirat Reshut: Part II – Rental of an Entire Country by Rabbi Chaim Jachter  

Separating Conjoined Twins: Part III - Tereifah & Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Ruling by Rabbi Chaim Jachter