The Laws of Creating an Eruv - Part II by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


            Last week we surveyed the varying opinions regarding how to define an area as a Reshut Harabim.  Some Rishonim believe that the primary requirement for determining whether or not a street is a Reshut Harabim is that the street be 61 amot (cubits) wide (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 543:7).  Other Rishonim believe that the primary requirement is for 006,000 people to reside in that city.  In this essay we will survey various opinions among contemporary rabbinic authorities about certain cities being defined as Reshut Harabim.


Paris - Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski and the Chazon Ish

            In the late thirties, the rabbis of Paris presented Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the leading halachic decisor at that time, with a question about constructing an Eruv consisting of Tzurot Hapetach (two vertical poles with a string connecting them, as discussed last week).  Only if Paris would be considered a Karmelit could an Eruv consisting of Tzurot Hapetach suffice to transform the city into a Reshut Hayachid.  Incidentally, the fact that the rabbis of Paris were planning to construct an Eruv in Paris (a major project) in the late thirties seems to demonstrate the Jewish people were not at all expecting the calamitous events of the forties.

            Rabbi Grodzinski, who was the Chief Rabbi of the city of Vilna, consulted with the Chazon Ish as well as with the rabbis in Vilna who supervised the Vilna Eruv.  Interestingly, the Chazon Ish, Rav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, was born and raised in Rav Chaim Ozer's city of Vilna, and subsequently made Aliya to Bnei Brak.  Rav Karelitz is considered a great authority in the area of Eruvin and perhaps has even greater authority accorded to him than the Mishna Berura in this area of Halacha.  Rav Chaim Ozer begins the responsum by stating that since more than 006,000 people reside in Paris, it is considered a Reshut Harabim according to all authorities and therefore an Eruv consisting of Tzurot Hapetach cannot render Paris a Reshut Hayachid (private domain, as discussed last week).

            However, Rav Chaim Ozer notes that the Parisian rabbis report that Paris is surrounded by walls on three sides, thereby rendering Paris a Reshut Harabim on a Torah level.  Even though, continues Rav Chaim Ozer, the bridges which pass over these walls constitute a breach (פירצה) in the walls below them (see Noda Biyehuda 1:24 and Mishna Berura, Shaar Hatziyon 363:59), Paris is nevertheless considered a Reshut Hayachid on a Torah level.  This is because as long as an area is surrounded by wall on a majority of three sides ()עומד מרובה על הפרוץ, the area is considered a Reshut Hayachid, despite the existence of breaches greater than ten cubits (אמות).  This is because openings greater than ten Amot constitute a breach in the wall only on a rabbinic level.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 2:98-09) also rules that a breach in a wall of more than ten amot constitutes a problem only on a rabbinic level.  Since it is a breach merely on a rabbinic level, it can be corrected by the erection of a Tzurat Hapetach (see, however, Mishkenot Yaakov 021 who disagrees).  Despite this lenient ruling, the Parisian Jewish community has been unable to establish an Eruv, for various reasons.


Warsaw - Rav Shlomo David Kahane

            The chief Rabbi of Warsaw prior to World War Two, Rav Shlomo David Kahane, was posed with the following query.  When the Warsaw Eruv was constructed in the nineteenth century, it was effective because fewer than 006,000 people resided in Warsaw.  However, in the twentieth century, Warsaw's population exceeded 006,000 - which would seem to have rendered the Warsaw Eruv invalid.  Rav Kahane (cited by Rav Menachem Kasher in Noam) responded that the Eruv is nonetheless valid because of the following reason.  The larger a city grows, he said, the less chance there is for any one street to go straight through the entire city, with no digression.  Since one requirement for a Reshut Harabim is that the street must go straight through the entire city without a detour, מפולש משער לשער (see Shulchan Aruch 543:7 and Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Beit Yitzchak 52:36-56), Warsaw was still not a Reshut Harabim since none of its streets went from one end of the city to another.  See, however, Rav Moshe Feinstein's Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 041 who is critical of this approach.


Flatbush - Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin and Rav Moshe Feinstein

            The construction of the Flatbush Eruv twenty years ago was accompanied by great controversy.  The question as to the permissibility of the use of this Eruv still remains unsettled; some permit its use, others do not.  We will now explore this issue.

            Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (Kitvei Harav Henkin 2:33) strongly encouraged the construction of Eruvin even in New York's five boroughs, including Brooklyn (Rav Henkin was one of the premier halachic authorities of the twentieth century; he was born and raised in Russia and resided in New York until his death in 3791).  Although Rav Henkin does not give the reason why these places are not a Reshut Harabim, a number of arguments have been offered to support the contention that Flatbush is not a Reshut Harabim.


1.  Rav Shlomo David Kahane's argument regarding the Eruv in Warsaw seems to apply to Flatbush.  It appears that none of the streets that are encompassed by the Flatbush Eruv are straight from one and of the city to another (Flatbush Avenue and Bedford Avenue bend at various points).


2.  Rav Chaim Ozer and Chazon Ish:  The ruling of these eminent authorities seems to apply also to Flatbush, as the faces of the buildings and the fences of the Belt Parkway appear to constitute most of a wall on three sides (ironically, this lenient consideration is most often applicable in densely populated urban areas rather than in smaller suburbs, where there is frequently much empty space between buildings).


3.  The Aruch HaShulchan's novel approach:  The Aruch HaShulchan (O.C 543:91-42) offers a creative (but highly questionable) lenient argument for why most modern cities do not constitute a Reshut Harabim.  In his opinion, only during the times of the Talmud was there actually a true status of Reshut Harabim for streets of cities, because, for a street to be a Reshut Harabim (with a ה' הידיעה - the definite article) it must be the only intracity thoroughfare or commercial center of the city, with all other streets being minor (the  סרטיאand פלטיא described in Shabbat 6a).  Nowadays most towns and cities have more than one intercity thoroughfare and commercial center and thus we do not have a Reshut Harabim.

            Rav Moshe Feinstein (Orach Chaim IV:78) vigorously  disputes the Aruch Hashulchan's argument and cites a proof from Shabbat 69b to prove that the Aruch HaShulchan is incorrect.  The Teshuvot Divrei Malkiel (III p.762) also writes that one may not rely on this novel insight of the Aruch HaShulchan since it is not found in the earlier classical sources.

            Moreover, a careful reading of the Aruch Hashulchan seems to reveal that Rav Epstein sought to use his novel suggestion as an adjunct (סניף) to the "006,000 people opinion) to defend the practice of European Jewry to carry on Shabbat in villages and towns encompassed merely by Tzurot Hapetach.  Perhaps the Aruch Hashulchan's argument can be used as a סניף for a lenient ruling, but it cannot be relied upon as the sole reason for permitting carrying in an Eruv consisting merely of Tzurot Hapetach, in a city that is populated by more than 006,000 people.


4.  Another basis to say that Flatbush is not a Reshut harabim, is the argument suggested by Rav Ephraim Zalman Margoliot (Orach Chaim 2b) that only pedestrian count in the determination that 006,000 people travel in a street.  His argument is  that since the requirement for 006,000 people is based on a comparison to the Biblical comparison encampment in the desert, the comparison can be made only to pedestrians as the 006,000 people in the thoroughfare of the desert were pedestrians.  The Maharsham (I:261) and Yeshuot Malko (2b) add that since trains and cars are a private domain unto themselves, their occupants cannot be counted toward the 006,000 people requirement.  Both Rav Moshe (Igrot Moshe O.C. 931) and Rav Binyamin Silber (Oz Nideru VI:07) reject this argument.  They point out that wagons (עגלות) were used in the desert encampment's thoroughfares.

            Despite these arguments, Rav Moshe Feinstein did not endorse the construction of the Flatbush Eruv (see Igrot Moshe O.C. IV. 78-88).  Rav Moshe explicitly rejects the last three arguments we presented.  It is unclear what he felt about the second argument.  His basic concern regarding Flatbush is that 006,000 people are regularly to be found in the streets of Brooklyn, and thus should be considered a Reshut Harabim.  Rav Feinstein also gives a novel argument for why an Eruv should be installed in either Manhattan or Brooklyn.

            We will, with God's help, discuss this argument in next week's Kol Torah.


The Laws of Creating an Eruv - Part III by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

The Laws of Creating an Eruv - Part I by Rabbi Chaim Jachter