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


            Last week we discussed the views of twentieth century authorities regarding constructing an Eruv in cities whose population exceed 006,000.  We discussed the establishment of Eruvin in Paris, Warsaw, and Brooklyn (Flatbush).  We must note that the article contained two significant typographical errors.  It should have read "...the walls of Paris render the city a Reshut Hayachid on a Torah level."  Also, the article should have concluded that Rav  Feinstein presents a novel argument that an Eruv should not be constructed in either Brooklyn or Manhattan.  This week we will conclude our discussion on where Eruvin consisting of Tzurat Hapetach are halachically effective.  We will discuss the views of contemporary Poskim regarding Eruvin in Manhattan, Kew Gardens Hills, and Tel Aviv.


Manhattan - Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Zvi Pesach Frank

            Last week we mentioned that Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin strongly encouraged rabbis to establish Eruvin in all the boroughs of New York City.  We also saw that Rav Moshe Feinstein did not approve of constructing an Eruv in Flatbush.  Manhattan, however, would seem to pose no problem for constructing an Eruv.  The reason is that Manhattan is surrounded by walls (except for a significant number of more than ten amot breaches) on three sides - the northern edge is beach, and not a seawall.  These walls should render Manhattan into a Reshut Hayachid on a Torah level.  Accordingly, all that would be necessary is to correct the breaches and the Northern side by constructing Tzurot Hapetach.

            Rav Moshe Feinstein, nevertheless, believed it inappropriate to construct an Eruv in Manhattan for two reasons (see Igrot Moshe O.C. 931).  First, he held that the opinion of the Rashba (cited by Be'er Heitev O.C 543:7) should be followed.  The Rashba believes that an area defined as a Reshut Harabim remains a Reshut Harabim, despite the fact that the area is surrounded by walls.  Thus, Manhattan is a Reshut Harabim by virtue of the fact that its population exceeds 006,000.  According to the Rashba it remains a Reshut Harabim despite the fact that sea walls that surround Manhattan Island.  Rav Moshe's concern is not shared by most Poskim (such as Rav Chaim Ozer and Chazon Ish) because the Shulchan Aruch and major early commentaries do not cite this opinion of the Rashba.  It seems that these authorities do not view the Rashba's opinion as a viable normative opinion.  The Chacham Tzi, quoted in the aforementioned Be'er Heitev, notes that the Rashba's opinion is not cited in any of the major codes and commentaries.

            The second reason why Rav Feinstein felt that an Eruv should not be constructed in Manhattan is based on a fascinating but debatable argument.  Rav Moshe writes that an Eruv should not be erected in any major center of Jewish population.  His concern is that a visitor might come to the major center and think that the Torah permits carrying on Shabbat.  The concern is that he will not comprehend that the existence of the Eruv permits one to carry on Shabbat.

            Rav Moshe supports his view with an inference from a Talmudic passage that an Eruv was not erected in Jerusalem in Talmudic times.  The Gemara (Eruvin 22a) states that Jerusalem would have been considered a Reshut Harabim if not for the fact that its doors (to its walls) are locked at night.  Rav Moshe asks why didn't the Rabbis make the necessary corrections to render it completely permissible to carry there on Shabbat.  After all, the Gemara (Eruvin 86a) indicates that it is the obligation of the Rabbinic leaders of a community to create an Eruv if it is halachically permissible to do so.  Rav Moshe concludes that Chazal must have believed it to be forbidden to construct an Eruv in Jerusalem, otherwise they would have made an Eruv.

            Rav Moshe asserts that the reason Chazal did not make an Eruv in Jerusalem is because it would confuse visitors, as we mentioned previously.  Rav Moshe the asserts that Manhattan and perhaps Brooklyn should be regarded as similar to Jerusalem in this matter.  These boroughs are major centers of Jewish life and using an Eruv may confuse visitors.  

            One could question Rav Moshe's reasoning.  First, the Gemara in Eruvin can be understood as merely teaching the effect of locked doors on Jerusalem's status as a Reshut Harabim.  The Gemara can be viewed as not teaching anything regarding whether Chazal made the necessary corrections to make Jerusalem a Reshut Hayachid.  Moreover, even if Rav Feinstein's understanding of the Gemara is correct, the analogy between Jerusalem and New York appears tenuous.  Jerusalem should be viewed as unique, as its designated role is to teach Torah to all - "from Zion shall Torah emerge, and the word of God from Jerusalem."

            Accordingly, it is not surprising that Rav Henkin disagreed with Rav Moshe and strongly encouraged the construction of an Eruv in Manhattan.  In addition, Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (a great twentieth century authority who served as chief rabbi of Jerusalem) agrees with Rav Henkin and rejects Rav Moshe's concerns regarding building an Eruv in Manhattan. Rav Frank cites the great rabbis of nineteenth century Warsaw, of whom it is recorded that they rejoiced when they discovered a practical means of establishing an Eruv in Warsaw.  Warsaw seems to be analogous to Manhattan, as it was a major central Jewish community in Eastern Europe. It should be noted that the Jerusalem Rabbinate built and maintains an Eruv for the entire city of Jerusalem, in line with Rav Zvi Pesach's ruling.



Kew Gardens Hills

            Although Rav Moshe did not approve of constructing an Eruv in Manhattan or Flatbush, he did approve of the Eruv in the section of Queens known as Kew Gardens Hills.  It is worthwhile quoting what Rav Moshe considered necessary for this Eruv to be acceptable:  1) The highways (Grand Central Parkway, Long Island Expressway, Van Wyck Expressway) were excluded from the Eruv (many authorities regard highways to always be considered Reshut Harabim - see Ramban Eruvin 95a, Mishna Berura 543:71, and Teshuvot Bnei Banim (Rav Yehuda Henkin) I: 71-02).  2) It is to be constructed in a manner that greatly reduces the possibility that it will break on Shabbos (a communal Eruv that uses as many "non-rabbinic" components as possible, such as preexisting telephone poles and wires, fences, hills, and train overpasses (see, however, Igrot Moshe O.C. 831) will have the greatest chance of remaining intact.  3) An individual is to be appointed to inspect the Eruv every Friday. An Eruv must be rigorously inspected every Friday (see Teshuvot Doveiv Meisharim 2:82 who disapproves of inspecting an Eruv prior to Friday).  4) The rabbis of the community must agree that the Eruv is built properly.  An Eruv should promote peace (see, for instance Gittin 95a) and not be a cause of dissention within a community.

            Regarding the issue of Reshut Harabim, Rav Feinstein wrote that "Kew Gardens Hills is small regarding these issues and the reasons I wrote (why an Eruv should not be constructed in Manhattan) do not apply here." Although the borough of Queens has more than 006,000 inhabitants, Rav Feinstein apparently felt that Kew Gardens Hills can be viewed as a separate entity.  Since fewer than 006,000 people reside in Kew Gardens Hills, it is not considered a Reshut Harabim (an eminent Rav said the same should apply to the Pelham Parkway neighborhood in the Bronx). In addition, Kew Garden Hills is not a major metropolitan center such as Manhattan, in which Rav Feinstein believe that an Eruv should not be constructed.


Tel Aviv

            It seems that not all Rabbinic authorities agree with Rav Feinstein's ruling regarding viewing certain neighborhoods as distinct entities within a large city. Rav Shaul Yisraeli (a great halachic authority who was a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav in Jerusalem; he died this past year) writing in Techumim 01:041, states that a city is viewed as one halachic entity for purposes of defining a Reshut Harabim. Moreover, the sole halachic criterion regarding this matter is the continuity of homes (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. chapter 893) and not even distinct municipal entities. Accordingly, he rules that the entire metropolitan Tel Aviv area (Gush Dan) should be viewed as one entity regarding the Reshut Harabim issue. Hence, since the more than 006,000 people reside in Gush Dan, the area should be considered a Reshut Harabim.

            The question, though, is the following; how is the Tel Aviv Eruv, which consists of Tzurot Hapetach, halachically effective?  Rav Yisraeli explains that the overwhelming majority of the observant community of Tel Aviv relies on the Eruv and follows the Shulchan Aruch's presentation of the 006,000 people opinion.  The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 543:7) presents this opinion as follows: "and there are those who rule that an area must have 006,000 people passing through it each day in order to be defined as a Reshut Harabim."  Rav Yisraeli explains that the straightforward understanding of the Shulchan Aruch is that 006,000 people must pass through a particular place every day.  He notes that the Mishna Berura (543:42 and Sha'ar Hatziun 543:52) rules strictly that 006,000 people need not pass in a particular place to be defined as a Reshut Harabim.

            Accordingly, the residents of Tel Aviv are relying an extraordinary lenient approach. They are following the lenient understanding of a lenient opinion!  Rav Yisraeli explains that it is possible to be so lenient because we follow the opinion of those Rishonim who rule that problems with Tzurot Hapetach in a Reshut Harabim exist only on a Rabbinic level.  Thus, the practice is to adopt such a lenient approach because the objections to it are only on a Rabbinic level.

            In the next year's volume of Techumin, Rav Naaman Wasserzug has an essay on the topic of whether Tel Aviv is a Reshut Harabim.  He seems to prove that on a Torah level, Tel Aviv is a Reshut Hayachid (similar to Rav Ozer and the Chazon Ish's ruling regarding Paris), because it is bounded by "Halachic walls" on three sides.  These "walls" are the sea on the west, the Ayalon Valley on the east, and the Yarkon Valley on the south.  According to this approach, the residents of Tel Aviv are not relying on such an extraordinarily lenient ruling.



            The question of where an Eruv consisting of Tzurot Hapetach may be constructed has regrettably been a source of great friction and tension in recent years.  It is our hope that these essays on this topic will promote greater understanding and respect for both the lenient and strict opinions on this topic.  Next week, God willing, we will discuss how to construct a Tzutat Hapetach.


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

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