The Basics of Techum Shabbos

Question #1: Camping sisters

“My sister’s family and ours are each spending Shavuos at nearby campsites. We were told that we could get together at a third spot between our two places for a Yom Tov barbecue. If we return on Yom Tov with the leftovers, must we keep track of who brought which food?”

Question #2: Bungalow bar mitzvah

“A friend is making a bar mitzvah in a nearby bungalow colony. How can I find out if his colony is within my techum Shabbos?”

Question #3: Eruv Techumin

“A lecturer will be speaking in the mountains not far from where I will be spending Shabbos. I was told that he will be just a bit beyond my techum Shabbos. Is there a way that I can go to hear him?”

Introduction:

In this week’s parsha, the Torah recounts the story of the manna, also including the unbecoming episode where some people attempted to gather it on Shabbos. In the words of the Torah:

And Moshe said, “Eat it (the manna that remained from Friday) today, for today is Shabbos to Hashem. Today you will not find it (the manna) in the field. Six days you shall gather it, and the seventh day is Shabbos – There will be none.”

And it was on the seventh day. Some of the people went out to gather, and they did not find any.

And Hashem said to Moshe: “For how long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings? See, Hashem gave you the Shabbos. For this reason, He provides you with a two-day supply of bread on the sixth day. Each person should remain where he is — no man should leave his place on the seventh day” (Shemos 16:25-29).

Staying in place

Although someone might interpret the words, Each person should remain where he is — no man should leave his place on the seventh day to mean that it is forbidden even to leave one’s home, this is not what the Torah intends. According to Rabbi Akiva (Shabbos 153b; Sotah 27b; Sanhedrin 66a), the Torah, here, is indeed prohibiting walking beyond your “place” on Shabbos, but this proscription prohibits walking only more than 2000 amos (approximately half to two-thirds of a mile*) beyond the “locale” where you are spending Shabbos. This border beyond which it is forbidden to walk is called techum Shabbos, quite literally, the Shabbos boundary. How do we determine where this boundary is, beyond which I may not walk on Shabbos?

There are some basic factors that determine the extent and boundaries of one’s techum Shabbos. The first is whether you are spending Shabbos within a residential area or not. I am going to present several options which will help explain how to determine someone’s techum Shabbos.

Our first case is someone spending Shabbos in a typical city, town or village where the houses are reasonably close together, meaning that the distance between the houses is 70 2/3 amos (about 105-120 feet*) or less. In this instance, one’s techum Shabbos is established by measuring the 2000 amos from the end of the city, town or village. The “end” of the city is determined, not by its municipal borders, but by where the houses are no longer within 70 2/3 amos of one another.

When two towns or cities are near one another, halachah will usually treat the two towns as one, provided that the houses of the two towns are within 141 1/3 amos of one another (Mishnah, Eruvin 57a). This is twice the distance of the 70 2/3 amos mentioned above. The details of the rules when and whether one combines two cities for determining techum Shabbos purposes will be left for another time.

Techum Shabbos in a bungalow colony

Until now, we have discussed the techum Shabbos of someone spending Shabbos in a city. How far is the techum Shabbos of someone spending Shabbos in a resort hotel, side-of-the-road motel, or bungalow colony?

One spending Shabbos in a bungalow colony will have a techum that is at least 2000 amos beyond the last house of the colony. If there are other houses or bungalows within 70 2/3 amos of the residences of your colony, those houses or bungalows are included within your “place.” Under certain circumstances (beyond the scope of this article), they can be included within your “place” even if the houses or bungalows are within 141 1/3 amos of one another.

If the house, hotel or motel in which one is spending Shabbos is outside a city and more than 70 2/3 amos from any other residential building, one measures the techum Shabbos from the external walls of the house.

Shabbos while hiking

Someone spending Shabbos in an open field is entitled to four amos (between 6 – 7.5 feet*) as his “place,” and the 2000 amos are measured from beyond these four amos.

Proper placement

We have now established that the definition of one’s “place” for techum Shabbos purposes depends substantively on whether one’s residence for Shabbos is indoors and on whether there are other residences nearby. We will now learn that although techum Shabbos is a boundary of 2000 amos, one usually has a greater distance in which one may walk. This is because techum Shabbos is always measured as a rectangular or square area. We take the four points that are the easternmost, the southernmost, the westernmost and the northernmost points of your “place,” and then draw an imaginery straight line that begins at 2000 amos beyond each of these points. In other words, we will measure 2000 amos east of the easternmost point and draw an imaginery north-south line at that point. We will similarly measure 2000 amos north of the northernmost point and draw there an imaginery east-west line. We repeat this for the other two directions of the compass. The result is a rectangle (or perhaps a square) whose four closest points are each 2000 amos distant from your “place.” Obviously, this means that the techum Shabbos area is significantly larger than 2000 amos beyond one’s “place.” This establishes the techum within which one is permitted to travel on Shabbos. By the way, all the rules of the laws of techum apply on Yom Tov.

Property placement

One of the interesting, and lesser-known, details of the laws of techum Shabbos is that possessions is also bound by the laws of techum Shabbos. This means that my possessions cannot be transported on Shabbos beyond the area in which I myself can walk. This halachah is not usually germane to the laws of Shabbos, since, in any instance, it is forbidden to carry on Shabbos outside of an enclosed area. The halachah is therefore more germane on Yom Tov, when one is permitted to carry. For this reason, the discussion of these laws is in mesechta Beitzah, whose subject matter is the laws of Yom Tov. This subject is one of the main points of the fifth chapter of the mesechta.

Camping sisters

At this point, we can discuss our opening question: “My sister’s family and ours are each spending Shavuos at nearby campsites. We were told that we could get together at a third spot between our two places for a Yom Tov barbecue. If we return on Yom Tov with the leftovers, must we keep track of who brought which food?”

These two families are spending Yom Tov in locations where they have different techumin, yet they are close enough that there is some overlapping area located within both of their techumin. Each family may walk on Yom Tov to this overlapping area, carrying the items necessary for the barbecue. Everyone must be careful not to walk beyond the area of his own techum. In addition, since the items used for the barbecue were owned by one or the other of the families when Yom Tov started, each item may not be removed beyond its owner’s techum until Yom Tov is over. Thus, if one sister brought the hotdogs or the paper plates, the other sister may not take those items back with her, if she will be removing them to a place beyond her sister’s techum.

Min hatorah or miderabbanan?

The rules of techumin that I have so far presented are held universally. However, there is a major dispute whether these rules are min hatorah or miderabbanan. There are three basic opinions. The tanna Rabbi Akiva, mentioned above, rules that the Torah forbade walking on Shabbos more than 2000 amos from one’s place, as we previously defined it. The Sages who disagreed with Rabbi Akiva contend that the prohibition of traveling 2000 amos is only miderabbanan. (Whether Rabbi Akiva held that techumin on Yom Tov [as opposed to Shabbos] are prohibited min hatorah or only miderabbanan is a dispute among rishonim; see Rashi, Tosafos, and Turei Even, Chagigah 17b.) However, there is a further dispute whether the Sages contend that there is no prohibition of techumin min hatorah at all, and the prohibition is always only miderabbanan, or whether the basis for the prohibition is min hatorah. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi (Eruvin 3:4), traveling more than 12 mil, which is the equivalent of 24,000 amos (approximately 6 – 8.5 miles*), is prohibited min hatorah. This last position is quoted by the Rif (end of the first chapter of Eruvin). Several rishonim rule according to this Yerushalmi (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 27:1 and Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #321; Semag (Lo Saaseh 36); Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #24). On the other hand, many rishonim (e.g., Baal Hamaor, Milchemes Hashem, and Rosh, all at the end of the first chapter of Eruvin; Ramban’s notes to Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #321; Tosafos, Chagigah 17b s.v. Dichsiv) contend that the Bavli disagrees with this Yerushalmi and holds that the concept of techum Shabbos is completely miderabbanan, and that the halachah follows the Bavli, as it usually does.

A nice-sized place

Six miles sounds like a distance considerably more than I would walk on a Shabbos. From where did the Yerushalmi get this measurement?

The basis for this distance is the encampment of the Bnei Yisrael while in the Desert, which occupied an area that was 12 mil by 12 mil. Thus, when the Torah told each Israelite not to leave his “place,” it prohibited walking outside an area this size (Tosafos, Chagigah 17b s.v. Dichsiv). According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, no matter when and where one is spending Shabbos, one draws a square or rectangle 12 mil by 12 mil around one’s city, colony or campground and this area is considered your “place.” Beyond this area, the Torah prohibited you to walk, according to the Yerushalmi.

Although it is anyway prohibited to walk beyond one’s 2000 amos techum on Shabbos and Yom Tov because of the rabbinic ruling of techumin, there are some practical instances where the question of whether there is a Torah-forbidden techum of 12 mil becomes germane. For example, the Gemara (Eruvin 43a) discusses whether the prohibition of techumin applies when one is more than ten tefachim above ground level, called yesh techumin lemaalah miyud or ein techumin lemaalah miyud. An example of this case, quoted by the poskim, is a situation in which someone wants to walk quite a distance on Shabbos atop narrow stands or poles that are all more than ten tefachim above ground. If one rules that there is no law of techumin above ten tefachim, ein techumin lemaalah miyud, then it is permitted to travel this way on Shabbos, no matter how far one travels. On the other hand, if there is a law of techumin above ten tefachim, it is prohibited to travel this way.

This question is raised by the Gemara, which does not reach a definite conclusion (Eruvin 43a). Both the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema (Orach Chayim 404:1) rule that one may travel lemaalah miyud for a distance greater than 2000 amos, because one may be lenient in a doubt regarding the rabbinic prohibition of techum shabbos. However, since traveling 12 mil is prohibited min hatorah according to those authorities who rule like the Yerushalmi, one should be stringent not to travel lemaalah miyud for a distance of 12 mil or farther. The Gra, however, rules that one may disregard the opinion of the Yerushalmi and the ruling of the Rambam, because the halachah follows the Bavli that there is no prohibition of techum at all min hatorah. Since the prohibition of techumin is always miderabbanan, one may be lenient to rule that ein techumin lamaaleh miyud. There could be contemporary applications if someone ended up on an airplane when Shabbos begins (for example, because of a life-threatening emergency), whether he is permitted, upon landing, to leave the airport terminal before Shabbos ends.

How do we rule?

Regarding the dispute between Rabbi Akiva and the Sages whether the requirement of remaining within a techum of 2000 amos is min hatorah or miderabbanan, it is universally accepted that we follow the opinion of the Sages that techum Shabbos of 2000 amos is miderabbanan. A result of this ruling is that if someone needs to use comfort facilities and there are none available within his techum, he is permitted to leave his techum for this purpose, because of the rule that kovod haberiyos, human dignity, supersedes a rabbinic prohibition (Berachos 19b).

Moving my techum Shabbos

“A lecturer will be speaking in the mountains not far from where I will be spending Shabbos. I was told that he will be just a bit beyond my techum Shabbos. Is there a way that I can go to hear him?”

The answer is that one certainly can, by creating an eruv techumin. This halachic entity allows me to move the “place” from where we measure the techum Shabbos. Ordinarily, my techum Shabbos is measured from where I am when Shabbos starts. However, when I make an eruv techumin, I move my “place” to the location of the eruv. If my eruv is placed such that both locations — where I am when Shabbos begins and where the speech will be delivered — are within its techum Shabbos, I may go hear the speaker.

But be careful. Creating an eruv techumin is not only a leniency, it also creates a stringency. Since I cannot be in two different “places,” if I use an eruv techumin, I have moved my techum Shabbos, not expanded it. Although I gain in the new direction, I lose the full techum I would have had in my actual location.

In this way, eruv techumin is different from the other two types of eruvin, eruv tavshillin made when Yom Tov falls on Friday, and eruv chatzeiros, which is made so that I can carry between two adjacent, enclosed properties that are owned by different people. The other two eruvin create leniencies but carry with them no attached stringencies. For this reason, the other two eruvin can be made for someone who does not know that the eruv is being made, since it provides him with benefits and no liabilities. However, since an eruv techumin includes liabilities, one cannot make an eruv techumin for someone who does not want it or who does not know about it (Mishnah, Eruvin 81; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 414:1).

Only for a mitzvah

There is another major difference between eruv techumin and the other two types of eruvin. One may use an eruv techumin only if there is a mitzvah reason to walk where it would otherwise be outside one’s techum (Eruvin 31a, 82a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 415:1). For example, someone who wants to hear a shiur or attend a sheva brachos may use an eruv techumin to do so. But one may not use an eruv techumin to attend a social gathering, where no mitzvah is accomplished (see Mishnah Berurah 415:5). On the other hand, one may make and use either an eruv tavshillin or an eruv chatzeiros even if there is no mitzvah reason to do so.

How do I make an eruv techumin?

To make an eruv techumin, one puts some food before Shabbos where you want your “place” for Shabbos to be. There must be enough food there so that each person who wants to use the eruv techumin could eat two meals. If one used a condiment for an eruv, one needs to have enough so that each person who wants to use the eruv would have enough condiment for two meals. One recites a brocha asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al mitzvas eruv, and then makes a declaration that this is his eruv to permit him to walk in this direction.

Since this food will basically be left exposed to the elements and animals, many people use a bucket of saltwater, which qualifies as an eruv techumin. Note that saltwater does not qualify for the other two types of eruv, eruv chatzeiros and eruv tavshillin.

Because there are many complicated laws about eruvin that are beyond the scope of this article, I suggest that someone who needs an eruv techumin consult with his rav or posek.

Who instituted eruv techumin?

The Gemara teaches that Shlomoh Hamelech instituted eruvin (Eruvin 21b). We find a dispute as to which type of eruv the Gemara is referring to. Rav Hai Gaon (Teshuvos Hageonim #44) explains that Shlomoh Hamelech instituted eruv techumin, whereas Rashi (Eruvin 21b) and the Rambam (Hilchos Eruvin 1:2) explain that he instituted eruv chatzeiros.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain these mitzvos, created by Chazal to guarantee that the Jewish people remember the message of Shabbos.

* All measurements in this article are meant for illustration only. For exact figures, consult your rav or posek.