Carrying Nitroglycerin on Shabbos

The Torah’s concern for the protection of life and health is axiomatic. In virtually all instances, Torah restrictions are superseded when a life-threatening emergency exists. If the situation is extenuating, but not life-threatening, then the rule of thumb is that the Torah restriction remains in force. Sometimes, however, mitigating factors allow the overriding of a rabbinic injunction because of extenuating circumstances.

A contemporary halachic question that relates to this issue is as follows: Is there a way whereby a person suffering from angina or other heart disease may carry his medication on Shabbos through a public thoroughfare? In case of a sudden attack, there would indeed be a life-threatening need that permits procurement of such medication through any necessary means. However, there is no medical reason that compels the patient to leave his home where his medicine is kept. Is there halachic basis to allow him to leave his house with his medication, since the possible medical emergency can be completely avoided by staying home? Granted that this would result in a great hardship by making the patient housebound on Shabbos, yet this deprivation would not constitute a life-threatening emergency and would not be grounds for overriding a Torah-proscribed Shabbos prohibition.

The halachic question is two-fold: Can carrying the medicine be considered a rabbinic violation, as opposed to a Torah violation, thus making it more acceptable? Does halachic basis exist to permit overriding a rabbinic prohibition because of hardships?

The same principles can be applied to other medical situations. For example, the diabetic who receives insulin injection is usually medically advised to carry with him some food items containing sugar as a precaution against insulin shock; and certain asthmatics and other allergy sufferers are advised never to go anywhere without their medication available. Would these patients be allowed to carry their sugar or medicine on Shabbos in a way that involves violating only a rabbinic decree?

Most contemporary authorities who address this issue base their discussion on a responsum of Rav Shmuel Engel, dated 9 Tammuz 5679 (July 7, 1919).[1] At the time of this question, there was a government regulation in force requiring the carrying of identification papers whenever one walked outside, with serious consequences for those apprehended in violation. Rav Engel was asked if a person could place his identification papers under his hat on Shabbos while walking to shul. Rav Engel’s analysis of the halachic issues involved will clarify many aspects of our question.

Shabbos violations fall under two broad headings: those activities that are forbidden

min hatorah (Torah-mandated), and those that are forbidden by rabbinic injunction, but do not qualify as melacha (forbidden work) according to the Torah’s definition.

Torah law is not violated unless the melacha is performed in a manner in which that activity is usually done. An act performed in a peculiar way, such as carrying something in a way that such an item is not normally carried, constitutes a rabbinic violation, but is permitted under Torah law. This deviation from the norm is called a shinui.[2]

Rav Engel points out that carrying identification papers in one’s hat would constitute a shinui, thus allowing a possibility of leniency. He quotes two Talmudic sources that permit melacha with a shinui on Shabbos due to extenuating, but not life-threatening, circumstances.

Rabbi Marinus said, “One who is suffering is allowed to suck milk directly from a goat on Shabbos. Why? [Is not milking an animal on Shabbos a violation of a Torah prohibition?] Sucking is considered milking in an unusual way, and the rabbis permitted it because of the discomfort of the patient.[3]

Tosafos notes that the leniency is allowed only if the suffering is caused by illness and not simply by thirst. The Talmudic text and commentary of Tosafos are quoted as halachic decision by the Shulchan Aruch.[4]

The above-quoted Talmudic text includes another case:

Nachum of Gaul said, “One is allowed on Shabbos to clean a spout that has become clogged by crushing [the clogged matter] with one’s foot. Why? [Is it not forbidden to perform repair work on Shabbos?] Since the repair work is done in an unusual manner, the rabbis permitted it in a case of potential damage.”

Based on these Talmudic sources, Rav Engel concludes that the rabbis permitted the performance of melacha with a shinui under extenuating circumstances, even though rabbinic prohibitions are not usually waived in these situations. Furthermore, he points out two other mitigating factors to permit carrying identification papers: According to most opinions, the prohibition to carry on Shabbos in our cities (even in the usual fashion) is rabbinic, because “our public areas do not constitute a public domain according to Torah law.” And, carrying identification papers would constitute a melacha done without any need for the result, which would also provide a reason to be lenient, as will be explained.

Melacha She’einah Tzericha Legufah

In several places,[5] the Gemara records a dispute between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon as to whether a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, an action done intentionally and in the normal fashion, but without a need for the result of the action, is forbidden by the Torah or if it is a rabbinic injunction. (Note: an article that I will be issuing in a few weeks discusses this topic in greater detail.) For example, carrying a corpse from a private domain into a public domain would not constitute a Torah desecration of Shabbos according to Rabbi Shimon, since one’s purpose is to remove the corpse from the private domain and not because he has a need for it in the public domain.  Similarly, snaring or killing a predator insect or reptile when one’s concern is only to avoid damage is a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, and therefore constitutes only a rabbinic violation according to Rabbi Shimon. Since one has no need for the caught reptile, Rabbi Shimon considers the violation rabbinic.

Both of these cases violate Torah prohibition according to Rabbi Yehudah, who opines that a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah is a Torah prohibition.

Although the Rambam[6] follows the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah, the majority of halachic authorities follow the opinion of Rabbi Shimon.

Rabbi Engel considers carrying identification papers in one’s hat to be a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, because the carrier has no personal use for the papers and is carrying them merely to avoid injury or loss. He compares this to the killing of a snake, where the intent is to avoid injury. Although his point is arguable, as evidenced by a later responsum,[7] Rabbi Engel reiterates his position that this situation qualifies as a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah.

Furthermore, there is a basis to consider carrying only a rabbinic prohibition, because no public domain according to the Torah definition – reshus harabim – exists today. (It should be noted that notwithstanding Rav Engel’s statement on this subject, this position is strongly disputed by many authorities who contend that there is a reshus harabim today.) Because of these two mitigating reasons, Rabbi Engel permitted carrying the identification papers in one’s hat, which is an indirect method of carrying, in order to attend synagogue or to perform a different mitzvah.

As we will see shortly, some later authorities quote this responsum as a basis to permit our original question, although certain aspects of our case differ significantly from those of Rav Engel’s. Firstly, whereas in Rav Engel’s case, the identification papers had no inherent worth to the carrier, the nitroglycerin tablets do have intrinsic value to the patient. This would render them a melacha hatzericha legufah, a melacha performed with interest in the results being done, which constitutes a Torah-forbidden melacha. Thus, one of the reasons for being lenient is nullified.

Secondly, whereas our question includes carrying medication for social or other reasons, Rav Engel permitted the carrying of the identification papers only for the performance of a mitzvah. Would he have allowed a greater leniency for someone who is ill and permitted it even for social reasons? Bearing in mind the case of Rabbi Marinus, where permission is based on medical needs, could leniency be extended to allow carrying with a shinui, even for social or other reasons?

Several later halachic works discuss the question of a patient carrying medication with a shinui as a precaution against a sudden attack. Rav Yekusiel Y. Greenwald[8] suggests that a sugar cube be sewn into the pocket of a diabetic’s coat before Shabbos, so that he would not be carrying in the usual manner on Shabbos. Rav Greenwald bases his opinion on the Gemara[9] that allows the carrying of an amulet on Shabbos as a medicinal item, and the responsum of Rav Shmuel Engel quoted above. Unfortunately, the comparison to the law of kemeiya (amulet) seems strained. The halacha clearly states that the kemeiya must be worn in the way that it is normally worn, and that it can be worn only if it is a proven remedy. Under these circumstances, the kemeiya is considered to be like a garment. There does not seem to be a basis in these considerations to allow carrying an item. Furthermore, Rav Greenwald allows the diabetic to go outside with a sugar cube sewn into his garment, even for non-mitzvah-related activities, whereas Rav Engel permitted the carrying of identification papers only when going outside for mitzvah purposes.

Rav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg[10] cites the responsum of Rav Greenwald, but disputes his conclusions sharply. In addition to the difficulty we have noted, he also disputes two of Rav Greenwald’s assumptions.

1. Whereas Rav Greenwald assumes that these circumstances permit sewing a sugar cube or medicine tablet into a garment in order to carry it, Rav Waldenberg does not feel that the circumstances justify carrying an item in this fashion.

2. Rav Waldenberg writes that the only situation in which Rav Engel permitted carrying with a shinui was when the activity would have constituted a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah. This applies to carrying identification papers, where the carrier has no personal need for the papers and is carrying them only to avoid being apprehended. It does not apply to the case for medication, where the patient wants the medicine available for his own use.

Rav Waldenberg concludes that the leniency proposed by Rav Engel does not apply to the situation at hand, and that this patient would not be allowed to carry his medication outside, even when using a shinui. A mediating position is taken by Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth.[11] Although he equates the situation of the person carrying identification papers to the one carrying medication, and does permit the carrying of medication  with a shinui for the propose of performing a mitzvah, Rav recommends other specific guidelines that would reduce the violations. The reader is encouraged to see Rav Neuwirth’s entire ruling, and also see Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah, Volume 1 #248, who understands the Gemara’s discussion in Kesubos in a way that preempts the basis for Rav Engel’s lenient ruling.

A responsum by Rav Menashe Klein[12] concludes that a patient is allowed to carry nitroglycerin tablets with a shinui for the purpose of going to shul or a different mitzvah. He bases himself on the following two rationales:

1. There is currently no public domain according to Torah definitions.

2. He considers this carrying to be a melacha she’einah tzericha legufah, a point that is certainly disputed by the other authorities quoted.

An interesting comment quoted in the name of the Chasam Sofer by the Levushei Mordechai[13]should also shed light on this issue. Levushei Mordechai reports that the Chasam Sofer was in the habit of carrying a handkerchief tied around his wrist outside of the eruv on Shabbos, because he considered this to be carrying with a shinui that is permitted because of the need for the handkerchief. The prohibition of rabbinic origin is overridden by the need for personal dignity (kavod haberiyos). No stipulation is made by Levushei Mordechai that the walking is done exclusively for the purpose of performing a mitzvah.

One would think that the discomfort of staying home on Shabbos provides greater reason to be lenient than the concept of personal dignity, and that this responsum could therefore be utilized as a basis to allow carrying of nitroglycerin with a shinui. However, few later poskim refer to the comment of the Levushei Mordechai.[14]

Having presented the background and references on this issue, I leave it to an individual who finds himself in these circumstances to discuss the question with his or her individual posek.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s rule as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11).


[1] Shu’t Maharash Engel, 3:43

[2] See Shabbos 92a, 104b

[3] Kesubos 60a

[4] Orach Chayim 328:33

[5] Shabbos 12a, 31b, 73b, etc.

[6] Hilchos Shabbos 1:7

[7] Shu’t Maharash Engel, 7:20

[8] Kol Bo on the laws of Aveilus, Volume 2, page 20

[9] Shabbos 60a, 67a

[10] Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 13:34

[11] Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Chapter 40 #7

[12] Shu’t Meshaneh Halachos 7:56

[13] Shu’t Levushei Mordechai #133

[14] It is quoted by Shearim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha 84:13 and by Lev Avraham Volume 1, Chapter 6.




Carrying in Public and the Use of an Eruv

Iclip_image002n 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.

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 two-day’s supply of bread on the sixth day. On the Seventh Day each person should remain where he is and not leave his place” (Shemos 16:25- 29).

Although the Torah’s words each person should remain where he is and not leave his place imply that even leaving one’s home is forbidden, the context implies that one may not leave one’s home while carrying the tools needed to gather manna (Tosafos, Eruvin 17b). The main prohibition taught here is to refrain from carrying from one’s house or any other enclosed area (halachically called reshus hayachid), to an area available for the entire Bnei Yisroel in the Desert to traverse, a reshus harabim. Chazal further explain that moving an item in any way from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim violates the Torah, whether one throws it, places it, hands it to someone else, or transports it in any other way (Shabbos 2a, 96). Furthermore, we derive from other sources that one may also not transport an item from a reshus harabim to a reshus hayachid, nor may one transport it four amos (about seven feet) or more within a reshus harabim (Gemara Shabbos 96b; Tosafos, Shabbos 2a s.v. pashat). Thus, carrying into, out of, or within a reshus harabim incurs a severe Torah prohibition. For convenience sake, I will refer to portage of an item from one reshus to another or within a reshus harabim as carrying regardless of the method of conveyance.

One should note that with reference to the melacha of carrying on Shabbos, the terms reshus hayachid and reshus harabim do not relate to the ownership of the respective areas, but are determined by the extent that the areas are enclosed and how they are used. A reshus hayachid could certainly be public property and there are ways whereby an individual could own a reshus harabim.

Notwithstanding the Torah’s clear prohibition against carrying into, from, or within a reshus harabim, we are all familiar with the concept of an eruv that permits carrying in areas that are otherwise prohibited. You might ask, how can poles and wires permit that which is otherwise prohibited min haTorah? As we will soon see, it indeed cannot, and the basis for permitting use of an eruv is far more complicated.

We are also aware of controversies in which one respected authority certifies a particular eruv, while others contend that it is invalid. This is by no means a recent phenomenon. We find extensive disputes among early authorities whether one may construct an eruv in certain areas; some considering it a mitzvah to construct the eruv, whereas others contend that the very same “eruv” is causing people to sin.

AN OLD MACHLOKES

Here is an instance. In the thirteenth century, Rav Yaakov ben Rav Moshe of Alinsiya wrote a letter to the Rosh explaining why he forbade constructing an eruv in his town. In his response, the Rosh contended that Rav Yaakov’s concerns were groundless and that he should immediately construct an eruv. Subsequent correspondence reveals that Rav Yaakov did not change his mind and still refused to erect an eruv in his town. The Rosh severely rebuked Rav Yaakov for this recalcitrance, insisting that if Rav Yaakov persisted, he, the Rosh, would place Rav Yaakov in cherem! The Rosh further contended that Rav Yaakov had the status of a zakein mamrei, a Torah scholar who rules against the decision of the Sanhedrin, which in the time of the Beis HaMikdash constitutes a capital offence (Shu”t HaRosh 21:8). This episode demonstrates that heated disputes over eruvin are by no means recent phenomena.

The goal of this article is not to make halachic decisions; that is the role of one’s rav. The purpose here is to explain what allows the construction of an eruv, and present some circumstances in which one authority permits carrying within a specific eruv while another forbids it.

IS IT A MITZVAH?

Before I present the arguments for and against eruv manufacture in the modern world, we should note that all accept that it is a mitzvah to erect a kosher eruv when this is halachically and practically possible, as the following anecdote indicates.

Rabbah the son of Rav Chanan asked Abayei: “How can it be that an area in which reside two such great scholars (Abayei and Abayei’s Rebbe) is without an eruv?” Abayei answered: “What should we do? It is not respectful for my Master to be involved, I am too busy with my studies, and the rest of the people are not concerned” (Gemara Eruvin 68a).

The commentaries note that Abayei accepted the position presented by Rabbah that one should assemble an eruv. Abayei merely deflected the inquiry by pointing out that no one was readily available to attend to the eruv, and that its construction did not preempt other factors, specifically Abayei’s commitment to Torah study, and the inappropriateness for Abayei’s Rebbe to be involved in the project. Indeed, halacha authorities derive from this Talmudic passage that it is a mitzvah to erect an eruv whenever halachically permitted (Tashbeitz 2:37, quoted verbatim by the Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 363:2). These rulings are echoed by such luminaries as the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Orach Chayim #99), the Avnei Nezer (Orach Chayim #266:4), the Levush Mordechai (Orach Chayim #4) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:139:5 s.v. vilichora).

I mentioned before that the construction of an eruv of poles and wire cannot permit carrying that is prohibited min haTorah. If this is true, upon what basis do we permit the construction of an eruv? To answer this question, we need to understand that not every open area is a reshus harabim – quite the contrary, a reshus harabim must meet very specific and complex requirements, including:

(A) It must be unroofed (Shabbos 5a).
(B) It must be meant for public use or thoroughfare (Shabbos 6a).
(C) It must be at least sixteen amos (about twenty-eight feet) wide (Shabbos 99a).
(D) According to most authorities, it cannot be inside an enclosed area (cf., however, Be’er Heiteiv 345:7, quoting Rashba; and Baal HaMaor, Eruvin 22a, quoting Rabbeinu Efrayim). Exactly what is the definition of an “enclosed area” is the subject of a major dispute that I will discuss.
(E) According to many authorities, it must be used by at least 600,000 people daily (Rashi, Eruvin 59a, but see Rashi ad loc. 6a where he only requires that the city has this many residents.). This is derived from the Torah’s description of carrying into the encampment in the Desert, which we know was populated by 600,000 people.
(F) Many authorities require that it be a through street, or a gathering area that connects to a through street (Rashi, Eruvin 6a).
(G) Some authorities add still other requirements.

Any area that does not meet the Torah’s definition of a reshus harabim, and yet is not enclosed, is called a karmelis. One may not carry into, from, or within a karmelis following the same basic rules that prohibit carrying into a reshus harabim. However, since the prohibition not to carry in a karmelis is only rabbinic in origin, Chazal allowed a more lenient method of “enclosing” it.

CAN ONE “ENCLOSE” A RESHUS HARABIM?

As I mentioned earlier, carrying within a true reshus harabim is prohibited min haTorah – for this reason, the use of a standard eruv does not permit carrying in such an area (Eruvin 6b). Nevertheless, the construction of large doors that restrict public traffic transforms the reshus harabim into an area that one can now enclose with an eruv. According to some authorities, the existence of these doors and occasionally closing them is sufficient for the area to lose its reshus harabim status. (Rashi, Eruvin 6b; However, cf. Rabbeinu Efrayim, quoted by Baal HaMaor, Eruvin 22a).

PLEASE CLOSE THE DOOR!

There are some frum neighborhoods in Eretz Yisroel where a thoroughfare to a neighborhood or town is closed on Shabbos with a closing door in order to allow an eruv to be constructed around the area. However, this approach is not practical in most places where people desire to construct an eruv.

So what does one do if one cannot close the area with doors?

This depends on the following issue: Does the area that one wants to enclose meet the requirements of a reshus harabim min haTorah or is it only a karmelis. If the area is a reshus harabim min haTorah and one cannot occasionally close the area with doors, then there is no way to permit carrying in this area. One should abandon the idea of constructing an eruv around the entire city or neighborhood (see Gemara Eruvin 6a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 364:2). Depending on the circumstances, one may still be able to enclose smaller areas within the city.

TZURAS HAPESACH

However, if the area one wants to enclose does not qualify as a reshus harabim, then most authorities rule that one may enclose the area by using a tzuras hapesach (plural, tzuros hapesach), literally, the form of a doorway. (However, note that Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov #120 s.v. amnom and Shu”t Mishnas Rav Aharon #6 s.v. Kuntrus Bi’Inyanei Eruvin paragraph #2 forbid this.) A tzuras hapesach consists of two vertical side posts and a horizontal “lintel” that passes directly over them, thus vaguely resembling a doorway. According to halacha, a tzuras hapesach successfully encloses a karmelis area, but it cannot permit carrying in a true reshus harabim (Gemara Eruvin 6a). Using tzuros hapesach is the least expensive and most discreet way to construct an eruv. In a future article, I hope to explain some common problems that can happen while constructing tzuros hapesach and how to avoid them, and some important disputes relative to their construction.

Let us review. One can permit carrying in a karmelis, but not a reshus harabim, by enclosing the area with tzuros hapesach. Therefore, a decisive factor in planning whether one can construct an eruv is whether the area is halachically a karmelis or a reshus harabim. If the area qualifies as a karmelis, then an eruv consisting of tzuros hapesach permits one to carry; if it is a reshus harabim, then the existence of tzuros hapesach does not. The issues concerning the definition of a reshus harabim form the basis of most controversies as to whether a specific eruv is kosher or not.

600,000 PEOPLE

An early dispute among Rishonim was whether one of the requirements of a reshus harabim is that it be accessible to 600,000 people, the number of male Jews over twenty the Torah tells us exited Egypt (see Tosafos, Eruvin 6a s.v. Keitzad). According to Rashi and the others who follow this approach, one may enclose any metropolis with a population smaller than 600,000 with tzuros hapesach to permit carrying. (Rashi in some places describes that the city has 600,000 residents, and in others describes that 600,000 people use the area constantly. The exact definition to be used is the subject of much literature, see Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov #120 s.v. hinei harishon; and Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:139:5.)

However, other early authorities contend that an area with less than 600,000 people still qualifies as a reshus harabim, providing that it fulfills the other requirements that I listed above. In their opinion, such an area cannot be enclosed with tzuros hapesach. Although many authorities hold this way, the accepted practice in Ashkenazic communities was to follow the lenient interpretation and construct eruvin. Nevertheless, the Mishnah Berurah discourages carrying in such an eruv since many Rishonim do not accept it (364:8; Bi’ur Halacha to 345:7 and to 364:2). There are different opinions whether Sefardim are at liberty to follow this lenience, although the prevalent practice today is for them to be lenient.

MODERN CITY

Most large metropolitan areas today are populated by more than 600,000 people. Some authorities still define many of our metropolitan areas as a karmelis based on the following definition: Any area less concentrated than was the Jews’ encampment in the Desert is considered a karmelis. Since this encampment approximated 50 square miles, these authorities permit an eruv anywhere that the population density is less than 600,000 people per 50 square miles (Shu”t Igros Moshe 4:87). However, other authorities consider any metropolitan area or megalopolis containing 600,000 people to be a reshus harabim regardless of its population density. Does this mean that there is no heter with which to construct an eruv in a large city? Indeed many authorities contend this way (Shu”t Mishnas Rav Aharon 1:2).

A LARGE BREACH

Nevertheless, the Chazon Ish presented a different approach to permit construction of an eruv in a contemporary large city. His approach requires an introduction.

In general, an area enclosed by three or four full walls cannot be a reshus harabim (Eruvin 22a). What is the halacha if each of the three sides of an area is enclosed for most of its length – however, there are large gaps in the middle of the enclosure. For example, walls or buildings enclose most of an area – however, there are gaps in the middle of the area between the buildings where streets cross the city blocks. Does the area in the middle, surrounded on both sides by buildings and other structures, still qualify as a reshus harabim, or has it lost this status because it is mostly “enclosed”?

The basis for the question is the following: There is a general halachic principle that an area that is mostly enclosed is considered enclosed even in its breached areas (Eruvin 5b et al.). For example, a yard enclosed by hedges tall enough to qualify as halachic walls may be considered enclosed notwithstanding that there are open areas between the hedges, since each side is predominantly enclosed either by the hedges or by the house.

On the other hand, a breach longer than ten amos (about 17 feet) invalidates the area from being considered enclosed. Therefore, one may not carry within a fenced-in area that has a 20-foot opening without enclosing the opening in some way.

The issue that affects the modern city is the following: Granted that a large breach needs to be enclosed to permit carrying within the area, is this required min haTorah or only rabbinically? Let us assume that one encloses a large area with walls that run for miles, but has large gaps in this middle – is this area considered enclosed min haTorah on the basis of its walls, or is it considered open because of its gaps?

This question was debated by two great nineteenth-century authorities, Rav Efrayim Zalman Margoliyos, the Rav of Brody, the Beis Efrayim and Rav Yaakov of Karlin, the Mishkenos Yaakov. The Beis Efrayim contended that the breach is only a rabbinic prohibition, but that the area is considered enclosed min haTorah, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov held that the breach qualifies the area as a reshus harabim min haTorah. The lengthy correspondence between the two of them covers also a host of other eruv related issues (Shu”t Beis Efrayim, Orach Chayim # 25, 26; Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov, Orach Chayim, #120- 122).

What difference does it make whether this area is considered open min haTorah or miderabbanan, since either way one must enclose the area?

The difference is highly significant. If we follow the lenient approach, then even if the area in the middle meets all the other requirements of a reshus harabim, the Beis Efrayim contends that it loses its status as a reshus harabim because of the walls surrounding it, notwithstanding the large gaps in the walls, in which case it may be possible to construct an eruv in such a place.

On the other hand, the Mishkenos Yaakov contends that this area is considered a reshus harabim because of the gaps, and we ignore the walls. According to him it will be impossible to construct an eruv.

How one rules in this dispute between these two gedolim affects the issue of constructing an eruv in a contemporary city. Most modern cities contain city blocks which consist predominantly of large buildings with small areas between the buildings, and streets that are much narrower than the blocks. If we view these buildings as enclosures, then one can easily envision that both sides of the street are considered enclosed min haTorah according to the Beis Efrayim’s analysis. This itself does not sufficiently enclose our area. However, at certain points of the city, these two parallel streets dead end into a street that is predominantly enclosed either with buildings, fences, walls, or some other way. The result is that this section of the city can now be considered min haTorah as enclosed on three sides by virtue of the buildings paralleling both sides of the street and those on its dead end. Since this area now qualifies as an enclosed area min haTorah, the entire area is considered a reshus hayachid min haTorah.

The Chazon Ish now notes the following: Once you have established that this part of the city qualifies as a reshus hayachid min haTorah, this area is now considered completely enclosed halachically. For this reason, other city blocks that are predominantly enclosed on both sides of the street that intersect with this first area are also now considered to be enclosed areas min haTorah. As a result, a large section of most cities is considered min haTorah enclosed on at least three sides, according to his calculation. Although one cannot carry in these areas miderabbanan because of the “breaches” in their “enclosures,” they are no longer reshus harabim min haTorah and one can therefore enclose the entire area with tzuros hapesach (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 107:5). As a result of this calculation, the Chazon Ish concludes that many large cities today qualify as a karmelis and therefore one may construct tzuros hapesach to permit carrying there.

However, other authorities reject this calculation for a variety of reasons, some contending that the gaps between the buildings invalidate the enclosure, thus leaving the area to be considered a reshus harabim, which cannot be enclosed (Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov; Shu”t Mishnas Rav Aharon).

In conclusion, we see that disputes among poskim over eruvin are not recent phenomena. In practice, what should an individual do? The solution proposed by Chazal for all such issues is “Aseh lecha rav, vehistaleik min hasafek,” “Choose someone to be your rav, and removes doubt from yourself.” He can guide you whether it is appropriate to carry within a certain eruv, after considering the halachic basis for the specific eruv’s construction, the level of eruv maintenance, and family factors. Never underestimate the psak and advice of your rav!