Saturday, November 21, 2020

Siyum to Eruvin


In the past, I have noted that frequently the final passage in each Mesechet is subversive, and offers a corrective to the message of the entire Mesechet. Eruvin is no exception to this pattern.

The final Mishnah of Eruvin says:

If a [dead] creeping thing was found in the Temple, a priest should carry it out in his girdle in order not to keep the impurity there any longer than is necessary, the words of Rabbi Yohanan ben Beroka. Rabbi Judah says: [it should be removed] with wooden tongs in order that uncleanness shall not increase…. Rabbi Shimon says: wherever the sages have permitted you anything they have only given you what is really yours, since they have only permitted you that which is forbidden as shevut.

After an entire Mesechet devoted to rabbinic prohibitions, the final section offers  a series of exceptions where rabbinic law. More dramatically, it includes a statement by Rabbi Shimon about the flexibility of boundaries. The Talmud relates it to the following passage, earlier in the Mesechet: Rabbi Shimon says: Even if he was fifteen cubits beyond the limit he may enter the town, because the surveyors do not precisely demarcate the measures; rather, they mark the Shabbat limit within the two thousand cubits, due to those who err.

A Mesechet about boundaries ends with a statement that sometimes the boundaries are actually imprecise. And one must listen carefully to Rabbi Shimon’s actual words: wherever the sages have permitted you anything they have only given you what is really yours.” This phrase implies something larger; that Rabbinic law itself is something that is flexible, prohibiting actions and objects that actually rightfully should be permissible.

In addition, the final Mishnayot of Eruvin explain that Rabbinic law is put aside in the Temple. And this might offer a lesson of its own; in a God’s house, a purely divine law reigns. Rabbinic law is not an ideal; but it is needed for those who live in private courtyards and do business in public domains, 

The lesson of this last passage is a corrective for the rest of the Mesechet. Rabbinic law is about humans and their foibles, and without the intervention of Chazal, Shabbat might become a day of travel, moving and warehousing. While we have emphasized the details of Rabbinic law for the last 103 pages, we must remember these laws don’t represent a new ideal; actually, these laws were instituted because of human weakness. 

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