Friday, October 14, 2005

Eruvin: The Private Domain

KEY TERMS AS DEFINED BY ARTSCROLL. CHATZEIR = courtyard. KORAH = a crossbeam, at least one tefach wide, reaching across a mavoi to serve as a rudimentary partition or a reminder of a mavoi's halachic status. MAVOI = alley; specifically an alley into which chatzeiros open. SUCCAH = temporary dwelling used during the festival of Succos.

As I begin to study this Tractate, which is concerned with the rules of transferring objects from one domain to another, I also am beginning to experience the effect of transfers that violate personal boundaries: nearly every day recently, anonymous contributors have posted to this blog, probably with the aid of some kind of robot, notices promoting their own blogs for life in the southwest, liability insurance, or sexual aids. And while all of these notices begin with some positive statement such as "You sure have a cool blog!", these are not readers, these are people from outside the chatzeir trying to sneak into my mavoi.

On the one hand, the only way to keep my space clear is to be my own gatekeeper; to review each submission as it arrives and refuse delivery of inappropriate submissions before you have a chance to see them. On the other hand, if I don't leave an opening through which you can easily enter, I may never see your best thoughts and questions. It is the same dilemma faced on 3a of this tractate. If ownership is shared, the integrity of the roof and entrance may be compromised more than if ownership is held by an individual: "Since a Succah is meant for the use of an individual, rather than of the public, he realizes his responsibility for it and is mindful of its condition. But in the case of a mavoi, which is meant for the public to use, they each rely on each other and they are not mindful of the korah's condition. For as people say: 'A pot in the charge of two cooks is neither hot nor cold'-- i.e., each one relies on the other one to do the necessary work, which as a result never gets done."

Not in Heaven

The Gemara executes a very interesting two-step after putting forward the Baraisa that "One who wishes to act in accordance with Beis Shammai's views may do so" (6b). It asks, how can this be? After all, a Heavenly voice had declared that the Halachah always follows Beis Hillel. Perhaps, it suggests, that this Baraisa dates from before the Heavenly voice? Or perhaps this teaching is the view of R'Yehoshua,"who pays no heed to heavenly voices" (7a).

This lack of respect for Heavenly voices derives from the famous incident of the oven in Bava Metzia (59b), where R'Eliezer's miraculous proofs are all overruled by the very same R'Yehoshua (who cites Scripture to prove that the Torah is "not in Heaven"). ArtScroll's review of the commentaries notes that the difference between the Heavenly declarations in the two cases is that in R'Eliezer's account the Heavenly voice is going against the majority while in Beis Hillel's account it is confirming the will of the majority.

This is part of a discussion in which the explicit question is whether to be lenient or stringent in determining practice; and what to do if two stringencies (or two leniencies) inherently contradict each other. The bottom line is that one should pick one teacher and follow all his rulings. This is good advice but, of course, not easy advice to follow amidst the uncertainty as to who taught what and in which context!

The Gemara accentuates the difficulty by (perhaps mischievously) following the teaching to pick one teacher by two instances of references to multiple rabbis with the same name. On 8b, "Rav Kahana bar Tachlifa cited the following ruling in the name of Rav Kahana bar Manyumi who cited it in the name of Rav Kahana the teacher of Rav . . ." and then "Rav Kahana said . . . 'I, whose name is also Kahana will say something about it. . ." Thus, chosing to follow "Rav Kahana" may lead to the question "Who's on first?"