Eruvin: Enigmatic Speech
In the several weeks since my last posting, I have continued to study the text. The disadvantage of not having the time to articulate a response to the text is self-evident (although beautifully articulated on 54b, where Rava teaches in the name of Rav Sechorah, in the name of Rav Huna: "If a person makes his learning into bundles . . . then his learning will diminish"). And if I lived in a place with clear boundaries where eruvim kept the secular out and drew the Jewish wagons into a circle around a Jewish campfire, it would be inconceivable that several weeks could pass without an opportunity to formally respond to the text.
Nevertheless, there is one advantage to having to account for a larger sweep in a single posting, and that is the perspective afforded by seeing how themes introduced early in the tractate are revisited, turned and turned and turned again. Thus, I come to this post not only with a healthy appreciation of the isolation and vulnerability of Jewish settlements in exile, but also with a heightened awareness that the theme that spoke to me several weeks ago-- the importance of choosing a teacher-- plays out throughout this tractate.
The two themes (the roles of the eruv and the scholar in sustaining the integrity of the community) converge on folio 36 where one teaching may not have had the support of its teacher but may have been offered "merely reporting the opinion of his teacher" but with no evidence that he personally concurred." (So much for picking one teacher and adhering to his judgment!) But the principle issue on this folio is the notion of establishing a conditional eruv: "A person may attach a condition to his eruv . . . if the gentiles come from the east; my eruv is to the west . . ." or "if a scholar comes . . ." Who can resist asking, but what if two scholars come, one from the east and one from the west? "If one of them was his teacher, he must go to his teacher; but if both scholars were his teachers . . ." he must chose which way he will go. Unless (be prepared for the punchline!) one follows R'Yitzchak who permits going toward the gentiles to flee from the scholar.
We've come a long way from picking one teacher and following all his rulings! It is more than humorous to suggest fleeing from scholars rather than learning from them! Perhaps it goes back to the dispute between Ishmael and Akiva on folio 13 where Ishmael warns that one mistake in transcribing the Torah could destroy the world. Some of the best Torah scholars are the most dangerous teachers: ArtScroll reports that "R'Akiva was such a brilliant logician, that he could cogently defend either side of a question." And his student, R'Meir, who was forced to find a different teacher, eventually also developed the same deadly brilliance. R'Meir could argue for either Hillel or Shammai . . . and did. But what gave Hillel the strength to prevail over Shammai was that, unlike Shammai, he studied his antagonist's arguments; Shammai apparently did not return the favor
Even so, we should not assume we can determine whose opinion will prevail without studying the dispute: “Rav Mesharshiya said: these rules for establishing halachah are not valid
The student may have many fine teachers to chose from, but who will help him separate out the ones who are so intoxicated with their own brilliance that they will teach anything just because they can? And who will help him separate out the ones who have no sense of proportion, like Rav Adda bar Masna, who would not be drawn away from the study house by his wife's plea: "Your little children-- what shall I do for them to feed them?" Hundreds of years before Dickens and Scrooge ('tis the season), Rav Adda bar Masna replied, "Are there no more wild vegetables in the marsh?" (22a).
Perhaps these are not the right questions
The teachers in this tractate are sometimes more concerned about their reputations than the integrity of their teaching
All the laws taught in this tractate are the “new ones”— the laws derived by the rabbis from tenuous prooftexts, none of them explicitly spelled out in the Torah (21b)
But as long as we’re waiting for the messiah, let us consider that the residents of