TALMUD.The 3rd Massekhet – EIRUVIN

An Introduction to the Tractate

See that God has given you the Shabbat, therefore He has given you on the sixth day the bread of two days; remain every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.

(Shemot 16:29)


If you turn away your foot because of the Shabbat, from pursuing your business on My holy day; and call the Shabbat a delight, and the holy of God honorable; and shall honor it by not doing your usual ways, nor pursuing your business, nor speakingof it;then you shall delight yourself in God, and I will make you ride upon the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father; for the mouth of God has spoken it.

(Yeshayahu 58:13-14)


Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the Shabbat day, nor do any work; but make the Shabbat day holy, as I commanded your fathers.

(Yirmiyahu 17:22)


* * *


Tractate Eiruvin, in its entirety, is an elaboration and conclusion of the subject matter discussed in tractate Shabbat, as it focuses on one aspect of the halakhot of Shabbat that was not comprehensively elucidated.  Tractate Shabbat opened with a discussion of the prohibited labor of carrying out on Shabbat. Tractate Eiruvin analyzes the details of the rabbinic laws that apply to this act. This prohibited labor is unique in that it is not an inherently creative act; rather, it is merely the act of transferring an object from one domain to another.


In essence, the labor of carrying out highlights the significance of Shabbat as a day of rest; not only a day during which specific activities are prohibited, but also a day on which a premium is placed on quiet, rest and a sense of relaxation. Shabbat demands that one take a break from the everyday hustle-and-bustle of moving and carrying from the public to the private domain and vice versa. Similarly, the public thoroughfare calms down from its weekday business and trade. This is accomplished by the creation of domains that are unique to Shabbat. That is, they do not correspond to the domains in force with regard to the rules of commerce, nor those of ritual purity. Transference between different domains is forbidden, as is carrying in the public domain.


The laws of Shabbat recognize four basic domains:

·         A private domain

·         A public domain

·         A karmelit, which is an intermediate domain, neither public nor private

·         An exempt domain, which is not really a domain at all

In effect, there are only three domains on Shabbat: the private and the public, both of which are domains by Torah law, and the karmelit, which is a domain by rabbinic law. All other areas fall into the category of exempt domain.

The private domain is an area of four handbreadths by four handbreadths; a handbreadth is the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger, or slightly more. A private domain is separated from the area around it by walls that are at least ten handbreadths high. In terms of the halakhot of Shabbat, an area is a private domain even if it is open to the public and available for its use.


The public domain is a thoroughfare at least sixteen cubits wide; a cubit is the distance from the elbow to the end of the index finger. According to some opinions, for an area to be defined as a public domain it must also be frequented by more than 600,000 people daily. The halakhot of the public domain apply only up to a height of ten handbreadths.


According to Torah law, these are the two primary domains. The Sages added a third, the karmelit, whose legal status by rabbinic law is that of a public domain. The karmelit is at least four handbreadths by four handbreadths and not surrounded by walls. Examples of this domain are fields, lakes, etc.


An exempt domain is an area of less than four handbreadths by four handbreadths. In addition, the airspace above ten handbreadths in a public domain or a karmelit is an exempt domain, where the halakhot of carrying do not apply.


For many years, these domains constituted the only restrictions with regard to carrying out and movement on Shabbat. After the Jewish people settled and began to develop their land, the rabbinic leadership grew concerned that in the course of mundane living in towns and villages, Shabbat was not accorded its due. In particular, the distinctions between the domains of Shabbat were obfuscated; their theoretical parameters did not correspond to the actual utilization of those areas, and the domains and their halakhot were interchanged. After all, a private domain full of people and activity could appear, at least superficially, indistinguishable from a public domain. Moreover, people were able to engage in most of their typical weekday activities without actually violating any of the Torah prohibitions. Consequently, the idea of Shabbat as a day of rest was not realized.


Already in the First Temple era, the rabbinic Sages began to issue decrees intended to raise the general level of consciousness concerning Shabbat observance. These decrees fall into the category of shevut, prohibitions by rabbinic law designed to enhance the character of Shabbat as a day of rest. Such decrees severely limited the permitted uses of the private domains and placed renewed emphasis on the plain meaning of the passage in Exodus that is the source for all of the Shabbat domains: “Let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” The Sages’ decrees limited the designation of private domains to those places that actually belong to an individual and his family. Private domains utilized by more than one individual, e.g., a courtyard shared by several households, as well as the alleyways and paths into which courtyards open, were rendered public domains by rabbinic law.


The decrees issued by the Sages are the starting point for tractate Eiruvin. The tractate attempts to arrive at practical solutions for the problems created by these restrictions. The objective is not to abrogate the decrees, but rather to discover alternative methods to underscore the differences between the public and private domains. Similarly, the tractate attempts to discover how one could go beyond the Shabbat limits while maintaining the framework that requires limiting travel on Shabbat. The myriad ordinances that constitute the bulk of tractate Eiruvin work within the framework of the established principles of the halakhot of Shabbat. Within the halakhic framework, there is extensive use of a series of abstract concepts, e.g., domain, limit, partition, and space. Although these principles are often the basis for stringencies and restrictions, they can also serve as the basis for far-reaching leniencies. The two primary concepts analyzed in the framework of tractate Eiruvin are the essence of a partition and the essence of a residence.


The partition is a fundamental component of domains, alleyways, courtyards, houses, and more. Clearly a solid wall with no openings is a partition; however, in most cases the demarcation is less clear cut. At times, the wall is not sturdy enough to serve as a partition. At times, there are windows, doorways, and other spaces in the wall. At times, the wall does not cover the entire opening. It was therefore necessary to create broader criteria that apply to all forms of partitions, despite their quantitative and qualitative differences: Concepts like lavud, which determines that objects less than three handbreadths apart are considered joined; gode, through which an incomplete partition can be extended upward or downward; havot, through which a cross beam is lowered, and others that broaden the parameters of the concept of partition to include incomplete partitions, e.g., cross beam, side post, form of a doorway, and upright boards.


In a similar vein, it must be established what is considered one’s fixed residence. Here too, there are clear-cut examples with regard to which there is no uncertainty. One who eats and sleeps and remains in a house that is his alone, certainly has a residence that is exclusively his. However, reality is a bit more complex, as in practice most people do not live alone and do not spend all their lives in one place. Therefore, it was necessary to create a broader abstract definition of the concept of fixed residence and establish when it is that several people have the legal status of one person, where family relations and dependence unify them, and to what degree must one be tied to or be present at a certain place in order to be considered a resident. Once these definitions are determined, the simplistic distinction between resident and guest is no longer necessarily significant. The concept of one’s residence can, on the one hand, be restricted to the individual alone, while on the other hand it can be expanded to include others. Based on the expansive interpretation of the concept of residence, the possibility of establishing the joining of the courtyards, the merging of the alleyways, and the joining of the Shabbat boundaries becomes feasible.


While some of these solutions might appear to be a disingenuous attempt to circumvent the fundamental halakhah, in fact, life in accordance with halakhic principles requires their formulation and definition in an abstract and expansive manner. Especially in the case of eiruv, where the original prohibitions are rabbinic in nature, there is room for far-reaching leniency in implementing these halakhic principles.


The halakhot in this tractate are not merely theoretical. Hundreds of eiruvin have been established in cities and towns throughout the United States and around the world based on real-world application of the principles found in this tractate.


[Some additional online resources that may be of help while studying Massekhet Eiruvin, particularly with the definitions of the technical terms, include:






This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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104 Responses to TALMUD.The 3rd Massekhet – EIRUVIN

  1. Eiruvin 102a-b – Repairing a harp on Shabbat

    There is a general principle that most of the Rabbinic ordinances prohibiting activities on Shabbat, lest they lead to something that is forbidden on a Biblical level, do not apply in the Temple. Several examples of this rule appear in the Mishnayot on our daf (page), which discuss replacing and securing doors, bandaging wounds and fixing musical instruments.

    One may tie up on Shabbat a string [nima] that came loose from a harp used in the Temple, but not in the rest of the country. And tying the string to the harp for the first time is prohibited both here and there.

    Stringing a harp for the first time would be forbidden even in the Mikdash (Temple), since it should have been done before Shabbat began. (See a picture of the Temple harp or lyre here.)

    The Gemara quotes a baraita which rules that when a string breaks it cannot be tied in a knot, but only in a bow, a position more stringent than that of the Mishnah. The Gemara offers a number of possible explanations for this discrepancy, suggesting that there might be a difference of opinion among the tanna’im on the matter, or, perhaps that the Mishnah and the baraita are discussing different cases. The Mishnah permits the string to be retied in a knot when the string is broken in the middle; the baraita permits only to tie a bow when the string is broken on the side.

    Most of the commentaries explain that if the string is broken in the middle, unless a solid knot is made, the music will not sound right. If it is broken at the end of the harp, however, even a weaker knot will suffice to produce the proper sound. Rabbenu Yehonatan and the Bartenura explain this differently. According to them, the reason that one is permitted to tie a knot when the string is broken in the middle is because the Levi will certainly not leave it there after Shabbat – he will untie it and have it replaced. Therefore the knot is not considered a permanent one that would be forbidden to make on Shabbat. If the string breaks at the very edge, however, tying a knot would fix the problem and there would be no need to replace the string after Shabbat. In that case, the knot would be considered a permanent one, which is forbidden on Shabbat on a Biblical level.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  2. Eiruvin 103a-b – Bandaging a kohen’s injury

    The Mishnayot on our daf (page) continue with a discussion of activities that are permitted in the precincts of the Temple, even though they are forbidden by the Sages under ordinary circumstances.

    With regard to a priest who was injured on his finger on Shabbat, he may temporarily wrap it with a reed so that his wound is not visible while he is serving in the Temple. This leniency applies in the Temple, but not in the country, as it also heals the wound, and medical treatment is prohibited on Shabbat due to rabbinic decree.

    The term gemi (reed) is, apparently, a general term that refers to the products derived from the papyrus plant – Cyperus papyrus L. This plant was used throughout the ages to produce a variety of manufactured goods. From its hard, outer part, mats were woven; in ancient Egypt and other countries, its inner parts were used for making paper. The soft inner parts also were used for producing strips with which things could be tied, and sometimes – as in our case – for bandages.

    The Gemara specifies that only a gemi can be used, and not a small cloth. The small cloth would be a problem either because:
    (a) it would be a hatzitzah – a separation between the kohen and the utensil that he needs to hold, or else it involves
    (b) yitur begadim – an extra item of clothing beyond the basic uniform of the kohen

    While the Gemara makes it sound as though either of these could be the problem, there are significant differences between the two. The problem of hatzitzah is one of separation; thus, if the cloth is put on the left hand, for example, there would be no problem, since the Temple service was done only with the right hand. Yitur begadim is an independent problem, based on bal tosif – that it is forbidden to add to the commandments of the Torah – so once it is defined as a beged (garment), it would create problems no matter where it was placed on the kohen’s body.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  3. Eiruvin 104a-b – Forbidding making noise on Shabbat

    In connection with activities that are permitted specifically in the Temple precincts, the Mishnah on our daf (page) mentions that water could be drawn from water holes in the Mikdash (Temple) using a water wheel. There were several types of water wheels that existed in Temple times that were used to draw water. This one makes use of a rope and wheel system to raise the bucket containing water. More advanced techniques were also used. This one is based on sketches from Rome and Alexandria. The system is powered by an animal (or, in this sketch, a person) and draws a strong, steady stream of water for agriculture and similar needs.

    The Gemara concludes that these techniques were forbidden on Shabbat outside the Mikdash because of a Rabbinic ordinance established because of concern that the water will be used not only for immediate needs, but for watering fields, as well.

    An additional consideration that the Gemara suggests is that these might be forbidden because of the noise that they make. Several cases are raised, all of which appear to be outlawed because they make noise. For example, Ulla complains that someone who knocked on the door was involved in Shabbat desecration. He is corrected by Rabba, who says that it is only the creation of music that is problematic. Ulla’s position is taken very seriously by the amoraim in Israel. The Jerusalem Talmud relates that Rabbi Ilai spent the night outside his house rather than knock on the door to gain entrance.

    Another case raised by the Gemara is a game of nuts played by women. In this game, a board is placed against the wall and nuts are thrown against it. The player whose nut successfully hits others gets to keep them. Such games were played throughout the generations; Rashi reports that they were played in his day, and even today such games are still played. Here, too, the Gemara rejects the suggestion that it is forbidden to play such games on Shabbat because of the noise that is made and concludes that it is because these games, when played on the dirt floor, may lead the players to fill in holes in the ground, which is forbidden on Shabbat.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  4. Eiruvin 105a – Who is permitted to work in the Temple?

    The last few Mishnayot in Massekhet Eiruvin deal with halakhot unique to the Mikdash. The final Mishnah (104b) discusses the best way to remove a ritually unclean animal from the Temple.

    Rabbi Yohanan in the Gemara quotes a passage in II Divrei Hayamim 29:16, which relates the story about King Hizkiyahu’s refurbishing of the Beit HaMikdash. According to the passage, the kohanim removed all of the impure things that they found in the Temple and passed them to the levi’im in the Temple court, who carried them out to the Kidron Valley. Although it appears that entering the Mikdash to clean it is limited to kohanim and levi’im, a baraita is brought to the contrary.

    The Sages taught in a baraita: It is permitted for everyone to enter the Sanctuary to build, to repair, or to remove impurity from inside. However, wherever possible, the mitzva is for these tasks to be performed by priests. If no priests are available, Levites enter; if no Levites are available, Israelites enter. In both cases, if they are ritually pure, yes, they may enter, but if they are impure, no, they may not enter the holy place.

    Rav Kahana rules that kohanim are always preferable over non-kohanim, even if there are defects in the kohen or if he is tameh (ritually unclean). Rav Huna introduces Rav Kahana’s ruling with the comment that Rav Kahana – who was himself a kohen – always looks out for their interests and emphasizes their unique status in halakhah. Rav Kahana cites the passage (Vayikra 21:23) which limits the participation of a kohen who is a ba’al mum – who has a physical blemish – in the Temple service, and interprets it to mean that he can, nevertheless, enter the Temple in order to do the work of an artisan in the Mikdash.

    Far from being just a theoretical discussion, these rulings had practical implications throughout history. When Herod decided to refurbish the Second Temple, the large building project that took place outside the Temple itself was completed relatively quickly. Once work began on the inner parts of the Mikdash, the desire to employ only qualified kohanim slowed down the work severely, and the project dragged out over a period of years – some say even generations – until its completion.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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