Monday, November 28, 2005

Eruvin in Brooklyn

This is the first in a series of posts that will deal with the issues surrounding eruvin in Brooklyn. Let me be clear: I am not sufficiently competent to decide on this issue nor do I have any interest in doing so. I am going to try to map out the issues as best as I can, and I hope that readers will find it interesting and helpful. I have no doubt that this will draw certain partisans who will offer long and knowledgable comments. However, I cannot promise to answer every comment fully simply because I will undoubtedly lack the time to do so.

I. Public Domain

The most important question about Brooklyn revolves around a fundamental point that is extremely complex. Recall that an eruv is a rabbinic enactment that only works on an area in which one is biblically permitted to carry on Shabbos. If the area is a public domain on a biblical level, then an eruv simply will not work. The issue therefore revolves around whether Brooklyn is a public domain on a biblical level or not. In most areas of law, we are not overly concerned whether something is rabbinically or biblically permitted. However, here, this is our primary concern.

It is important to note that the general rule that we are lenient regarding eruvin does not apply to the first step of determining whether an area is biblical public domain. If carrying is only prohibited on a rabbinic level, then we can say that we are consistently lenient since we are only dealing with a rabbinic prohibition. However, here we are still trying to determine whether or not we are dealing with a rabbinic prohibition, so it is premature to be consistently lenient.

II. Straight Through

The first issue we will discuss is the existence of a street that goes all the way through a city, from one end to another. A good example of this is in Teaneck, where I grew up. Teaneck has Route 4 going right through the town, fairly straight all the way through.
(From Google Maps)

What seems to be the first source of this rule is Rashi on Eruvin 6a sv r"h (here, towards the bottom). Rashi writes that a public domain is sixteen amos wide, is a city with 600,000 people, does not have a wall or or its public domain (i.e. thoroughfare) goes all the way through it, arranged even from one side to the other. According to this last qualification, a street that goes all the way through a city and has its two openings on each side of the city parallel to each other, i.e. the street goes straight through and does not curve, is a qualification for being a public domain. However, note that I bolded the word "or". In the Vilna edition of the Talmud, this word is in parentheses.

Subsequent rishonim quote this criterion of having a street that goes straight through the city, and so do the Shulhan Arukh, Magen Avraham, and later authorities.

In Teaneck, Route 4 is considered a problem and, due to its presence, there are two eruvin in Teaneck, one on either side of the highway. There is no single eruv that encompasses the highway. (While Teaneck does not have 600,000 people, set that aside for our purposes.)

In Brooklyn, it is unclear whether there is a street that qualifies for this criterion. In the map below, the pink shows Flatbush Ave. that comes directly from the Manhattan Bridge and continues to Prospect Park. After the park, Flatbush Ave. breaks off into Ocean Ave. and Flatbush Ave. Ocean Ave. continues essentially straight with the previous Flatbush Ave. and goes all the way to the end of Brooklyn, without piercing through the end. Flatbush Ave. continues all the way past the end of the island and over Marine Parkway Bridge.
(From Google Maps)

The Flatbush Ave.-Ocean Ave. street seems to be fairly straight but does not pierce through the border of Brooklyn on one side. But does it need to? Or is it sufficient that the street goes from one end of Brooklyn to the other?

The Flatbush Ave.-Flatbush Ave. street goes all the way from one end of Brooklyn to the other but it is not straight. But does it need to be straight?

III. Interpretations

On this last question, R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Orah Hayim 1:140, 5:28) disputes that there is any requirement for a street to be straight, as long as it goes all the way through a city. Most of the rishonim who repeated this requirement meant that the street itself is consistently wide enough throughout the length of the city, even if it is crooked. Rashi, however, meant something different. When Rashi stated the requirement that a street be straight, was speaking specifically of a city that is fully surrounded by walls. That is where the "or", cited above, becomes important. Rashi first speaks of a city without walls and does not mention this requirement and then, after the "or", discusses a city with walls and states that it requires a street that goes straight through the whole city.

R. Menasheh Klein has a book with his responsa permitting eruvin in Brooklyn titled "Om Ani Homah." In chapter 42 of that book, he quotes a long list of rishonim who state that the street must be straight in order for it to render the city a biblical public domain. R. Menahem Kasher (No'am 6, pp. 204-206) also cites these rishonim as implying a criterion for a public domain of a straight street that runs directly through the city. R. Mordechai Willig (Beis Yitzhak journal 25 [1993], pp. 63-68) also explains the rishonim as not distinguishing between walled and unwalled cities regarding straight streets. Interestingly, R. Yosef Bechhofer, in his book The Contemporary Eruv (p. 37), cites R. Yehoshua Siegel, the Sherpser Rav, as utilizing this as a reason for permitting an eruv in the Lower East Side.

R. Moshe Weissman wrote a book defending those who disagree with eruvin in Brooklyn titled "Yetzi'os Ha-Shabbos" (with an approbation from R. Moshe Feinstein stating that he actually read the whole book). In his first two chapters, he addresses this topic and pursues the distinction that R. Moshe Feinstein offered--that Rashi was only stating that walled cities require straight streets but unwalled cities are made public domains by even crooked streets. R. Weissman applies this to all of the rishonim that R. Klein cites and even makes a somewhat convincing case that aharonim, such as the Hayei Adam, had this distinction in mind.

IV. Conclusion

Thus, according to R. Aharon Kotler (from memory, I think his responsum is in Mishnas Rabbi Aharon, responsum 6), R. Moshe Feinstein and R. Moshe Weissman, Flatbush Ave.-Flatbush Ave. is sufficient to fulfill the criterion of a street that renders the city a public domain. However, according to R. Menahem Kasher, R. Menasheh Klein and R. Mordechai Willig (on R. Willig's position, see also R. Chaim Jachter's Gray Matter p. 174 n. 5), since the street is not straight throughout Brooklyn it does not fulfill the criterion.

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