Monday, June 04, 2007

Brooklyn Eruv Debate

In the May 11 issue of the Five Towns Jewish Times, R. Yair Hoffman published an article in which he discussed eruvin in Queens and Brooklyn (PDF). This prompted a response from R. Shmuel Pultman, an advocate of eruvin in Brooklyn. The following is adapted from an exchange of letters in the June 1, 2007 issue of The Five Towns Jewish Times (PDF, pp. 15-17):

- Normal font enclosed by quotes is from R. Yair Hoffman's original article.
- Italicized words are from a letter to the editor by R. Shmuel Pultman
- Bold words are from a response by R. Yair Hoffman

  1. Rabbi Hoffman writes, “According to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, the borough of Queens is in a different category than either Brooklyn or Manhattan.”

    Actually, there is no difference between Brooklyn and Queens. The fact is that both Brooklyn and Queens have populations of less than 3 million, which would make an eiruv permissible according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (see below). As a matter of fact, since Brooklyn is encompassed by three mechitzos at its waterfront, Rav Moshe would admit that the Brooklyn eiruv is superior.

    It is unclear what the respondent means by saying “there is no difference between Brooklyn and Queens.” Rabbi Feinstein’s position was well known, is recorded in his Igros Moshe, and was the subject of conversation between Rabbi Feinstein himself and many, many local rabbanim.

    Rav Moshe never used the figure of 3 million. See Igros Moshe O.C., Vol. IV, No. 88, where he uses the figure of close to 3 million. He also wrote in the previous teshuvah, No. 87, that it varies according to the city, giving a ratio of 4 to 1 or 5 to 1. The first figure used is 2.4 million–Queens. According to current U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the population of Queens is 2.255 million.

    It is rather fascinating to think that Rav Moshe would have ruled on such an important issue for K’lal Yisrael without having looked at a map. Apparently the author, and others attempting to redefine Rav Moshe’s position, seem to think that Rav Moshe either (a) was unaware of these “mechitzos” surrounding Brooklyn or (b) was unaware of the halachic status of these mechitzos. The fact is that Rav Moshe subscribed to the position that the breaks in these mechitzos being larger than either 10 amos or 16 amos is a halachic problem.

  2. “The Rambam and a good percentage of other Rishonim say that large streets automatically make a reshus ha’rabbim, regardless of the number of people there. Other Rishonim, and these are the ones that we rely upon, hold that there are two requirements to make a reshus ha’rabbim…”

    The above comment is referring to relying on the criterion of shishim ribbo (600,000 people traversing a street) in order to establish an eiruv. Rabbi Hoffman seems to be implying that the world relies on the minority opinion regarding shishim ribbo as most Rishonim argue that we can’t rely on shishim ribbo as a criterion. However, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of Rishonim do maintain that we can rely on shishim ribbo, and it is not just the “other” Rishonim.

    Actually, the Mishnah Berurah in the Biur Halachah (O.C. 345) lines up the opinions: Those that would hold our streets would not be a reshus ha’rabbim are the Bahag, Rashi, SmaG, SMaK, Sefer HaTerumah, Rabbeinu Meir, Rokeach, Tosefos, Rarash, Rosh, Or Zarua, and Tur. The opinions add up to 12. His list of the Rishonim that would hold our streets to be a reshus ha’rabbim are the Rambam, Rabbeinu Tam, Ramban, Rashba, Ritva, Raham, Ran, Mordechai, Rashbam, Rabbi Eliezer MiMitz, Rivash, Meiri, and the Beis Yosef. These add up to 13. This is not an “overwhelming majority,” but a 12–13 minority according to the Mishnah Berurah.

  3. “Rav Moshe Feinstein understands this second requirement as not passing through the street itself, but rather it means if there are 600,000 people outside in the streets of the city at any given time.”

    It’s important to note that regarding an intercity road (“sratya”), Rav Moshe did require that 600,000 people traverse the road itself. However, regarding a city, Rav Moshe states that a city could reach the tally of 600,000 people traversing its streets when the population reaches 3 million. It would be almost impossible to verify that 600,000 people are traversing the streets of a city at one time; hence Rav Moshe’s population number is a more practical means of confirming it.

    Again, as stated before, the 3 million figure is not accurate per se.

  4. “Many Chassidic rabbis disagreed with Rav Feinstein, and felt that when the Shulchan Aruch writes that there are 600,000 people passing on the street, it means on a particular street itself, and not the streets of the city as in the expression ‘I grew up on the street.’”

    Actually it is not just Chassidic rabbis who disagree with Rav Moshe. Almost all poskim, up until lately, disagreed with Rav Moshe regarding this point. More so, the simple meaning of the Shulchan Aruch when it states “shishim ribbo ovrim bo b’chol yom” is that 600,000 people need to traverse the street itself.

    “Almost all poskim, up until lately, disagreed with Rav Moshe regarding this point” is an extreme statement, and is far from true. As one poseik recently put it: In the Midbar itself, do you think that the shishim ribbo was on one street when they encamped? Obviously they were throughout the encampment.
There's more but it gets long and tedious. And here's my own two cents on these issues, for what little it is worth:

#1 and #3: I agree with R. Hoffman. R. Moshe Feinstein was no dummy.

#2 and #4: This isn't as simple as R. Hoffman makes it seem. Both the Magen Avraham (345:7) and the Taz (345:6) write that the majority position is that without 600,000 there is no reshus ha-rabim. It was the Mishkenos Ya'akov (no. 109) who first counted the positions on each side and disagreed with that evaluation. The Mishnah Berurah was only repeating that exercise (about which R. Chaim Kanievsky, in his Shoneh Halakhos 345:14, writes וצ"ע) and concludes that even a ba'al nefesh may be lenient on this issue in conjunction with another reason to be lenient. Regarding this issue, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (345:17) wrote:
However, despite this [the Mishkenos Ya'akov's arguments], what will this lengthiness help since eruvin have been widespread in Jewish cities for hundreds of years based solely on this leniency. It is as if a bas kol (heavenly voice) decreed that the halakhah is according to this position. If we come to prevent [these eruvin], not only will they not listen but we will seem like we have gone crazy because the matter is so widespread in Israel and in the posekim that nowadays we do not have a reshus ha-rabbim except in a few large cities in the world -- like the royal cities -- that have more than 600,000 people, but not in our cities...
The simple fact is that many large cities in Europe, such as Warsaw, Paris and Vilna, had eruvin that were accepted and approved by the biggest posekim of the time (e.g. R. Chaim Ozer Grodzensky and the Chazon Ish). While R. Moshe Feinstein was certainly capable of disagreeing with them, as he explicitly did with the Chazon Ish on another issue, that does not make their views disappear. However, those who have accepted R. Feinstein's ruling for decades are clearly bound by it and may not choose a different ruling that they like more.

UPDATE: From R. Yehuda H. Henkin, Bnei Banim 1:38: "There are also at least nine other rishonim who mentioned 600,000 explicitly but this isn't our topic and I wrote it elsewhere."

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