The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 345:17) affirms the well-known practice of most Ashkenazic Jews to rely upon a community eruv. May Sephardic Jews also rely upon a standard community eruv? A standard community eruv surrounds the area with tzurot hapetach (door frames) rendering the area as an enclosed area (reshut hayachid). A tzurat hapetach consists of a horizontal wire (or pole) that passes over the tops of two vertical poles, forming the shape of a doorway.
However, an area defined as a reshut harabim (a vicinity in which it is forbidden to carry on a biblical level) must be surrounded by a wall in order to render it an enclosed area. What areas are defined as a reshut harabim according to Sephardic halachic authorities?
Does a Reshut Harabim Require 600,000 People?
The precise definitions of a reshut harabim have been hotly debated since the time of the earliest Rishonim. The main point of contention is whether an area requires 600,000 people to attain the status of a reshut harabim. Only if one accepts that 600,000 people are required to create a reshut harabbim may one create an eruv consisting of tzurot hapetach. If one does not accept this opinion, any street wider than 16 amot (approximately 26-28 feet) is regarded as a reshut
The Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 14:1) does not mention that 600,000 people must be present for an area to be considered a reshut harabim. Rashi (Eruvin 6a s.v. Reshut HaRabim and Eruvin 59a s.v. Ir), however, writes that a city that does not regularly have 600,000 people is not a reshut harabim because it has less population than the Jews’ encampment in the desert. The practices and the activities of the Jewish encampment in the desert as recorded in the Torah serve as the paradigm for forbidden activities on Shabbat (see Shabbat 73b-74a). Tosafot (Eruvin 6a s.v. Keitzad) record that the Behag agrees with Rashi, whereas Rabbeinu Tam finds Rashi’s opinion
The Shulchan Aruch and Its Commentaries
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 345:7) cites (and presumably accepts) the view that an area is a reshut harabim even without 600,000 people, although he does cite the other view as a secondary opinion. The Rama (O.C. 346:3) indicates that he accepts the requirement of 600,000. Both the Magein Avraham (345:7) and the Taz (345:6) cite the view of the Ma’sat Binyamin (92) and the Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo, Beitzah 3:8), who rule that the presence of 600,000 people is not required. However, the Magein Avraham and Taz themselves disagree with these authorities and write that the majority view is that of Rashi, requiring 600,000 people. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 345:17) writes that the eruvin in the Jewish towns of Eastern Europe relied on this accepted leniency; otherwise, they could not have used tzurot hapetach.
The Opinion of Maran Rav Yosef Karo
Accordingly, it would seem that Sephardic Jews may not rely on a standard community eruv, since Maran Rav Yosef Karo presents the 600,000 people opinion as merely a secondary opinion. However, Rav Karo’s view is somewhat unclear, as he appears to contradict himself in Orach Chaim 303:18. There he writes that no places today qualify as reshuyot harabim. Presumably, his reason is that he requires 600,000 people for a reshut
Sephardic authorities have debated which is to be regarded as the opinion endorsed by Rav Karo. Maran HaChida (Birkei Yosef OC 345:2) regards the stricter opinion as the one accepted by Rav Karo and to constitute the halacha for Sephardic Jews. However, the Erech HaShulchan (OC 345:2) disagrees and argues that Rav Karo accepts the more lenient opinion, requiring the presence of 600,000 people in order to render the area into a reshut harabim.
This argument persists until this very day. Ribi Shalom Messas (Teshuvot Tevu’ot Shemesh 1:65) rules that Rav Karo accepts the stricter opinion; Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 9 OC 33) rules that Rav Karo accepts the more lenient view requiring 600,000 people to be in an area in order to define it as a reshut
Rav Ovadia and Ribi Shalom’s Endorsement of American Community Eruvin
Both Rav Ovadia (op. cit.) and Ribi Shalom (Teshuvot Shemesh UMagein 3 OC 84) urged the local rabbis to establish a community eruv in Deal, New Jersey. Both Rav Ovadia and Ribi Shalom state their motivation lies in the many Jews they noticed who carry on Shabbat even though no eruv exists, in a blatant breach of the laws of Shabbat.
Despite the fact that both Chacham Ovadia and Rav Messas strongly encouraged the creation of this eruv, their respective approaches are significantly different. Rav Messas regarded the eruv as usable only by those who already carry without the eruv. However, Ribi Shalom strongly encourages one to refrain from relying on the eruv, since he fundamentally rules that 600,000 people are not required to create an eruv.
Rav Ovadia adopts a more lenient view. While he insists that it is preferable to adopt the strict view and refrain from using a standard community eruv, he concludes that according to baseline halacha, tzurat hapetach suffice to render an area as a reshut hayachid.
Interestingly, Rav Ovadia records that he even encouraged the creation of an eruv in Los Angeles, despite the fact that far more than 600,000 people reside in this city. Rav Ovadia is lenient even in this case, since he rules that people riding in cars, buses and trains do not count toward the number 600,000. Rav Ovadia even endorsed the creation of an eruv in Flatbush,
A Special Sephardic Eruv
In a letter explaining his endorsement of the Sephardic Flatbush eruv, the legendary Syrian Jewish community leader Rav Shaul Kassin notes2 that the Sephardic eruv consists of a majority of actual wall and that the tzurot hapetach represent only a minority of the eruv boundary. This is done to accommodate the opinion of the Rambam (presented in Shulchan Aruch OC 362:10).
Moreover, he notes that “doors” that could be opened and locked were posted throughout the area enclosed. These doors could be extended and locked, thereby constituting an even further level of encompassment of the area. Rav Kassin assured that the doors would indeed be locked periodically. This was done since when even a reshut harabim is enclosed on all sides by doors at night, it ceases to be a reshut harabim (Shulchan Aruch OC 364:2). The classic example of this phenomenon appears in Eruvin 22a, where the Gemara states that “had Jerusalem’s doors not been locked in the evenings, the city would have been considered a reshut
It is significant to note that Rav Ovadia Yosef does not mention that a Sephardic Jew may rely only a community eruv that consists mostly of walls and is surrounded by doors with the potential to expand. It seems that these were added by Rav Kassin merely to bolster the level of kashrut of the eruv in Flatbush that for decades had been a subject of great
Thus, it is clear from Rav Ovadia’s writings that it is preferable for a Sephardic Jew to refrain from using a communal eruv on Shabbat. However, a Sephradi has significant basis upon which to rely on even a standard community eruv without the enhancements made to the Flatbush
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.
Rav Ovadia makes this endorsement in a letter archived at http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/998ef5_843abe82da3ed8d513bea7867a3dd7c0.pdf.