Don’t Step Outside… the Techum

Eiruvin (4:11) | Yisrael Bankier | 10 years ago

This week we continued our discussion on eruv techumim. One Mishnah (4:11) taught that if a person takes one step outside the techum of his city, he may not re-enter and his movements are limited to four amot (see 4:5 for how the four amot are placed). According to the Tanna Kama this is the case even if his new personal, albeit restricted techum overlaps his city’s techum. We shall analyse this case.

The Tosfot R’ Akiva Eiger notes that the law in the Mishnah only holds true in a regular case where a person stepped out of the city’s techum. If however the person was allowed to leave (see 4:3), then the law is different in two ways. Firstly, the person has a complete techum (two-thousand amot) from the place where the authority ends. Secondly, if the second techum overlaps his city’s techum he can return home.

The leniency for those that left the techum for the mitzvah is found in Mishnah Rosh Hashana (2:5). As we will learn later, the date of Rosh Chodesh was not fixed, but rather determined by witness testimony regarding the sighting of the new moon. If it was Shabbat, the witnesses were allowed to violate Shabbat and travel beyond the techum of their city in order to deliver this testimony in Yerushalaim. Initially, once they reached Yerushalaim and delivered their testimony, they were not allowed to walk more than four amot (much like our Mishnah). Rabban Gamliel however instituted that they be allowed to travel two-thousand amot in each direction (a regular techum).

The Minchat Chinnuch (24:4) notes that this leniency only works because the techum of two-thousand amot is rabbinic (as explained last week). (Note that R’ Akiva (Sotah 30b) and R’ Meir(Eiruvin 35b) maintain that this limit is biblically prohibited.) Consequently as they enacted that limit, they have the freedom to create leniencies within it.

While the Ramban maintains that there is no biblical prohibition of techumin, there are a number of opinions that maintain that there is indeed a biblical prohibition of techum at a far greater distance of three parsa’ot (twelve mil). This is based on the pasuk “…let no man leave his place on the seventh day” (Shemot 16:29). The Minchat Chinnuch therefore explains that if someone travelled beyond the biblically prohibited limit, even if it was authorised for kidush ha’chodesh, they would not be able to take one extra step. The Chachamim do not have the authority to allow one to actively violate a Torah prohibition. Consequently the act of Rabban Gamliel must have only applied to those that travelled to Yerushalaim from within a distance of three parsa’ot. He only introduced this law because witnesses only really travelled to Yerushalaim from within that range.

The Ramban (Eiruvin 43a) however explains that the takana of Rabban Gamliel works even for those that hold that the two thousand amot is biblically prohibited. Why? The Ramban explains one only transgresses the prohibition of techumim on a biblical level if they travelled three parasa’ot whilst it was prohibited to do so. Until they reached Yerushalaim, those that travelled for kidush ha’chodesh were permitted to do so – even if they had travelled the distance of a number of techumin. After reaching Yerushalaim, they would need to travel another three parasa’ot in order to violate the biblical prohibition. Consequently, at that point, the only thing limiting their movement would have been the rabbinic prohibition. R’ Gamliel therefore alleviated that restriction.


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