The Mishnayot defined many of the common units used throughout shas. Amongst the list were a number of measures that were relative. At the end of this list was the two meals that were required as part of the forming of an eiruv. The Gemara (Eiruvin 30b) explains that the relative measure is provided for one who is not able to eat a regular meal, for example the elderly or sick. However one who is able to eat an excessive amounts of food would only be required to set aside two standard meals.
The Mishnah continues with a number of opinions. R’ Meir and R’ Yehuda debate whether the Shabbat or weekday meal should be used as a measure, where as R’ Shimon and R’ Yochanan ben Bruka provide fixed measures. The Mishnah explains that both R’ Meir and R’ Yehuda intended on ruling leniently. Rashi (Mishnah Eiruvin 82b) explains that R’ Meir understands that people eat more on Shabbat due to the tastier foods, consequently the weekday meal is smaller. R’ Yehuda however understands that since on Shabbat people eat an extra meal (three meals) each of these meals is smaller than the weekday meal. At first the debate seems to be quite surprising. Why not simply go out and see how people behave?
The Mishnah Achrona suggests that perhaps they argue about how one should enjoy Shabbat. R’ Meir argues that one can have large meals, as the sweet foods enjoyed generate an appetite ensuring that the meal is not gluttonous. R’ Yehuda however disagrees arguing that a small amount from a wide variety of foods is preferred. The Mishnah Achrona however find his suggestion difficult as the Gemara (Eiruvin 82b) records R’ Yosef asking R’ Yosef the son of Raba how his father behaved. The response is that he behaved like R’ Meir. The reason provided is that R’ Yehuda’s position is difficult due to the well know saying, “sweet foods increase an appetite” implying that general behaviour is at the core rather than desire custom.
The Tifferet Yisrael answers that everyone agrees that on Shabbat people will eat more delicacies. However this is provided that one has the means to purchase them. Consequently R’ Meir rules leniently for the wealthy as for them the weekday meal is smaller, while R’ Yehuda rules leniently for the poor.19 This explains why the Mishnah stated that each of them intended to be lenient”, implying that each remained with a stringent element.
The Tifferet Yisrael however continues that even though this is how the debate appears at the surface, at the core of the debate is something else. The eiruv techumim is setup prior to Shabbat but is intended for the purpose of Shabbat. Consequently R’ Meir is focused on the size of the meals when the act takes place, while R’ Yehuda is focused on the time of its effect.
However, as stated above in the question of the Mishnah Achrona, it appears from the Gemara that the behaviour of people presented a problem for R’ Yehuda and is consequently at the core of the debate.
One might be tempted to concede - perhaps indeed we are debating which of the two was really the smaller and it was important in order to determine the standard meal. By the time of Raba it was well known, for the behaviour was already captured in a common saying.
To suggest an alternative answer a point must be introduced. There is a discussion in the Rishonim regarding which case R’ Meir and R’ Yehuda argue. Are they arguing about the case of the elderly person for whom his meal will be a relative measure (Rashba’s preferred answer20)? Or are they arguing about how to define the standard meal (Rashba)? Or perhaps both (Ritva)?
One could therefore answer that the question posed by R’ Yosef was indeed relating to the definition of a standard meal. The response however was that R’ Meir and R’ Yehuda cannot be arguing about the average meal; that is well known. There is even a well known saying that helps to define the average meal. Their debate is only regarding the leniency applied to those that cannot consume a regular meal in terms of how far or on what basis can the leniency be formed.
19 See the Tifferet Ya’akov who provides sources for R’ Meir and R’ Yehuda’s own financial statuses matching their leniency as described by the Tifferet Yisrael.
20 The Meiri explains similarly, but rules that since both intended to rule leniently then each person would take the smaller of the two measures that apply to him.
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