Sunday, January 4, 2015

Woe is Me! Carrying Asher on Shabbat

A few weeks ago the eruv was down and I was in a panic. I contacted the local rabbi to ask if there were any leniences about carrying Asher to synagogue, especially considering I live so, so, obnoxiously close to the synagogue. Hold on. I'm getting ahead of myself here, right?

Lowdy, Lowdy, that is a huge eruv!

You see, the eruv in plainest terms is a "boundary" that is set up to allow Jews to carry from the private to the public domain on Shabbat. Yes, "carrying" is one of the 39 forbidden melachot, or types of work, on Shabbat. Jews are forbidden from carrying from a private domain (like the home) into the public domain (outside, for example) or more than 6 feet (that's four amot) while in that public domain.

So, for example, if there's no eruv set up, I can't leave my apartment complex carrying a bottle of wine or a bag or even a Kleenex. Nothing, nada, zip.

For men, the essential items for Shabbat like the tallit (prayer shawl) are easily worn to synagogue from the home, so there's no need for concern there. But when it comes to women and children, without an eruv you're basically stuck at home until your children can walk the distance to synagogue on their own and don't require a sippy cup or anything that can't be "worn." Ugh.

The truth is, carrying in the public domain wasn't a problem for much of history because Jewish communities lived in small, tight-knit communities that were walled, making the entire area "private."

In the genius of the Jewish people, the eruv was created to allow for carrying in the public domain. The modern eruv, then, uses wires that typically hang from light poles and the like around a Jewish neighborhood to create a large private domain. Yes, it feels like a loop hole and a bit of a cheat, and this is probably why quite a few Jewish communities simply don't use or accept the concept of an eruv (think: the Lower East Side of NYC).

Okay, now that all of that is out of the way, back to the issue.

It snowed, so part of the eruv got knocked down and it couldn't be fixed because of the weather, so Asher and I stayed indoors because the rabbi's solution was to find a non-Jew to push the stroller (and I don't know any non-Jews in these parts).

So I got to thinking. I chatted with some other parents and we were all trying to figure out what the actual issue is, especially in light of the concept of "Chai Noseh Es Atzmo" -- a living being carries itself. According to the Tosefot, at the time of the building of the Mishkan, from where we get the 39 melachot, this wasn't even an issue (a person carrying another person), so technically it doesn't fall in the category of carrying as a prohibition.

However, as it turns out, the principle of "Chai Noseh Es Atzmo" is only applicable when the person is able to walk on his own, so it doesn't apply to an individual who can't "carry" himself or herself. Thus you can't carry a child (or drag a child who refuses to walk) who is not able to carry himself, lest you violate the rabbinic prohibition of carrying. On that note, it must be noted that this isn't a biblical prohibition.

To that end, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein suggested that carrying a living organism (like a baby) is only prohibited when it is evident that the "item" had been transported. Since people see Asher walking, I suppose no one would assume he was carried to synagogue on Shabbat if the eruv was down, right?

Unfortunately, Mishnah Berurah and the greater Jewish world hold very simply that carrying a child on Shabbat is prohibited. No conversation about it. So what to do?

A child who is capable of taking steps can be walked, even if you have to assist the child in doing so. It also would seem that if you're in a rural or suburban area and the child falls and refuses to get up and walk, you are allowed to carry the child home. If you're in a big city, however, you don't get off so easy and you have to figure out a creative way to get the child home or let him cry it out on the sidewalk until a non-Jew comes by.

There does seem to be a leniency when it comes to carrying for 6 feet, however. By this account, I would think that I could theoretically carry Asher for 6 feet, put him down and let him walk a bit until he falls, carry him another 6 feet, and so on. Right?

Anyhow, luckily this week the eruv got put back up before Shabbat, saving us from imminent doom of being inside for a full 25 hours alone. Together. Head explosion! At least he's cute, right? (Insert smiley here.)

How do you handle life without an eruv? I'd love to hear any and all rants about the concept of the eruv from everyone -- Jewish or not. What do you think about it? .