In a recent Interfaithfulness blog[i], R. Stuart cited a book entitled American Sanctuary: Understanding Sacred Spaces. Quoting from the chapter entitled, The Urban Practice of Jewish Space by Jennifer Cousineau dealing with eruvim,
“Jewish law prohibits Jews from transferring objects from a private domain to a public domain and vice versa on the Sabbath. The prohibition not only prevents people from carrying sacred texts to be used in study or indoor shoes to the synagogue in winter but also restricts mothers from carrying or strolling their young children, the elderly from carrying canes, and physically handicapped people from using wheelchairs.”[ii]
I remember a while back on FB there was a discussion of whether or not one could/should carry an umbrella to shul on Shabbat in the rain. I thought, probably wrongly, that this was all in jest. Apparently it was not, and the restrictions seem as strong as Ms. Cousineau seems to infer. So the question springs to mind, where is the care for those in need in this ruling.
As you read this, you should know that I am not against rabbinic tradition, but I have to admit that there are times when I wonder about the logic of what has traveled down to us today. Very much this “transferring” situation seems to fit in a number of Yeshua’s teachings/challenges to the Pharisees and teachers of the law in the Besorah.
Mark 2:27, “And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” This is after the gleaning of the heads grain on Shabbat. The fact that they were in the field should probably have been in question as well. The narrative continues in Mark 3:1-4, “Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they (the Pharisees) watched Yeshua, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come here.’ And he said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent.” Though this had nothing to do with “carrying” it did deal with traditional Sabbath restrictions. Luke 14:5-6, possibly expanding on the Mark 3 account reads, “And he (Yeshua) said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’ And they (the Pharisees) could not reply to these things.”
I know that fences are necessary, not so much to “protect the Torah” but to help or assist us in observing the Torah and walking correctly. But when the fence becomes a milestone, have we allowed the fence to get too strong. In Nitzavim we read, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it,” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). I know, in Chabad, at least recently in Paris, Shabbat restrictions were set aside after the multiple terrorist attacks so that folks could communicate with their family and friends as to their safety to alleviate their worries and concerns. This was an act of grace that did not abolish the sanctity of the Sabbath but yielded to the needs of man.
How can we, today, uphold rabbinic tradition, encourage Toraic observance, while still applying the heart and grace of the Torah that Yeshua seemed to embody and teach? This is especially problematic when so many outside of the traditions see the traditions not as fences but as either insurmountable walls or worse yet prisons restricting life and happiness.
[ii] Nelson, Louis P. American Sanctuary: Understanding Sacred Spaces. (Indiana University Press, 2006.), p 65 & 67