In yesterday’s daf (Eruvin 2a) we contrasted the law of the מבוי with the law of the Sukkah, and in today’s daf (Eruvin 3a) we continue this discussion and are taught by Rabbah that while a קורה crossbeam (which bridges and thereby ‘closes’ the opening of a מבוי to a public domain) that is positioned in a manner such that part of it is higher than 20 amot (approx. 10 metres) and part of it is within 20 amot is valid; schach of a sukkah – where part of the schach is higher than 20 amot while part of it is within 20 amot – is invalid.
From the Gemara it seems that halacha should validate both cases, and that the only real concern in such a situation is whether either the קורה or the schach might move or might physically deteriorate such that – over a period of time – only the section above 20 amot would remain. Given this, why is the law of the קורה treated more leniently than that of the schach?
According to Rava from Parzakya (possibly ‘Farausag’ – a district near Bagdad), in the case of the קורה which is relied upon by the residents whose homes surround the מבוי, its status will be the concern of all the residents so that if the קורה does move or physically deteriorate, we can be sure that the residents will take responsibility to fix it. However, the schach that an individual places on their private sukkah is solely the concern of that individual, and if it does move or physically deteriorate, we cannot be sure that the individual homeowner will be sufficiently conscientious to fix it. According to this interpretation of Rava from Parzakya, groups are more reliable than individuals.
However, the Gemara then presents an alternative – and opposite – version of Rabbah’s rule, such that a קורה crossbeam that is positioned in a manner such that part of it is higher than 20 amot and part of it is within 20 amot is invalid, whereas schach of a sukkah – where part of the schach is higher than 20 amot while part of it is within 20 amot – is valid.
According to this version of Rabbah’s rule, Rava from Parzakya explains that in the case of the קורה, each resident will presume that other residents will notice if it moves or physically deteriorates and each will ‘pass the buck’ onto others to take responsibility to fix it. Contrasting this, as the schach that an individual places on their private sukkah is solely their concern, they will take personal responsibility to make sure to fix it if it moves or physically deteriorates. According to this interpretation of Rava from Parzakya, individuals are more reliable than groups.
Given all this, we must ask ourselves the following question: which is more reliable – the individual or the group?
To answer, I would like to reference the tragic case of Kitty Genovese who was murdered on March 1964 and whose cries were seemingly ignored by many of her neighbours – all of whom presumed that someone else would take responsibility to assist her or to call the police. Genovese’s murder generated considerable research surrounding the concept of ‘bystander apathy’, and this led Bibb Latane and John Darley to conduct a series of experiments which repeatedly proved that, when a particular type of crisis occurs, an individual is more reliable than a group.
However, it should be noted that all these incidents involved various forms of strangers. In fact, what particularly shocked so many people was how the Kitty Genovese story highlighted how even if someone is your neighbour, they may still be a form of stranger to you (nb. while, at that time, this was applied to New York, sadly this is now a phenomenon in almost all cities and in most towns and villages too). Still, there are countless situations when a well-trained group of friends or neighbours who understand each other can achieve so much more than a single individual, and given this the question still remains: which is more reliable – the individual or the group?
According to Rabbi Yair Hoffman (‘Not Your Usual Halacha’ Vol. 1 p. 22), an answer to this question can be found in the laws of Shabbat (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 328:15) where we are told that if doctors determine that a sick person requires a certain medicine on Shabbat, and if ten people each independently go to retrieve that medicine (which, in the Gemara’s case, involved plucking a fig from a tree), all ten are not considered to be liable for violating Shabbat and ‘[all ten] receive a good reward from God [for retrieving this medicine]’. As the Ma’amar Mordechai explains, given the concern that each person would ‘pass the buck’ and would merely be a bystander, the Shulchan Aruch emphasised that each person who took the time to help would be rewarded.
Based on this, it seems that the ideal situation, and the most reliable system, is when you have a group where each member doesn’t pass the buck but, instead, takes individual responsibility to do what needs to be done – knowing that even if someone else has done the same, each person has played a part in making the world a safer and better place.