Today’s daf (Eruvin 33) discusses the status of an Eruv which has been placed or hung on a tree, and while doing so, it also teaches us an important lesson about inclusion and access.
As previously taught in the Mishna (Eruvin 3:3, 32b), if an Eruv is placed on a tree above ten tefachim (approx. 90cm) then it is invalid, while if it was placed below 10 tefachim, it is valid.
However, while the Mishna only addressed measures of height primarily as an expression of determining the physical accessibility and thus the halachic validity of an Eruv, today’s daf teaches us that further issues arise when dealing with an Eruv which has been placed or hung on a tree, since a tree can be considered to be a domain unto itself. What this means is that even when an Eruv may be physically accessible, it might not be halachically accessible since its retrieval may require a transfer from one domain to another. Thus, the location where someone places an Eruv needs to be chosen with a sensitivity to both physical and halachic accessibility.
As we have learnt in Massechet Eruvin, an Eruv (Chatzeirot) represents the ability to transform private domains into a shared public space, while an Eruv (Techumin) represents the ability for someone to travel further on Shabbat. What this means is that the underlying message of an Eruv is inclusion, community and access, and with this in mind, it seems appropriate to relate this discussion to physical and halachic accessibility within our communities.
In terms of physical access, while improvements continue to be made there is still a very long way to go until all public places are fully accessible to those with physical limitations, and the message I draw from today’s daf which stresses the importance of physical access is that we – as a Jewish community – should invest further time and energy in considering and in making changes to how the physical locations for which we are responsible, along with the resources available in those locations, are accessible to all people of all levels of ability.
But in addition to addressing physical access, today’s daf also discusses the concept of halachic accessibility, and in the same spirit I believe that we – as a Jewish community – still have work to do in considering – while working within the boundaries of halacha – how the places and spaces to which we belong can be more accessible and can better communicate the message of access and inclusion to all people.
The Torah is compared to a ‘living tree’ )Mishlei 3:18), but like today’s daf, there are times when things that people need are placed or hung in locations on that tree that they cannot reach or access. And this is why today’s daf spends so much of its discussion on this question in order for us to understand that an Eruv – which represents inclusion, community and access – must be both physically and halachically accessible.