Today’s daf (Eruvin 71b) informs us that while various foodstuffs may be used to establish an Eruv Techumin, and while wine can be used for an Eruv in order to merge courtyards (i.e. shitufei mevo’ot), an Eruv Chatzeirot – which binds houses into a collective unit – is only made from bread.
Of course, it is well known that bread is a staple in Jewish diets, and that the consumption of bread is often viewed by halacha as the difference between a snack and a meal. However, in terms of Eruvin, what we see is that different foods are understood to represent different levels of residence & social interaction.
For example, by stating that wine can be used to merge courtyards, our Sages teach us that wine represents casual courtyard gatherings amongst neighbours. And by saying that bread can be used to merge homes, they are teaching us that bread represents formal eating and home residence. But why – specifically – does bread communicate this idea?
Firstly, bread is filling, and it represents that feeling of fullness that many of us associate with homelife. Secondly, bread is kneaded together, and so it represents the concept of binding together a handful of ingredients into one unit. Thirdly, bread rises – and it expresses how a singular home unit – can grow. And finally, until recently, bread was baked, sold and eaten as whole (not sliced) loaves, which meant that to partake in bread meant to share bread with another (thus the term ‘breaking bread together’).
In prior generations, family meals – as expressed by a loaf of bread that was shared by a family – was what brought a family together. Nowadays, we are living in the TV dinner & sliced bread age, where food may be eaten at home, but is rarely shared by those living ‘together’ in a home.
Yet, notwithstanding the many challenges that so many of us have experienced during lockdown, one concrete benefit that I have seen is that the lockdown which many of us have experienced has forced many more families to share meals together; and through these meals, this has strengthened their bonds.
Of course, observant Jews may take comfort in Shabbat and in the knowledge that – at least on a couple of occasions each week – they still sit together, break bread together, and eat together. Moreover, I am sure that many people are looking forward – as am I – to inviting guests to their home to share meals and strengthen connections.
Still, it is essential that we do all we can to strengthen the family, and though Shabbat is a great time to do so, so too is the week.
And so, as some communities begin to ebb away from lockdown, it is important for each of us to remember the value of shared mealtimes, how breaking bread together is a powerful medium of strengthening family ties, and how we should continue – as best we can – to continue this practice even when lockdown ends.