The Mishna (Nedarim 5:1) in today’s daf (Nedarim 45b) informs us of a situation of partners (שּׁוּתָּפִין) of a courtyard who each make a vow forbidding themselves from deriving benefit from each other. According to the first opinion in the Mishna, the result of such a vow is that neither partner can then enter the courtyard. However, according to Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov, both can enter the courtyard, and the space that each of them then occupy is considered to be theirs and their alone (nb. this is based on his view that, in such a situation, each can individuate their own space which is what we call ברירה – see Bava Kama 51b). Significantly, the halacha is in accordance with Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov.
However, as pointed out by Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel (HaMiddot L’Cheker HaHalacha p. 56), if we look ahead to Mishna Nedarim 5:4-5 which speaks of a situation where someone says, “I am hereby forbidden to you and you are hereby forbidden to me like an item dedicated to the Temple”, then not only are both prohibited from benefiting from the possessions of the other, but also, both are prohibited from benefitting from publicly owned objects in the city where they live (eg. its marketplace, its bathhouse, its synagogue, and its Torah scrolls).
The question raised by Rabbi Amiel is why do we rule in the first case that a division can be reached about the use of a courtyard that is shared by these partners, while in the second case, no division can be reached about the use of publicly owned objects and therefore both may not use these objects?
The answer, as pointed out by Rabbi Amiel is that there is a significant difference between being in partnership (שותפות) and being a member of a group-entity (ציבור). In terms of the former, this is when individuals come together for a common goal (ie. an aggregate) where the group is merely a sum of its parts, while in terms of the latter, this represents a collective where the group is greater than the sum of its parts (nb. see also https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/yevamot-9/ where I discuss this topic further). This is why, in the first case, each person can individuate their own space (ברירה) because they are a partnership (שותפות), and this is why, in the second case, no division can be reached about publicly-owned objects because no member of a societal collective (ציבור) can individuate themselves out of being part of that group.
Clearly, this distinction between שותפות and ציבור has many applications, but I would like to briefly reflect on this theme in terms of Israeli society, and to do so, I’d like to first reference a very powerful teaching of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi from his Kuzari (3:19) who states how, ‘someone who prays only for themselves is like a person who, at a time of danger to the city, would be satisfied with the well-being of just their home and does not want to participate with the people of the city in assuring the well-being of the city’, and who then proceeds to state how, ‘when an individual disregards their being a part of the whole and their duty to work for the sake of the well-being of the community of which they are a part… they sin against the whole people… for the individual within a community is like one limb in the wholeness of the body’. Significantly, Rabbi Halevi speaks both of prayer and of action, and he emphasises that in both areas we are part of a ציבור where the group is greater than the sum of its parts.
And what has this got to do with Israeli society? It is because while most Israelis pray with their heart for the collective (ציבור) – especially when faced with danger or following a tragedy, far too often, members of Israeli society – and sadly even some members of government whose task it is to consider the needs of the ציבור – act as if we are merely partners (שותפות) of a shared space where each simply thinks about the well-being of people just like them. So while there are moments when sub-groups within society appreciate that they are ‘like one limb in the wholeness of the body’, there are many times when they view that limb as a body unto itself, at which point they ‘they sin against the whole people’, because they, ‘disregarded their being a part of the whole and their duty to work for the sake of the well-being of the community of which they are a part’.
Of course, we could claim that Israel is really just a שותפות. However, if we do, we immediately disembody the Jewish people by severing the bonds that bind us together. At the same time, if we are – and if we want to be – a ציבור, then we need to look beyond ourselves and the limb of which we feel we are a part, and consider the needs of the entire body of the people. Admittedly this has always been a struggle for the Jewish people, but nowadays it seems to be even more elusive. Consequently, we should do whatever we can to help strengthen the entire body of the Jewish people because, when it comes to matters of the collective (ציבור), אין לנו ברירה!