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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is an Eruv and why is it needed?

    An eruv (Hebrew: עירוב) is a ritual halakhic enclosure made for the purpose of allowing activities which are normally prohibited on Shabbat (due to the prohibition of carrying outdoors in a public domain referred to as hotzaah mereshut lereshut), specifically: carrying objects from a private domain to a semi-public domain (carmelit), and transporting objects four cubits (approximately 6 feet) or more within a semi-public domain.

    א‘‘ל רבה בר בר חנה לאביי מבואה דאית ביה תרי גברי רברבי כרבנן לא להוי ביה עירוב (עירובין סח) 

    Abaye was admonished for not having an Eruv in the street in which he and Rabbah lived. An Eruv creates an enclosure which causes the areas within its boundaries to become a private domain. This prevents Sabbath observers from unintentional carrying in a public area. It will prevent those who are not observant of sabbath laws from both intentional and unintentional violation of the prohibition of carrying. 

    Without an eruv, the honor and enjoyment of שבת קדש is minimized. Women with small children who need strollers and the elderly wheelchair ridden will be confined to the house. Families will not be able to enjoy invitations from friends to join in shabbos meals. Those who are unable to walk will be denied shul attendance on shabbos. The eruv also affords a convenience to carry house keys and various items outside of the house. The rabbinic and lay leadership of the Miami Beach Eruv Council assumed responsibility for the eruv in response to the words of רבה בר בר חנה.

    One of the divisions of labor prohibited on Shabbos is “Carrying from one domain to another” (see Talmud Shabbos 73A-96B based upon Shmos 16:29 and Eruvin 17B based upon Shmos 36:6). This refers to transporting from an enclosed area to an open area (see Talmud Shabbos 6A). Shlomo Hamelech’s legislation instituted further that even within an enclosed area it is prohibited to transport from one private residence to another private residence or to a commonly shared residential area (see Talmud Shabbos 15b and Eruvin 21B).

    Two factors must come into play to allow carrying outsides one’s enclosed private residence:

    1. To enclose those areas
    2. To consider those who reside there as one family.

    Horizontal walls of a minimum height of ten handbreadths make up an enclosure. There exists complex rules concerning gaps larger than ten cubits. These gaps can be filled by poles connected from above with strings.

    An eruv (Hebrew: עירוב) is a ritual halakhic enclosure made for the purpose of allowing activities which are normally prohibited on Shabbat (due to the prohibition of carrying outdoors in a public domain referred to as hotzaah mereshut lereshut), specifically: carrying objects from a private domain to a semi-public domain (carmelit), and transporting objects four cubits (approximately 6 feet) or more within a semi-public domain.

    Another method is bread sufficient of two meals by the residents in the enclosure renders it as occupied by one large family. Two pounds of matzah are set aside for this purpose in one of the area synagogues. This applies for those Jewish families who are Shabbos observers, שכירת רשות is required. A 99 year lease is negotiated with municipal and county authorities for this purpose.

    Of course, there are restrictions against moving objects that are Muktzah and to carry an umbrella even within the Eruv. It is also ruled not to drive a bicycle even within the Eruv.

  2. Shabbos When the Eruv is Down

    The following offer some guidance for dealing with some common issues that come up in the absence of a functioning eruv :

    Items that you should not carry outside of you home include:

    Siddurim: Shuls generally have them, so no need to carry them . 

    Talliesim:  Wearing a tallis under one's coat--wrapped around one's neck and mid-section like an actual garment--is one way of transporting a tallit to shul.

    Food for Shabbos meals:  In light of the eruv's status this Shabbos, guests and hosts may want to coordinate about bringing all food and drinks needed at someone else's apartment so that all necessary transfers can take place before Shabbos starts.

    Keys:  There are a number of ways to address the issue of house/apartment keys on Shabbos in the absence of an eruv.  Assuming there is no way to rotate housemates staying at home and going out and one does not feel comfortable leaving the apartment unlocked, the best strategy is to find a secure place to leave a key in the enclosed portion of one's building.  This can be anywhere inside the internal stucture: with a doorman, in a secret hiding place, etc.  Another strategy is to turn it into a functional piece of one's clothing.  For instance, instead of wearing a belt, one can use a piece of elastic or string that using the key as a kind of clasp or buckle and thread this through pant loops in place of a belt. 

    Children:  All other things being equal, the best way to address the concern of transporting small children from one's home to shul without an eruv is for parents to switch off going to staggered minyanim over Shabbos and keep children who cannot walk on their own.

    Life threatening issues; Carrying permitted for life/limb threatening situations.

    Carrying permitted for individuals who need medical attention without which a person’s functionality is compromised, (even for a bed-ridden headache). In this case carrying should be done, only if possible, in an irregular fashion (i.e. carrying medicine in ones belt or shoe).

    Carrying permitted to allow a baby, infirm seniors or a child traumatized by the event to function without compromise. In this case carrying should be done, if possible, in a irregular fashion (i.e. two people carrying or wheeling the stroller/person.)

    Hotel Carrying – An Eruv Chatzeiros might be necessary to permit carrying within the hotel premises (e.g. from a room to an enclosed hallway) on Shabbos. One should check with his Rav. However, if there is only one Jew or Jewish family among the hotel guests, an Eruv Chatzeiros is not needed. A motel is usually comprised of rooms that open up to the outdoors. Since there is no proper enclosure, one may not carry outside of his room.

    One important addition:

    For those who live in apartment buildings, the community eruv of shared food (done with a box of matzah in one of the synagogues) is not functional when the larger boundary enclosing it is down.  Therefore, in order to consider the entire building one domain for Shabbos purposes, one needs to do a symbolic pooling of food.  This is done by taking some bread and handing it to another observant Jew in one's building with the intention of thereby benefitting all others who live in the building.  Before doing this transfer, one should say:

    ברוך אתה ה' אלקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו על מצות עירוב 


  3. Halachos When Expecting a Hurricane

    Q. The electricity went off briefly on Shabbos and I now have an alarm that is beeping loudly. It is very disruptive. Can I ask a non-Jew to turn off the alarm?

    A. Ordinarily, one is not permitted to ask a non-Jew to do any melacha on Shabbos that one is not permitted to perform himself. Therefore, if one can close the door of the room or block out the noise with blankets, then this is the preferred method. However, if this is not effective and the alarm is causing one distress, they may ask a non-Jew to unplug it. This is because turning off an alarm is at most a rabbinic prohibition. One is permitted to ask a non-Jew to violate a rabbinic prohibition (shvus d’shvus) in cases of great personal discomfort (See Magen Avrohom 276:15).

    OU Kosher Halacha Yomis

    This column is dedicated in memory of:
    Rav Chaim Yisroel ben Reb Dov HaLevi Belsky, zt'l
    Senior OU Kosher Halachic Consultant from 1987-2016

    Q. There is a power outage on Erev Shabbos, and I am drawing electricity from a generator. The generator only produces enough electricity for either the lights or the air conditioner. I know that it is a mitzvah to light Shabbos candles to promote sholom bayis. Since I will light Shabbos candles, do I fulfill the mitzvah without electric lights, which would allow me to use the electricity to operate my air conditioner?

    A. The essential question is whether the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles is enhanced by having additional light in the house from electric bulbs. Rav Zylberstein (Chashukei Chemed, Shabbos 251) writes that it is a mitzvah to have additional light in the house. He demonstrates this from the fact that many women can light Shabbos candles in one location and recite a bracha. We see that providing additional light is an enhancement of the mitzvah. Operating the electric lights from the generator will fulfill this mitzvah enhancement and therefore lights would take precedence over an air conditioner. However, if it is very warm and one will be in discomfort, the air conditioner can be run instead of the electric lights, since the obligatory mitzvah is fulfilled with Shabbos candles and other candles lit throughout the house. Poskim allow one to ask a non-Jew to turn on an air conditioner when it is very hot (see Minchas Yitzchak 3:23). From this we see that halacha recognizes discomfort as a significant factor..

    ​​Q. Our electricity went off on Shabbos, and I have a freezer full of meat. The eiruv is still intact. My neighbor still has electricity. May I transport, on Shabbos, the contents of my freezer to my neighbor?

    A. Shulchan Aruch (OC 308:31) writes that raw meat is not muktzah, because there are people who will eat raw meat. However, the Aruch Hashulchan (308:58) writes that today raw meat is muktzah, since it is not common to find such people. Although not everyone agrees with this stringency of the Aruch Hashulchan, the Shevet HaLevi 3:29 writes that if the raw meat is frozen then all would agree that it is muktzah, since in its current state, it is not usable in any way and cannot even be fed to an animal.

    The halacha is that one may not move muktzah on Shabbos even if it will get ruined. However, one may bring trays of ice from their neighbor to put in their freezer so that it will remain cold. If this is not possible, and the meat will get ruined over Shabbos, thereby causing a financial loss, there is a basis in halacha to allow asking a non-Jew to transport the meat to a working freezer. The Mishnah Berurah (307:22) cites the opinion of the Magen Avrohom that in cases of great loss, one may ask a non-Jew to violate the laws of muktzah. However, it is best to avoid asking a non-Jew directly if there is a way that this can be accomplished through hinting, since the Mishnah Berurah notes that not all poskim agree with this ruling.​

    Q. If the electricity went off on Shabbos and was subsequently restored a few hours later by non-Jewish workers, what is the status of the reheated food, such as cholent?

    A. Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchaso (32:{174}) and Teshuvos B’tzeil Hachochma (4:137) write that if there is a power outage on Shabbos, it is permissible to enjoy the hot food even if the food cooled down and was then reheated when the power was restored. There is no problem of benefiting from the action of a non-Jew on Shabbos because, as was explained in an earlier Halacha Yomis, the non-Jewish workers restore the power for their own benefit, and therefore a Jew may benefit from the electricity as well. There is also no violation of the restriction of chazara (the prohibition of reheating food on Shabbos), since in this case, the Jew is passive, and it is treated as if everything happened on its own. On the other hand, the Chazon Ish disagrees and holds that chazara is violated even without any action. As soon as one notices that the power has returned, according to Chazon Ish, one is required to remove the crockpot.

    Rav Schachter, Shlita felt it best to be stringent and follow the position of the Chazon Ish. However, if the cholent is the main course of the meal, and one will not have enough to eat without it, Rav Schachter ruled that one may rely on the lenient opinion, and leave the cholent in the crockpot and eat it during the meal.

    Q. Our electricity was restored on Shabbos. The lights in the house went back on. Are we permitted to benefit from these lights even though they were restored on Shabbos?

    A. One is not permitted to benefit on Shabbos from a melacha that was done by a non-Jew for the sake of a Jew. This is true even if the Jew did not request the favor. The Mishna Berura 276:2 explains that this is forbidden because we are concerned that in a future situation, one might ask the non-Jew directly. However, if the majority of those who will benefit from the melacha are non-Jews, then a Jew may benefit as well. In most situations, the majority of people who will benefit from the restoration of power are non-Jews. However, even if a neighborhood is mostly Jewish, it is still permitted to benefit from the lights. The electric company restores power for their own benefit (they are legally required to do so), regardless of whether anyone asks. Since the workers are doing so for their own needs a Jew may benefit from the electricity as well. (See Mishna Berura 276:17.)

    Q. There is a major storm expected to arrive on Shabbos. What special preparations should I make regarding Hadlokas Neiros, lighting candles?

    A. Concerning lighting candles, there is a mitzvah to have light in every room that one will use on Shabbos (Mishna Berura 263:2 and Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchaso Vol. 2:43:15). We usually fulfill this obligation by leaving on electric lights all over the house. Most people do not light candles in their bedrooms; instead they leave on an electric light in the hallway. This way they will not stumble when entering their bedrooms. However, if one is anticipating a major storm and is concerned that the electricity might be knocked out, it is proper to set up candles or flashlights in strategic areas of the house so that one will not stumble when they enter the kitchen, bedrooms or other living areas.

    Many communities were recently, severely impacted by the catastrophic hurricanes of Harvey and Irma. Halacha Yomis presents some of the many halachic issues which need to be considered under such dire circumstances.

    Q. There is a major storm expected to arrive on Shabbos. What are some possible halachic ramifications?

    A. The first issue we will discuss is carrying on Shabbos:

    Many Jews live in communities that have an eruv. The eruv is typically checked every week, and once the eruv has been checked and found to be in order; there is a chazaka (presumption) that the status will not change on Shabbos. It is on this basis that we are permitted to carry on Shabbos. However, when there was a storm and large branches were knocked down, and especially if we know that there have been power outages, this creates a reiyusa (weakness) with the chazaka. Once there is a reiyusa, one should no longer rely on the chazaka until the eruv has once again been checked and found to be intact. If a city eruv is broken, the Mishnah Berurah (276:25) writes that one is permitted to ask a non-Jew to fix it, since many Jews might not realize that the eruv is down and may carry outside on Shabbos.


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