How far one may walk outside of a city on Shabbos-known in Hebrew as techum Shabbos is the topic of this week’s article. There is a prohibition to walk further than a certain distance away from a city on Shabbos. What is the nature of this prohibition– is it Biblical or rabbinic? How far is one allowed to walk outside the city limits, and how does one measure? When is one forbidden from walking even within his city? What determines the city limits – is it city hall, or are there specific halachic parameters that determine where one city ends, and another begins? And how can entering a next-door neighbor’s home be a transgression of the prohibition? If necessary, can walking from one city to the next be rendered permissible?
The following article includes answers to these questions as well as a short review of the relevant halachos for those of us who recently merited completion of Maseches Eruvin with the Daf Yomi cycle.
Yaakov Avinu, upon returning to Eretz Yisroel, reached the city of Shechem at twilight between Friday and Shabbos. The Torah writes: “And Yaakov came safely [to] the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram, and he encamped before the city” (Bereshis 33:18). The Midrash (Raba, 11:7; Yeshayahu 58:14, Rashi) understands that Yaakov instituted did something which was related to the prohibition to walk freely on Shabbos. The understanding of the Midrash is that he made sure to reach the city early enough to enter and set up camp within the city. However, Mishnas Rabbi Eliezer (Parasha 20, p. 363) understands that he was close to the city but not within the city limits and ,therefore, he spent Shabbos camped outside of Shechem, refraining from entering the city for the entire Shabbos. For honoring the Shabbos in this manner, Yaakov was blessed seven-fold.
This week’s article will provide an overview of the halachos of Shabbos boundaries.
The Torah writes: “Each person should remain where he is — no man should leave his place on the seventh day” (Shemos 16:29). The Gemara explains (Eiruvin 51a) that the pasuk teaches us two distinct laws: “remain where he is” – refers to the four cubits, which constitute the limit one who ventured beyond his prescribed limit may walk and “No man should leave his place” refers to the two thousand cubits one may venture from the place he was at the beginning of Shabbos. Thus, we learn that every person ‘has’ the four cubits (amos) surrounding him in which he is permitted to move besides the 2000 amos in which he is permitted to walk. These 2000 amos are termed t’chum Shabbos, or the “Shabbos Boundary”. The Gemara adds that the entire city where one is situated at the beginning of Shabbos is included in one’s four amos, and t’chum Shabbos is measured from where the city ends.
This halacho of t’chum Shabbos is one of the few halachos that Naomi mentioned when discussing with Ruth her possibility of converting to Judaism (Yevamos 47b). Upon seeing Naomi’s hesitation, Ruth answered “Do not entreat me to leave you, to return from following you, for wherever you go, I will go…” (Rus 1:16) which is interpreted as meaning that Ruth accepted upon herself not to venture beyond the techum Shabbos.
The Ama (Cubit)
Determining t’chum Shabbos depends heavily on the conversion of the ama – the cubit – to modern measurements. Here we will present the three leading conversion methods:
The Minchas Baruch and Rabbi Chayim Noeh rule that an ama is equivalent with 48 centimeters. Therefore, 2000 amos equals 960 meters (0.59651 miles).
According to Igros Moshe (Yore Deah, volume 3 chapter 66) the ama is 21.25 inches long – 53.975 centimeter. According to this opinion, 2000 amos is 1079.50 meters.
The Tzlach, Chasam Sofer and Chazon Ish maintain that the ama is 58 centimeters and therefore 2000 amos is 1,160 meters (0.72079 miles).
Determining t’chum Shabbos, when necessary, should be done with the help of a competent rabbi. The rabbi has knowledge that can greatly expand t’chum Shabbos based on the halachos that determine city limits; squaring the city; and squaring of t’chum Shabbos — all of which are very complex.
When the area in question is flat land, a map can be used to measure t’chum Shabbos before Shabbos. The measurement begins from the last habitable house in the city.
A sloping landscape can result in a significant difference between the aerial and actual dimensions of the land. Measurements that pertain to hilchos Shabbos combine both. Kiryat Ariel (chapter 8, p. 199) calculated an upper limit of 7% difference between the different measuring methods. Therefore, in order ensure remaining within the halachic boundaries, when measuring an area with an incline one should measure only 1860 amos. Then, even if measurement is based on an aerial map, one can be certain he didn’t exit t’chum Shabbos. If the area is a paved road one can measure the land with a speedometer in a car, but obviously, if the road is not ruler-straight, his 2000 amos will end earlier than mandated by halacha.
The halachos of t’chum Shabbos are some of the lesser known halachos for the following reasons:
- Many who learned the basic halachos of Shabbos are unaware of the isur, especially since urban living rarely presents this halachic issue. Most hilchos Shabbos study courses focus on the common scenarios people meet up with every week, and thus, the halachos of t’chum Shabbos get left out and forgotten. There is, therefore, great value in discussing these halachos with family and friends, so people can become aware of the issues that arise, as well as helping Jews who recently discovered their heritage to learn about these oft forgotten halachos.
- Even if learned at one point, for people who spend most of their lives in urban areas these halachos can quickly become forgotten. Then, if one happens to spend a Shabbos in the country, he may not recall this topic. Reviewing these halachos from time to time is therefore very important.
- Metropolises can present various issues of t’chum Shabbos even within the city. Lack of awareness of this issue can cause one to involuntarily transgress hilchos Shabbos.
- In-depth study of the halachos of t’chum Shabbos is very complex. Many are intimidated by studying of geometry and maps, and refrain from studying these halachos.
This article will attempt to lay out the relevant halachos in a readily accessible fashion, while outlining which cases require further halachic research and ruling.
T’chumin – Biblical or Rabbinic
The source for hilchos t’chumin is disputed among the poskim. Some maintain the prohibition is rabbinic in nature and the psukim mentioned above serve as an allusion found in the Torah for rabbinical prohibitions. Others maintain that the 2000 amos is, indeed, rabbinic, but 12 mil (24,000 amos – between 11.5 to 13.5 km = 7.14-8.63 mile) is biblical.
The Mishna Brura (404:1) indicates that the Shulchan Aruch and Rama (404:1) maintain that one should, when necessary, be concerned of the 12 mil which is d’oraysa. However, the Mishna Brura ends the discussion stating that according to the Vilna Gaon even 12 mil are d’rabonon.
Defining a City
In order to define the area in which it is certainly permissible to walk, one first needs to define where his city ends. These halachos are complicated, depend on numerous factors, and follow different systems of measurement.
The rabbinic authorities of many cities around the world have already measured their city’s t’chum Shabbos, especially cities near medical centers. It is important to investigate this before Shabbos to know where walking is permissible l’chatchila, and where – b’dieved.
Often eiruv committee members in cities with an eiruv have already calculated the t’chum Shabbos of their city.
Another important point to remember – what you were told about t’chum Shabbos years ago may be irrelevant today! T’chum Shabbos is affected by changes in the city plan, park construction, demolished buildings, and other construction work. Make sure your information is up to date!
Measuring T’chum Shabbos
Preferably, measurement of t’chum Shabbos should be done before Shabbos and should follow the rules outlined in Maseches Eruvin and the Shulchan Aruch. However, one who finds himself stranded outside a city right before Shabbos and does not know the t’chum Shabbos can walk 2004 steps (a medium-size step is an ama. One can walk in the four amos he stands + 2000 amos of t’chum Shabbos). (Shulchan Aruch 397:2).
The Biur Halacha adds that this is true for a medium sized person, whose steps are 1 ama with a difference of a shoe-breadth between one shoe and the next (Mogen Avraham 1; Mishna Brura 5). Kiryat Ariel (Chapter 8, p. 201) maintains that when someone is in a hurry his footsteps are larger than an ama and therefore, one should not rely upon his own footsteps. However, when walking calmly, at a slow pace, the size of the footstep is 1 ama.
In any case, according to the Rama (Orech Chayim 301:1) one should not walk at a fast clip on Shabbos. Therefore, when measuring footsteps on Shabbos at a Shabbosdig walking pace, one would take steps which are one ama long.
The Minchas Baruch (Imrei Chayim 75:2) who maintains that the ama is 48 centimeters, agrees that a step is larger than an ama, but Chazal allowed using this measurement because usually, due to other factors, one is permitted to walk slightly more than the prescribed 2000 amos. The Chazon Ish (Orech Chayim, Kovetz Hashiurim, chapter 39:10), who is of the opinion that the ama is 58 centimeters, uses the footstep size as a proof for his opinion.
The Meiri (Eiruvin 57b) asks why are the complex halachos of measuring t’chum Shabbos necessary if it can be easily measured with a person’s footsteps? He answers that one should only measure with footsteps if he didn’t have the time or ability to measure the area properly before Shabbos.
The Biur Halacha (399:1) quotes the Darkei Moshe (Orech Chayim 399:2) who cites the Kolbo who ruled that one who measured with footsteps should not walk the full distance, as he might have made a mistake in counting. The Biur Halacha understands that the heter to measure with footsteps applies only to one who found himself stranded on the way and has no other way of computing his t’chum Shabbos. Therefore, one who is on the way is permitted to walk all the 2004 steps, while one who is in his house and wishes to walk elsewhere on Shabbos, should walk slightly less than that, because his measuring may not be accurate.
The Chazon Ish (Kovetz Hashiurim 39), though, following the Ritva (Eiruvin 42a), explains that strictly speaking one can rely upon his steps even when leaving from his home. The Kolbo’s warning is intended as apt advice since this kind of measuring tends to be inaccurate.
Measuring Footsteps on Shabbos
Measuring in general can be halachically problematic on Shabbos. Therefore, the Ritva (ibid) writes that the only heter to measure with footsteps is for one who is walking somewhere for a d’var mitzva. The Mishna Brura rules accordingly (397:5): even one who finds himself on the way before Shabbos is not permitted to measure his steps unless it is for the need of Shabbos or another d’var mitzva.
Therefore, one who finds himself stranded at the roadside and wants to walk to a place where he will be able to rest properly on Shabbos, or has another mitzva to perform in another locale, is permitted to use this measuring system on Shabbos. However, if the reason for walking is only save walking time after Shabbos, one is not permitted to use this measuring system.
Cities in halacha differ greatly from their municipal definition. In halacha we can find a municipality that consists of several halachic cities, and several municipal cities which are, in halacha, one large city.
In Jerusalem, for example, contemporary poskim disagree about the halachic status of the northern neighborhoods of Ramot. This debate is subject to ongoing change due to major construction that is taking place in the southern parts of the neighborhood.
New York rabbinic authorities are split over the possibility of considering Brooklyn and Manhattan two separate cities because of the East River that runs between them, or seeing both as two parts of one city because the Williamsburg Bridge that connects them (the bridge originally had a toll booth built on it, as well as additional factors that allow counting the bridge among the city’s residential buildings).
Often, determining the city limits depends upon the squaring of the city, a geometrical concept outside the scope of this article. In addition, one must take into consideration the poskim’s disputes on topics such as an eiruv, parks, industrial and other areas when drawing the city limits.
As a general rule, if there is a place in the city with more than 141 amos (67-81 meters) of uninhabited land between homes such as roads, parks, fields, rivers etc. a local rabbinic authority should be contacted to determine if the two parts of the city are still considered one in halacha.
Uniting different parts of a city through an eiruv is subject to much controversy among the poskim. According to the Chazon Ish (Orech Chayim 110:20) only a wall built for protection can connect all city parts to one halachic city, while a fence or eiruv strings cannot.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomo volume 2, chapter 59), however, is of opinion that even a simple eiruv using strings is enough to unite all the city parts to one city, even if there is a 141 ama-wide break in inhabited areas.
Halacha offers a solution for one who needs to walk more than 2000 but not more than four thousand amos outside of his city on Shabbos. This solution is called Eiruv T’chumin. In order to set this kind of eiruv up, one must go, before Shabbos to the edge of the t’chum (2000 amos outside of the city) and place a food item which will remain there throughout Shabbos. This way, he has set up a lodging-spot for himself at the edge of the 2000 amos, from which he now has an additional 2000 amos to continue walking.
One who set up an eiruv t’chumin in one direction, though, cannot take even one step in the other direction – if his eiruv is set up to the east of his city, he may not even set foot beyond the western boundary of the city.
Eiruv t’chumin involves many intricate halachos beyond the scope of this article. When necessary, please contact a halachic authority before implementing this solution.
Clothing and Utensils
One of the interesting, lesser-known, details of the laws of t’chum Shabbos is that possessions are also bound by the laws of t’chum Shabbos. A person’s possessions cannot be transported on Shabbos beyond the area in which he himself may walk (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 397:3). This leads to an interesting ramification – one cannot use utensils that belong to someone who is presently outside of t’chum Shabbos. Therefore, even if my neighbour, who travelled to another city for Shabbos, allows me to enter his house and take, for example, some toys for my grandkids to play with, they still may not be removed or used.
However, if the borrower took the neighbor’s items before Shabbos, these items entered the possession of the borrower before Shabbos and follows his t’chum – and therefore may be used, even if the original owner is currently outside of t’chum Shabbos.
Another interesting ramification occurs when one plans on walking outside of the t’chum by means of an eiruv t’chumin. Before setting out on Shabbos, he must remove any item that does not belong to him — a borrowed coat, scarf or gloves — which belong to an owner who did not leave the eiruv. (If one borrowed the item – scarf, shoes or coat – before Shabbos, they may be transported along with the borrower on Shabbos.)
Still another ramification is that if one must leave his Shabbos boundaries due to an emergency such as the need to give birth on Shabbos he may only take with him items which are very necessary.
One is forbidden to travel outside of t’chum Shabbos, which is 2000 amos – between 960-1,160 meters (0.59651-0.72079 miles).
If planning on walking outside of the residential area in which one is spending Shabbos, it is recommended to check with the local rabbinic authority or eiruv committee the exact distance one can walk on Shabbos. Crossing a river, park or thoroughfare which are wider than 141 amos may be problematic and the details should be checked beforehand with a competent rabbinic authority.
In extenuating circumstances, distance can be measured with 2000 footsteps in which the walker ensures the space between his feet is one shoe-length. If walking outside the city on Shabbos for no pressing reason one may use this measuring system but not without taking the necessary precaution not to utilize the full 2000 steps. This system can be utilized for a Shabbos necessity or a d’var mitzva, but not to save time after Shabbos or to look at something related to one’s weekday pursuits.
Using utensils that belong to a person currently outside of the t’chum is forbidden, as well as taking items that were borrowed on Shabbos outside of their owner’s t’chum Shabbos.