Eiruvin 69b: Following in Parents' Footsteps

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

I dedicate the thought below to the memory of my mother, Rachel bat Chaim (Ruth Kelman) z”l, whose yahrzeit we observe today. May we celebrate smachot. 


Based on the extensive discussion in the Talmud, it would appear that someone neglecting to contribute some food—a necessary component for the establishment of an eiruv—was a common occurrence.  As we have previously noted, in such a case, the “forgetful” person must nullify his ownership rights to his property, thereby allowing his neighbours to carry items within their joint courtyard. The Mishnah (Eiruvin 69b) records a dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel as to whether one must nullify his ownership before Shabbat enters (although why such a person would not then participate in the eiruv by donating some food is not explained), or whether one may do so even on Shabbat.

While the halacha follows the view of Beit Hillel and allows nullification on Shabbat itself, absent such nullification, no one from the courtyard would be allowed to carry into or out of their home. What would happen, the Gemara (ibid 70a) wonders, if prior to nullifying his property, the person died on Shabbat? According to Jewish law, upon death one’s property is immediately and automatically transferred to the sons[1]; or, if there are no sons, to a daughter. Could the son, the owner of the property, now nullify his ownership rights, allowing his neighbours to carry on Shabbat?

On the one hand, the Gemara notes that perhaps only one who theoretically could have made an eiruv (or nullified the property) before Shabbat entered may nullify property on Shabbat; but the son—obtaining ownership only on Shabbat—could not have made an eiruv on Friday, and hence, may not nullify his property on Shabbat[2].  On the other hand, perhaps we consider the son to be “like his father’s leg”, and since his father could have nullified his rights, so too may the son.  

While this legal question is a matter of dispute between Rav Nachman and the students of Shmuel, we can extrapolate these views to the relationship between parents and children. A child is both an extension of their parents and an independent being. In a healthy relationship, the balance between the two is properly maintained. If we veer too much to either side, we are asking for problems.

Judaism is dependent on children following in the footsteps of their parents, of passing on our traditions from one generation to the next. Yet to imitate without taking into account changing realities is to hinder growth and development, both personally and nationally. Yitzchak, the first Jewish child, copied his father in all he did. This was especially necessary to solidify Avraham’s revolutionary views. Yet G-appeared to Yitzchak to tell him that while his father went to Egypt during famine, he was to stay in Israel. Changing times call for changing responses.

The imagery of a leg is most instructive. While it is an integral part of the body, it is what allows one to move forward. We may be extensions of our parents, but we must always be on the move. It is not by chance that Jewish law—the most fixed aspect of life as a Jew—is known as halacha, from the same root as holech, walking.

I am most fortunate to have been brought up in a home where these ideas were central. Steeped in the traditions of our people, my parents, z”l, faithfully passed to my siblings and me the beauty of Torah. They understood, both on a personal and a communal level, that we cannot blindly follow the past if we are to have a meaningful future. They served the community with great devotion, energy, and innovation. May I merit to follow in their footsteps.



[1] The Torah in Bamidbar (chapter 27) lays out very specific rules of inheritance, a system that was very much in keeping with ancient norms, where father and then husband took care of all of a women’s needs. This system is at variance with our own cultural norms, where distinguishing between sons and daughters is deemed discriminatory. This problem dates back to before the time of the Shulchan Aruch (16th century), when a variety of methods were proposed to allow—within the parameters of Torah law—a more “equitable” sharing of the inheritance. Designing a halachic will, which conforms to Torah law yet allows a parent to distribute their wealth as they see fit, is both important and relatively easy to do. These legal loopholes built into the system of Jewish law allow for strict observance of the law, coupled with flexibility to account for changed circumstances.


[2] This might be akin to the view of Rav (Pesachim 93a) that one who becomes bar mitzvah a few days after Pesach would not be obligated to bring a korban Pesach on Pesach Sheni, the day set aside for those who did not bring the Pascal lamb on Passover eve. Getting a second chance only makes sense if one was obligated from the start.