Eiruvin 62a: Renting the City for an Eiruv

Eiruvin 62a: All agree that we may rent a courtyard from a non-Jew (to permit carrying on Shabbos) even for less than a perutah. The disagreement is on whether we need a strong rental, or even a weak rental suffices. “Strong” means that the Jew must stipulate that he is allowed to fill the courtyard with chairs. “Weak” means that he need not make this stipulation.

עירובין סב ע”א: הוו יודעין ששוכרין מן הנכרי אפילו בפחות משוה פרוטה… אלא בריאה ־ במוהרקי ואבורגני, רעועה ־ בלא מוהרקי ואבורגני. פירש רש”י: למלאות החצר בספסלין וקתידראות אם ירצה.

When Rabbi Moshe Heinemann made the eiruv in Baltimore, he went to rent the rights to the city streets from the mayor.  The state’s attorney protested, “If you rent it to them, they could block the streets and stop traffic!” Chaim Wallin, an observant Jew who worked in the state’s attorney’s office, spoke up and said, “Don’t worry, they’ve been doing this for centuries in cities all over the world, and it never happened that they blocked traffic.”

Then Rabbi Heinemann and his colleagues went to the County Executive, since some parts of the eiruv were outside the Baltimore city limits, and he agreed to rent the county. Then one of the rabbanim suggested they rent from the State of Maryland as well. The logic of renting from city officials is that they are in charge of the fire department and police, who have the right to enter anyone’s house in an emergency. Here, he argued, the state is an even greater authority because they can declare a state of emergency and send the National Guard to anyone’s house. So they went to the office of the governor. “I’ll sell you the whole state of Maryland,” he said. “But I can’t take any money from you.” The rabbis were not sure what to do: the halacha requires that the streets be rented for some amount of money, even if it be less than a perutah. Then they came up with an idea: they made a plaque of appreciation for the governor, with a silver dollar framed inside. The governor accepted it and agreed to hang it on his office wall, where it could never be construed as a bribe.    

Source: Shiur by Rabbi Heinemann

[It seems from this story that they needed to use actual money, and giving an item worth money – like the plaque alone – would not have sufficed.

We also see that when the mayor objected that the rabbis might block the traffic, the rabbis did not promise not to do so. It was only a bystander who assured the mayor that they would not block traffic. This would seemingly be against Rashi, who explains that a “weak rental” means that the Jew need not ask for the right to block the street with chairs. Tosafos quoting the Aruch says that “weak rental” means without a written document. The Beis Yosef says that the halacha follows the opinion that a weak rental is enough, according to all explanations. Perhaps Rabbi Heinemann understood that one need not explicitly ask for the right to block the street, but one should not explicitly waive that right either.]

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