Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 25 February 2012 / 1 Adar I 5772

The Curious Case of the Karpef

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The title of this article will probably engender much curiosity. What exactly is a karpef? No, it is not a type of French pastry, nor is it referring to the vegetable dipped into saltwater at the Pesach Seder. Rather, it is a term used to refer to an area not designated for human habitation. Before the colloquial “Huh?” is heard, some explanation is in order.

Tale of Three Reshuyos

The well-known halacha of not carrying outside on Shabbos is based on the episode in Parshas Beshalach of several people attempting to gather the mun (manna) on Shabbos[1]. The Pasuk states “On the Seventh Day each person should remain where he is and not leave his place”. The main prohibition taught here is to refrain from carrying from one’s house or private enclosed area (known as a Reshus HaYachid) to an area available for the entire Bnei Yisrael in the Desert to traverse (known as a Reshus HaRabbim). Chazal further explain that transporting the item in the reverse order (from Reshus HaRabbim to Reshus HaYachid), or even carrying it 4 Amos (between 6 - 8 feet) in a Reshus HaRabbim itself is prohibited as well.[2]

So, basically, one may carry inside an area that is considered a Reshus HaYachid on Shabbos, while one may not carry in an area that is considered a Reshus HaRabbim. However, in order to be designated a Biblical Reshus HaRabbim, certain specific complex requirements must be met, including: It must be unroofed, meant for public use or thoroughfare, at least 16 amos wide, and be used by at least 600,000 residents daily[3].

Any area that does not meet the Torah’s definition of a Reshus HaRabbim, and yet is not enclosed (and therefore not in the category of a Reshus HaYachid), is called a Karmelis. A Karmelis shares the same basic rules of a Reshus HaRabbim, but since the prohibition is only rabbinic in origin, Chazal allowed a more lenient method of ‘enclosing’ it. This method is called an eruv, which in essence turns a Karmelis into a quasi-Reshus HaYachid, and therefore allows carrying throughout on Shabbos.

So…What’s a Karpef?

It is not the author’s intent to get involved in the extremely complex and complicated issues involved in what constitutes a proper eruv[4], but rather to highlight a little-known related issue: the obscure halacha of a karpef. As mentioned above, a karpef refers to an area not designated for human habitation. What many do not know[5] is that halachically if there is a karpef larger than 5,000 square amos[6] (roughly 20,000 sq. feet) inside of an eruv, it can render the entire eruv invalid[7]!

If so, we must properly identify a karpef, as its definition can greatly impact the validity of many an eruv, as every city has non-residential areas. The Gemara (as well as the Shulchan Aruch) discuss it as place where it’s “nizra ruvo hazra’im”, mostly full of plants and shrubbery - meaning not a place that people ordinarily would traverse or live in.

Gardens & Parks

Although this ruling holds true, many decisors extend the definition of human habitation (and thus exception to the above-mentioned rule) to include a use of the area for regular human needs. For example, many authorities[8] feel that a karpef refers exclusively to a place that is overgrown with plants and weeds, which is why people would have no reason to go there. On the other hand, they aver, public[9] parks and gardens, which are purposely planted for people’s pleasure and enjoyment, would not fall under this category, as they are similar to orchards[10], and would not invalidate an eruv. Yet, several others do not agree with this explanation and rule stringently, that even a flower garden would be included in the definition of a karpef[11].

Cemeteries, Zoos, and Empty Expanses

The Chazon Ish[12] maintains that an empty expanse of land has the same applicable halacha of a karpef since it has no residential use, and consequentially can also invalidate an eruv. Yet, it appears that this is a novel approach, as it does not appear in earlier responsae[13]. A more common issue is how to define a cemetery. Although some seem hesitant to “zone it” as such, nevertheless, since many come to a cemetery to daven on specific days (Tisha B’Av, certain Arvei Rosh Chodesh, Yahrtzeits, etc.), the prevailing opinion is to consider it a residential area[14], and not a karpef. Similarly, since many visitors come to a zoo on a regular basis, it would not invalidate an eruv[15].

The Dvar Shmuel’s Approach

The most commonly cited and controversial approach to the halachos of karpef is that of the great Rav Shmuel Abuhav. In his responsae, Shu”t Dvar Shmuel[16], he raises an interesting point and an exception. He maintains that in an enclosed city (Ir Mukefes Choma) even with a karpef inside larger than 5,000 amos, the eruv is still valid. He explains that the reason a karpef normally invalidates an eruv is because an eruv only helps for places of human habitation and a karpef is not suitable for such. Yet, if the whole city is enclosed, it shows that all of it is meant for habitation, including the karpef; for if it wasn’t, the city founders would never have enclosed it. In other words, the karpef becomes canceled out by the city itself!

Many authorities, although several not agreeing with his proofs, nevertheless follow his lenient ruling; chief among them the famed Chacham Tzvi and his son the Ya’avetz[17]. A number of others, however, vehemently disagree and maintain that such a karpef would invalidate an eruv, even in an enclosed city[18]. Some decisors rule that one may only rely on this hetter under extenuating circumstances[19]. The Mishna Berura and the Chazon Ish[20] feel that one should not rely on this leniency; rather one should erect an eruv around this karpef, thereby excluding it from the rest of the city-wide eruv, and as a result sparing the city eruv from any karpef related consequence.

Bottom Line

Many contemporary authorities do take the Dvar Shmuel’s rationale into account as an additional factor to permit an eruv to exist, even with a karpef in its midst[21]. However, as stated before, this article was not meant to give a definitive ruling on the complexities of the karpef. My intention is just to highlight a small aspect of the extremely intricate and complicated issues involved in the construction of an eruv, and to give the reader an appreciation to those Rabbonim who erect and check the eruv weekly in rain, sleet, or hail, just to save their fellow Jews from potential Chillul Shabbos[22].


This article was written in appreciation to and in honor of my father, Rabbi Manish Spitz, who has for decades tirelessly worked and continues to do so, to ensure that a proper eruv is up to save the rabbim from nichshal, and was the impetus for my interest and research in this inyan. Thanks are also due to noted author and posek Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff for graciously allowing me to paraphrase part of his relevant article.


[1]Shmos Ch.16, 25 - 29.

[2]Gemara Shabbos (2a, 96b) and Tosafos ad loc; Eruvin 17b and Tosafos ad loc. Much of this explanation is paraphrased from Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff’s article “Carrying in Public and the Use of an Eruv”. www.Rabbikaganoff.com.

[3]Gemara Shabbos 5a, 6a, 99a, Eruvin 59a and Rashi’s commentary ad loc. Some say this means that there are 600,000 residents in the city, even if they do not use said public thoroughfare daily.

[4]Heated disputes over the status of cities’ eruvin are by no means recent phenomena; there are recorded disputes already in the thirteenth century! See Shu”t HaRosh (21, 8) and Rabbi Y. Kaganoff’s article (ibid).

[5]See Taz (O.C. 358, end 5) who states that “many stumble with this halacha”.

[6]Yosair M’Beis Sa’asayim”. To see how to properly measure this, see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 358, 1, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 83, 2, and Mishna Berura ad loc 6. See next footnote.

[7]See Gemara Eruvin 23b and Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 358, 9), Taz (ad loc. 5), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 65 & 66) and Kaf Hachaim (ad loc. 74 - 76). See, however, Pri Megadim (O.C. 359, M.Z. end S.V. kasav b’Tur, based on the Rosh - Eruvin Ch. 2, 2) who says that this issue is machmir m’Toras safek and is not considered a vaday issur. See also Shu”t HaElef Lcha Shlomo (O.C. 166) who strongly disagrees.

[8]Meiri (Eiruvin 24a), Shu”t Mahar”I HaLevi (vol. 1, 202), Shu”t Pri Tevuah (43), Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (Yerushalamski, O.C. 31), Shu”t Imrei Yosher (vol. 1, 170), Neziros Shimshon (brought in Orchos Chaim to O.C. 358), Maharsham (in his glosses ad loc. [Orchos Chaim]), Shu’t Divrei Malkiel (vol. 4, 3), Shu”t Melamed L’Ho’eel (O.C., end 65), Shu”t Divrei Yissachar (29), Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov (O.C. 181, 4; old print 201).

[9]Several authorities give another reason to rule leniently for a public park, that since it was purposely created by a non-Jewish government, it would not fall into the category of a karpef that would be mevattel an eruv, since our intent is subject to the government’s. See Pri Megadim (O.C. E.A. 340, 1), Tikkun Eiruvin (1, 4), Shu”t HaElef Lcha Shlomo (O.C. 166), Birkas Shalom (cited in Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov ibid.), Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov (ibid, 2, based on the Shu”t Imrei Yosher 101, 1, who is medayek from Rashi).

[10]As an orchard, even greater than 5,000 amos, is not considered a karpef - Gemara Eruvin (ibid), Shulchan Aruch (ibid), Shut Maharsham (vol. 6, 48), Mishna Berura (ad loc 65).

[11]Shu”t Divrei Chaim (vol. 2, O.C. 28, based on a diyuk in the Ritva’s commentary to Eruvin 23b), Shu”t Shoel U’Meishiv (Kamma, vol. 3, 131), Ma’amar Mordechai (O.C. 358, 14, based on the Taz ibid). However, it has been hypothesized (see Noam vol. 1, 231, 3) that if they would have seen the explicit words of the Meiri (it hadn’t yet been published) they might have ruled leniently as well.

[12]Chazon Ish O.C. 89, 7 & 156, based on the Rashba in Eruvin 24b.

[13]Nesivos Shabbos (Ch. 13, footnote 41), Zera Yaakov (1995, pg. 54).

[14]Shu”t Dovev Meisharim (vol. 1, 65), Shu”t Machaneh Chaim (vol. 3, Y”D 41), Kovetz Teshuvos (of Rav Y.S. Elyashiv, vol. 1, 45, who allays the Shevet HaLevi’s concerns).

[15]Kovetz Teshuvos (ibid, in the brackets), who distinguishes between the zoos we have nowadays, and the animal menageries common at the time of the Noda B’Yehuda (Shu”t Tinyana O.C. 47).

[16]Shut Dvar Shmuel 259.

[17]Shu”t Chacham Tzvi (59, who does not agree with the Dvar Shmuel’s second proof), Ya’avetz (Mor U’Ketzia O.C. 358 s.v. devarim and ulfa”d, who attempts to answer up his father’s claims on the Dvar Shmuel). Others who rule this way include the Pri Tevuah (Shu”t 9, who says the same sevara but does not quote him by name), Chida (Machzik Bracha ad loc 2), Shu”t Divrei Malkiel (ibid, who although not exactly agreeing, nevertheless adds several other reasons to be lenient), Shu”t Avnei Nezer (O.C. end 298, who qualifies it that one can’t carry through the karpef), Ikrei HaDa”t (O.C. 15, 31), Shu”t Mayim Rabbim (Vol. 1, 38), Shulchan Shlomo (brought in Shu”t Mayim Rabbim ibid.), Shu”t Chomer B’Kodesh (2, quoting the Shev Yaakov), Shu”t Zera Emes (vol. 3, 41), Shu”t Maharam Brisk (Vol. 1, 24), Shu”t Dovev Meisharim (vol. 1, 2). Some say that the Pri Megadim (O.C. 366 E.A. 10) implies this way as well - see Zera Yaakov (1995, pg. 56).

[18]Including the Beis Meir (O.C. 358, s.v. l’seif), the Korban Nesanel (Eruvin Ch. 2, 4, who argues on the Chacham Tzvi’s logic), the Ma’amar Mordechai (O.C. 358, 14), the Mishna Berura and Chazon Ish (see footnote 20).

[19]Although the Chacahm Tzvi (ibid) is widely quoted as relying on the Dvar Shmuel, however, his actual words imply that he would only rely on his hetter bshaas hadchak. Shu”t Even Yikra (Vol. 1, 66), Shu”t Eretz Tzvi (69), Shu”t Machazeh Avraham (O.C. vol. 1, 64), and Shu”t Kinyan Torah (vol. 1, 11) rule this way as well - see Zera Yaakov (ibid). Rav Elyashiv and Rav Wosner (Kovetz Teshuvos ibid) are also uneasy to rely on the Dvar Shmuel’s hetter alone.

[20]Mishna Berura (Biur Halacha 358 s.v. aval), Chazon Ish (O.C. 88, 25 s.v. u’linyan), Shu”t Beis Shlomo (51), Shu”t Ha’Elef Lcha Shlomo (ibid). The Haghos HaAshri (on the Rosh Ch. 2, 2) implies this way as well. The Divrei Chaim (ibid) maintains that if there already was a protecting wall around the karpef, another one needs to built exclusively to exclude the karpef. Another issue is whether for all these issues would we be lenient with “walls” made of Tzuros HaPesach. The Chacham Tzvi and Maharshak say that these are considered walls, while the Divrei Malkiel and Beis Shlomo, among others, maintain that only real walls are considered halachic walls by a karpef.

[21]Including Tikun Eruvin (ibid), Sh”’t Bar Livuy (O.C. 18), Shu”t Maharsham (vol. 1, 206), Shu”t Melamed L’Ho’eel (ibid), Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov (ibid), Shu”t Titz Eliezer (vol. 13, 41), Shaarim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (83, 4 - 6). See Noam (ibid), Zera Yaakov (ibid) and The Contemporary Eruv ppg. 96 - 98.

[22]On the importance of this, see Shu”t Tashbatz (vol. 2, 37, based on Gemara Eruvin 68a), Birkei Yosef (O.C. 363, 2), Shu”t Chasam Sofer (O.C. 99), Shu”t Avnei Nezer (O.C. 266, 4), Shu”t Levushei Mordechai (O.C. 4), Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 1, 139, 5 s.v. v’lchora). For more on the topic of the significance of constructing an eruv, see Rabbi Y. Kaganoff’s above-mentioned article.


For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author: yspitz@ohr.edu

Disclaimer: These are just a few basic guidelines and overview of the Halacha discussed in this article. This is by no means a complete comprehensive authoritative guide, but rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issue. One should not compare similar cases in order to rules in any real case, but should refer his questions to a competent Halachic authority.


Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.


L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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