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Chapter 85:5
Fire Breaking out on Shabbos

5. All sacred texts (1), whether written or printed, may be saved from a fire or flood. They may even be carried to a courtyard or alleyway into which it would be generally forbidden to transfer them due to the lack of an "eruv [chatzeros]" (2). This leniency applies only if [the courtyard or alleyway] was constructed in a way that would allow for an "eruv chatzeros" or a "shituf m'vo'os." It is permitted to use a gentile to save sacred texts, even if he will carry them through a public domain (3). (The laws regarding saving a corpse from a fire will be discussed in Chapter 88, Law 16.)

FOOTNOTES:

(1) This includes a Tanach, Mishna, Gemara or any book of commentary on the Torah; this applies no matter what language or script the text is printed or written in (See Mishna Berura 334:50).

(2) In the days of the Talmud, it was common for a number of private homes to share one enclosed courtyard; a properly enclosed courtyard is defined as a private domain, and thus it would be Biblically permissible to carry from a private home into the shared courtyard. However, the Sages feared that if people would be allowed to carry from a home owned by one individual, into a courtyard shared by a number of individuals, then people may mistakenly believe that it is permitted to carry from a private domain into a public domain, and vice versa. Also, if one was permitted to carry within a shared courtyard, one may come to carry within a public domain.Therefore, the Sages prohibited carrying between a private home and the shared courtyard in which it is situated, and they even prohibited carrying within the courtyard itself. Now, in order to permit carrying between the houses and the courtyard, a loaf of bread has to be collected from each house in the courtyard, and then all the loaves have to be placed in one of the houses for the duration of Shabbos. This then symbolizes that all the contributing residents are legally residing in one dwelling (the house where they left their bread). In this way, the courtyard can be viewed as the province of only one dwelling, rather than several, and since the houses and the courtyard are both the property of a single consortium, there is no prohibition to carry from one to the other (because it can no longer be viewed as carrying from a private area to a "public" area, and the potential error which prompted the original rabbinical prohibition would not occur). This whole procedure is called "eruv chatzeros." The same principle applies when a number of courtyards (each containing a few individual homes) open up into a large alleyway (Movoi); halachically uniting the courtyards into one body is called "shituf m'vo'os."

(3) Generally, it is rabbinically prohibited to ask a gentile to perform a forbidden activity on Shabbos; however, in order to save sacred texts, the prohibition is waived. Where there is no alternative, one may even tell a gentile to extinguish a fire on Shabbos in order to save sacred texts.

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