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A Cake Walk
‘Through It the Water Trickled Out’
(Shekalim 17a)



Our daf discusses the interpretation of several pesukim describing water in Jerusalem that will flow, in the future, from the Holy of Holies to beyond the borders of Israel. The Gemara mentions streams of water and their distances from the Beth HaMikdash, as well as their applicable use for a mikveh and sacrifices. While the water will generally flow, it may freeze in the winter.


European Rivers

At the height of winter, the rivers of many European countries freeze and people walk on them. Should these rivers be considered solid ground halachically?

Suppose, for example, that a river surrounds a town. Normally, it can serve as a separation (mechitzah) and an eruv if its banks are at least 10 handbreadths tall. If it’s filled with silt, it loses depth, but what if it’s filled with frozen water instead of silt? (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 363:29; Mishnah Berurah, ibid.).


Frozen Water

The Chasam Sofer was staying in the city of Dreznitz one winter, and the local river froze. To the surprise of the local rav, the Chasam Sofer didn’t protest when people continued to carry on Shabbat, relying on the river as a mechitzah. He explained to the rav that, in his opinion, ice is like water. Flowing water does not annul a river’s depth, and neither does ice. He deduced this halacha from the Gemara (Menachos 55a).


Hey! They Shrunk The Figs

A person may use dried figs to separate terumos and ma’aseros for fresh figs (provided they are from the same year), making the calculation according to the size of the figs before they shrunk – “as he can soak them and cause them to return to their previous plump state.”

The Chasam Sofer applies this principle to other matters and concludes that a temporary state does not affect the real, permanent nature of an object. Thus, dried figs are considered like plump figs.

Similarly, ice – which comes from water and turns again into water once it melts – is considered water and therefore does not affect the height of a river in terms of the halachos of mechitzah (Responsa Chasam Sofer vol. I, Orach Chayim 89; see ibid. for other proofs; his opinion is cited in the Mishnah Berurah, ibid., s.k. 121; see also Magen Avraham, Taz, and Even Ha’ezer).

The Chasam Sofer supports his statement with an interesting proof. The Gemara (Eruvin 22b) suggests considering the inhabited world a private domain (reshus hayachid) since it’s surrounded by oceans, with seashores that could be considered as mechitzos. (It ultimately concludes that it isn’t a reshus hayachid.)

The Chasam Sofer notes that the waters of the North Pole and the South Poles freezes, and yet the Gemara still considered the possibility that these waters would serve as mechitzos. Evidently, then, ice is regarded as water.


Frozen Waste

The Chasam Sofer applies the same reasoning to frozen human waste. The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 82:2) tends to allow reciting Kerias Shema next to frozen tzo’ah which, because it’s cold, doesn’t exude an odor. However, the Chasam Sofer (ibid., and in his remarks on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 82) disagrees. The natural state of tzo’ah, to which it will return once unfrozen, must be considered. As such, it’s a disgusting object and praying is forbidden in its vicinity.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.