Lifting From and Depositing Into An Area of 4x4 Amot

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

The first mishna in Shabbat describes several scenarios of hotza'ah in which an item was taken from someone's hand or deposited into someone's hand. The gemara (3a) questions this prohibition, since a hand is not a 4X4 amot “base.” Typically, hotza'ah is only violated if an item was removed from a wide “base” of 4x4 and deposited onto a similarly wide 4x4 “base.” The gemara suggests various solutions to this question. In this shiur, we will address this discussion and the nature of the 4x4 requirement for hotza'ah.

Before we can probe exceptions to the 4x4 rule, we must first understand the nature and function of this rule. Why must items be removed from 4x4 pedestals and deposited upon similarly sized locations in order for hotza'ah to be violated? Many Rishonim (Rashi, Rambam, Rashba) do not cite a source for this requirement but impute it to simple logic as the Rambam writes: objects placed on flimsy :”bases” are impermanent, as they are likely to be moved or jostled. Presumably, then, these Rishonim believe that large 4x4 positioning is necessary to create permanent and halakhically recognized conditions of stasis. Only items residing upon rugged 4x4 pedestals are considered secure and in a state of immobility. Hotza'ah is defined as lifting a still item, transporting it to a different zone, and depositing it to a new condition of non-movement. Stillness and non-movement only exist if items are permanently positioned on a sturdy “base” of 4x4.

Alternatively, Tosafot quote Rabbenu Tam, who justifies the 4x4 requirement based on the precedent of the Mishkan; evidently, in the Mishkan, items were placed on these large stands. Tosafot also cite the Ri as explaining the 4x4 requirement based on one of the pesukim which serves as the source for the prohibition of hotza'ah. Perhaps these Ba'alei HaTosafot viewed the 4x4 requirement as less fundamental to the actual process of lifting, transporting, and redepositing. If any item is still – even if that stillness is tenuous – and it is subsequently lifted and transported, hotza'ah has been violated. The 4x4 requirement is not basic to halakhic definitions of item positioning.

In a previous shiur, we discussed the option that hotza'ah consists of rendering a status change to an item, similar to other melakha violations, which alter an item. Although no physical change has transpired, an identity change has occurred. Previously, the item was associated with the reshut ha-yachid; subsequent to hotza'ah, it is affiliated with the public domain into which it has been inserted.

It is possible that according to these latter views in Tosafot, items positioned on flimsy stands are indeed considered still. However, they are not associated with the zone, since they can easily be dislodged. Items positioned in reshut ha-yachid on small pedestals are not affiliated with that reshut, and hence hotza'ah does not alter any previous identity or affiliation. Similarly, items deposited in reshut ha-rabim on objects less than 4x4 do not incorporate themselves with reshut ha-rabim. Since no status change entails, hotza'ah cannot be violated.

To summarize, there are two different strategies to understanding the 4x4 requirement of hotza'ah. Either a firm “base” is necessary to create the state of “stillness,” which is a precondition for the act of hotza'ah, or stillness is achieved even with flimsy foundations, but “item affiliation” can only occur if the transported item is firmly embedded in a zone/reshut by being placed on a 4x4 basis. If the 4x4 rule is inherent to the act of transport, perhaps it can be inferred logically, without need for a source. By contrast, if 4x4 determines "affiliation," it is a specific rule regarding the prohibition of hotza'ah on Shabbat and would require a specific source.

This question could lead to an interesting consequence regarding the exportability of the 4x4 requirement to other halakhic realms. The gemara in Pesachim (85b) "patterns" the prohibition of removing korban Pesach meat from its designated site after the prohibition of hotza'ah on Shabbat. Each prohibition entails “item removal” and they share a basic anatomy. The Minchat Chinuch questions whether the 4x4 rule would thus similarly apply to the korban Pesach prohibition. If someone removed the korban meat but did not re-deposit it on a 4x4 “base,” would the prohibition entail? Presumably, the Minchat Chinuch is posing our question: If the 4x4 rule is fundamental to the structure of acts of transport, it is feasible to demand it for all halakhic acts of transport, including korban Pesach meat removal. However, if the 4x4 rule is unique to the prohibition of hotza'ah on Shabbat, it is difficult to imagine its necessity in the case of the korban Pesach.

Another interesting consequence of this question is the possible exception of reshut ha-yachid. The gemara (Shabbat 7b) suggests that small reeds can be “receivers” to complete hachnasa (import into reshut ha-yachid), even if they are not 4x4. This leads many Rishonim (chief among them the Rambam) to limit the 4x4 requirement to reshut ha-rabim, public areas. Items lodged in reshut ha-yachid do not require pedestals of 4x4!

If the 4x4 requirement is necessary to create affiliation between an item and a zone, it is unlikely that a reshut ha-yachid would be different from a reshut ha-rabim; unless items are firmly inserted into a zone, they are not “defined” by that zone. However, if stillness and stability are gauged by the potency of the “base,” perhaps this is only necessary in a reshut ha-rabim, which contains forces that may destabilize an item. The commotion of a reshut ha-rabim threatens the motionlessness of an item, and therefore only firmly deposited items are considered in a state of “rest.” In a reshut ha-yachid, where there is no commotion, ANY item is considered static.

A second exception pertains to a situation described in the gemara (99a) in which an item was tossed to an animal as food or into a garbage as refuse. Even though the item does not land on a 4x4 “base,” the gemara considers these acts as hotza'ah-worthy, since the person intended this landing (achshavei). Why should intent be sufficient if the item doesn’t actually land on a 4x4 “base?” Perhaps this gemara assumes that 4x4 pedestals are necessary to create affiliation between the item and the zone. If it lands on something flimsy, it is not steadfastly connected to the zone. But if the person who flung the item intends it to specifically reach a designated receiver (a garbage bin or animal), the affiliation can be subjectively imposed even without a successful landing. If the 4x4 rule were necessary to impose stasis to an item, it might be more difficult to create stasis simply because the person intended its landing in a specific fashion.

Finally, this principle of 4x4 must be gauged based on a major exception asserted by Rava (Shabbat 4a). He claims that 4x4 is entirely unnecessary when the item is held by a human hand; the requirement only relates to items that land on inanimate objects or upon animals. As the Rambam explains (commentary to the first mishna in Shabbat), humans possess opposable digits, allowing us to clasp items tightly. As such, a human hand does not have to measure 4x4 (and it never does!). It is clear that the Rambam views the 4x4 requirement as providing stability and stillness. Hands provide that condition even without the 4x4 size. Had the 4x4 rule been formally necessary to create affiliation with the “host” zone, it might have been required even when the item is grasped by a human hand.