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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 7.14:
Why is there a prohibition on travel on Shabbat?


The Sabbath prohibitions involve 39 categories of "work". Well, actually, what is prohibited is "melachah", as opposed to "avodah", which would imply labor. These categories relate to acts required to build the Tabernacle that was used in the desert and the early days of the First Commonwealth, before Solomon's Temple. The Talmud deduces this rule because the mention of Sabbath rest interrupts the telling of the building of the Tabernacle that takes up much of the last part of Exodus.

Philosophically speaking, the Tabernacle and Temples were microcosms, the universe in miniature. Therefore, resting from the acts involved in building the Tabernacle is a way to commemorate G-d's "resting" (if one can truly speak of One Who is beyond Time resting) from creating the universe. Hence, melachah is defined more by an acts creative or world-changing content than by the effort involved.

This prohibition on travel is found in Exodus 16:29: "A person shall not leave his place on the seventh day". "His place" is taken to be the town/city where he began the Sabbath. This shows that one form of change is not being in the town where you began the Sabbath. A town (actually, township) is defined as a group of homes that are within 70 amos (roughly 105 feet) of each other. Add to that enough to produce a rectangle aligned with the compass points; in other words, fill in the corners to make a rectangle with sides on the N-S and E-W lines. Last, the town includes a 2,000 ammah (3,000 ft or so) area around the rectangle. If one wishes to travel from one town to another, and if the two towns are less than 4,000 amos apart, you can establish a formal central point for yourself between the two towns by putting some food down in a spot between them. This is called an "eiruv techumim" (a mixing of surrounding distances). In a sense, you established the significant part of the prohibited change on Friday, allowing you to be within any city that is within 2,000 amos of the food rather than within that distance from your starting point.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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