Road Repair in Jewish Law

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Street Not PlowedConditions in snow-filled Brooklyn this week had me thinking about the talmudic obligation to maintain roads. The Mishnah (Mo’ed Katan 2a) states that road repair is so important that it may be performed on the intermediate days of holidays. The Gemara (5a) quotes a Baraisa that explains the importance of this work:

From where do we know that if they do not go out and do all this work that the Torah places any resulting deaths on their heads? As it say, “And the blood shall be on you” (Deut. 19:10).

The danger posed by unsafe roads not only obligates public officials to repair the streets but also lays blame for resultant deaths on those charged with this job. Because of the importance of maintaining safe roads, the Temple-era authorities would conduct annual repairs. The Mishnah (Shekalim 1:1) states that a month before Pesach, on Shushan Purim, the annual project began. The Tosafos Yom Tov (Mo’ed Katan 1:2) explains that once a year they would inspect the roads. However, if at other times broken roads were found, they would immediately fix them, even on intermediate days of the holiday.

One might think that the pre-Pesach road repairs were preparations for the massive Pesach pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the Temple era. R. Yechezkel Abramsky (Chazon Yechezkel, Shekalim 1:1, chiddushim) explains that this is only partially correct. Based on a manuscript text of the Tosefta, R. Abramsky asserts that the authorities established an annual repair to the roads. When during the year should they do this? Because of the Pesach pilgrimage, they established it a month prior. However, even that annual project was because of the basic obligation to save lives by maintaining safe throughways.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

7 comments

  1. If you live on the West Coast you don’t have this problem…

  2. Yeah, on the West Coast the roads just do this instead:
    http://bit.ly/9stCK2

    Gil: How much parallel did you want to make between this and the snow situation? How much can you extrapolate from the Gem. to an emergency situation like this?

  3. Yup, they do that all the time….at least it’s sunny in the picture too!

  4. MiMedinat HaYam

    but werent many of these road repair “dispensations” to facilitate “aliyah laregel”?

    not all.

    also note: unclaimed lost money should be used for “road repair” public projects (giving to tzedakah — actually to yeshivot, not poor people — is only secondary — but dont tell that to the RY). also, special type of eruvim allowed on roads from bavel to yerushalayim for aliyah laregel purpose.)

  5. BH-

    You mean if you live in Israel you dont have this problem…..

    Ari Enkin

  6. “Because of the Pesach pilgrimage, they established it a month prior.”

    A month prior to Pesach is also right around the end of the rainy season in Israel. So it would make sense regardless of the pilgrimate.

  7. pilgrimate->pilgrimage

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