Since the purpose of our study is concentrated on the general theme of Friday night in the home, we shall not be following the sections of the Shulĥan Arukh in consecutive order. We shall omit those sections that have no immediate relevance to our main topic. Thus we omit sections 243-248, which are concerned with the circumstances in which it is permitted to avail oneself of the services of a non-Jew on Shabbat. We resume our study at section 249, which consists of four paragraphs; but only two of these paragraphs are pertinent to our present purposes.
I have given the section the general description in English of "Laws Concerning the Day Before Shabbat". The original Hebrew circumscription, of course, refers to Erev Shabbat. I tried to avoid this term (and its cognate English rendition Sabbath Eve) because, as I pointed out in our last shiur, it is now customary to refer to Friday night as Erev Shabbat. Strictly speaking this is a misnomer. In rabbinic parlance Erev Shabbat denotes Friday ('the day before Shabbat'), and the appropriate term for Friday night is Leyl Shabbat [Sabbath night].
We have already noted several times that the 'magic' of Shabbat is created by careful preparation (perhaps that should have been spelled care-full). If it is to be allowed to work its full magic one must leave time to prepare for the holy day. In our last shiur we saw how in bygone days sages would think of the needs of Shabbat on every day of the week, and take the opportunity to prepare something for the day whenever the opportunity presented itself. We also saw how an ancient regulation required laundry to be done on Thursdays so as to leave Friday free for Sabbath preparations. Section 249 now introduces a new consideration: travel. If one is travelling long distances on the day before Shabbat one cannot prepare for Shabbat as freely and as fully as one would do if one had dedicated the whole of Friday to Sabbath preparations.
However, it is interesting to note how the urgency of the prohibition of extensive travel on Fridays decreases as the means of travel improve. The unit of length used in paragraph 1 of section 249 is the Hebrew term parsah. This is a unit of length which was originally borrowed from the Persian parasang. I have translated the term into English as 'league'. According to information that I found on the Internet the length of a league is now given as 4.828032017384 kilometres - how exact does one need to be?!. In the Gemara [Pesaĥim 93b] the length of a parsah is defined as being the equivalent of four mils. From various sources we can compute the length of the rabbinic mil as being the equivalent of 0.96 kilometres. (The rabbinic mil was cognate to the Roman mile, which was approximately one thousand paces [mille pasuum] at the Roman army's regulation pace.) We can thus compute that the 'league' (or parsah of our present section answers to very nearly 4 kilometres.
We can now appreciate the initial stipulation of our present section: "on Friday a journey that is more than three leagues [about twelve kilometres] long should not be undertaken, so that one can reach home while it is still day and have time to prepare what is necessary for the Shabbat meal." From various classical sources we know that a seasoned traveller on a weekday could expect to cover about forty kilometres between sunrise and sunset. That works out at around 3 1⁄3 kilometres per hour on an average day of twelve hours of daylight. This would suggest that one was expected to leave at least eight hours on Friday to prepare for Shabbat.
This was written by Rabbi Yosef Karo in mid 16th century, and obviously refers to a man travelling on foot. In his commentary on our section, called Pri Megadim, Rabbi Yosef Teomim [1727-1792], barely two hundred years later, hedges the restriction in the direction of liberality: