In halacha certain things are considered invalid because the exceed the maximum height which people will notice, 20 amos (menorah, sukkah, korah). In modern times many (most?) people live in areas where structures higher than 20 amos are extremely common, so people are much more likely now than in the past to notice objects that are above that height. Given that, has there been a halachic discussion among the authorities of incorporating this new reality into halacha, perhaps by ruling items placed higher than 20 amos as valid?
I’m not familiar with such a discussion, but I see no reason why it would be applicable. As far as I’m aware, the three discussions you cite - Menorah, Sukkah, and Koreh - are the only ones where 20 Amos applies, so let’s go through them one by one. I’ll address them out of order, and you’ll see why shortly.
The Gemara on Sukkah 2a poses a three-way dispute in understanding why a Sukkah may not be taller than 20 Amos:
- Rabbah learns the restriction from למען תדעו דורותיכם כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל, “so that your generations will know that in huts did I cause Bnei Yisrael to dwell.” If a structure is taller than 20 Amos, its roof - the critical part of the Sukkah, its schach - will go unnoticed. However, and this is the key part, the Gemara on 2b says that according to this understanding, if the walls reach the schach, it could be even taller than 20 Amos, as the walls will draw one’s eyes to the roof. The argument is only when the walls do not reach the schach.
- R’ Zeira learns the restriction from וסוכה תהיה לצל יומם, “A Sukkah will be for shade of day.” If a Sukkah is taller than 20 Amos, one will be sitting in the shade of the walls, not that of the schach.
- Rava learns the restriction from בסוכות תשבו שבעת ימים, “in huts will you dwell for seven days,” implying that the structure be one that is typically built in a temporary fashion.
How would your question apply to Sukkah? According to R’ Zeira and Rava, it has nothing to do with seeing the Schach, and therefore your question doesn’t apply.
According to Rabbah, the Halacha actually follows your suggestion. Our eyes are only drawn upwards to the top of buildings because of the massive walls; if they were forty-foot poles with some schach at the top, chances are that you’d miss it. Surely you agree to this: do you notice random passing birds overhead if you’re not already looking in that direction? You only notice the tops of skyscrapers because you follow their towering walls upwards. If you don’t follow anything else in this post, make sure you understand this, as the rest of the post essentially discusses how this applies to the other areas.
As an aside, the Halacha follows Rava, who disagrees with Rabbah that it can be taller if the walls reach the ceiling, and who disagrees with R’ Zeira that it can be taller if the Sukkah is wider (SA OC 633:1). So being able to see the top is irrelevant anyway, according to practical Halacha.
Once again, we have a dispute as to the reasoning behind Koreh (Eruvin 2a-3a):
- Rav learns it from the doorway of the Heichel. Just as that was 20 Amos tall, so, too, all Halachic doorways, which includes that of a Mavoi.
- Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak learns that the Koreh is to recognize the alley as distinct from the street, and, as you say, one only notices a marker at 20 Amos or below.
According to Rav, your question doesn’t start, as he learns from a passuk. But according to Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, you would, seemingly, have a valid point. We can’t even get out of this by saying we pasken like Rav, as the Shulchan Aruch (OC 363:26) explicitly rules that it’s because people need to see it (and that it would be permitted above 20 Amos if there’s some sort of picture or the like to draw your attention upward).
Wait. Some sort of picture or the like to draw your attention upward permits it above 20 Amos? We see that, once again, if something draws your eye upwards, it’s permitted even above 20 Amos.
So far, so good. But things are going to get worse very quickly. I don’t fully have an answer for Menorah, but let’s dive into the discussion and see what we find.
The relevant Gemara is Shabbos 21b-22a:
אמר רב כהנא דרש רב נתן בר מניומי משמיה דרבי תנחום נר של חנוכה שהניחה למעלה מעשרים אמה פסולה כסוכה וכמבוי:
Rav Kahana said: Rav Nassan bar Manyomi expounded in the name of Rebbi Tanchum: A Menorah placed above 20 Amos is pasul, like Sukkah and like Mavoi.
Rashi explicitly explains this line in accordance with your logic:
פסולה - דלא שלטא בה עינא למעלה מכ' אמה וליכא פרסומי ניסא:
”Is Passul” - for the eye does not reach it above 20 Amos, and there is no publicizing of the miracle.
The Tur (OC 671) brings this same logic. He quotes an opinion that might have spared Menorah from your question but shoots it down:
אבל אם הניחה למעלה מכ' אמה אפי' בדיעבד לא יצא דלא שלטא ביה עינא וליכא פירסומי ניסא וכתב ה"ר יואל הלוי דוקא כשמניחה בחוץ אכל כשמניחה בבית אפי' למעלה מעשרים אמה כשירה כדאמרינן גבי סוכה אם דפנות מגיעות לסכך אפי' למעלה מכ' אמה כשירה דשלטא ביה עינא ונ"ל שאין הנידון דומה לראייה דהתם בעינן שתשלוט עינו בגג וכיון שמחיצות מגיעות לגג על ידם ישלוט עינו בגג אבל הכא שצריך שישלוט עינו בנרות כיון שהוא למעלה מכ' דלא שלטא ביה עינא מאי נפקא מינה בגג שהוא עדיין למעלה ממנו בשבילו לא שלטא ביה עינא
But if he placed it above 20 Amos, even after the fact he doesn’t fulfill the mitzvah, as the eyes won’t see it and there’s no publicizing of the miracle. Harav Yoel HaLevi wrote that this is specifically when placed outside, but when it’s placed in the house, even above 20 Amos is kasher, like we say by Sukkah that if the walls reach the Schach even above 20 Amos is kasher. But it seems to me that the conclusion is not similar to the proof, as there we need the eyes reaching the roof, and since the walls reach the roof, one’s eyes will reach the roof through them. But here we need the eyes to reach the candles, and since they’re above 20 Amos and the eyes won’t see them, why does it make a difference about the roof which is still taller than them? On its account one’s eyes won’t see the candles.
So now what? Seemingly the Tur just shot down our only defense.
Let’s back up a second and digest his argument. Walls draw one’s eyes up to the ceiling. Why can’t the same argument apply by a Menorah? Because walls draw one’s eyes up to the ceiling, not to the Menorah that’s beneath it...and probably right in your line of sight of the ceiling? What kind of an argument is that?
Seemingly (and this is my own logic here), the dispute is regarding the nature of the leniency of שלטא בה עינא. According to Rav Yoel, the issue at hand is whether one can see it, and, as such, since one’s eyes will be drawn upwards in the general direction of the candles, it’s perfectly fine.
But according to the Tur, one’s eyes can’t just be drawn in the general direction - one’s eyes have to be drawn directly to the object by another object. The walls do a great job at directing your eyes to the ceiling, but they don’t direct your eyes to the Menorah. Perhaps the reasoning here is that there’s less publicizing of the miracle if it’s more indirect? Maybe if one just “happens” to see the candles in such a weird way, he won’t process that it’s for the mitzvah? I’m not exactly sure what the logic behind this opinion would be.
I’m also unclear on what the Tur would hold regarding a Menorah which itself is taller than 20 Amos. Is the Menorah connected enough to the candles that it would be fine? Or are the candles treated as discrete from the Menorah and therefore it would still be Passul?
In any event: According to Rav Yoel, you are indeed correct that if your eyes can be drawn upwards from 20 Amos, it would be fine. According to the Tur, there’s only a technical reason as to why it doesn’t work, in that the thing which attracts your attention must be directly connected to the thing it’s attracting your attention to. If my theory is correct, then both agree that, in some form, שלטא בה עינא applies here, and therefore your question falls off (Rav Yoel because he agrees and the Tur because he holds it’s inapplicable).
As an aside, the Beis Yosef’s quotes an interpretation of Rav Yoel that makes the Tur’s question inapplicable. I don’t understand the interpretation, though, so if you have a better idea of what he’s saying, please let me know. Something about something something that makes it harmful to look up? Perhaps a better understanding of his question would provide the groundwork for a better understanding — or further support for our current one — of the dispute between the Tur and Rav Yoel.