What better activity to do on a Sunday than rent-collecting, right? In his diary, President Washington records: “being Sunday and the People living on my Land apparently very religious, it was thought best to postpone going among them till to-morrow,” and in his journey through New England, because it was “contrary to the law and disagreeable to the People of this State (Connecticut) to travel on the Sabbath day—and my horses, after passing through such intolerable roads, wanting rest, I stayed at Perkins’ tavern (which, by the bye, is not a good one) all day—and a meetinghouse being within a few rods of the door, I attended the morning and evening services, and heard very lame discourses from a Mr. Pond.”
Among the vast array of laws pertaining to the Sabbath, one in particular is in context of the men who went to pick their divinely delivered Manna food on the 7th day. The Torah relates: “And it happened that some of the people did go out to pick it up on the seventh day, but they did not find it [the manna]. So The Lord said to Moses: “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? Take notice of the fact that The Lord has given you the Sabbath. That is why he is giving you the bread a two day’s worth on the sixth day. Everyone must stay where he is; nobody is to leave his locality on the seventh day” (Exo. 16:27-29).
The classical commentator, Rashi (grandfather of the textualist par excellence, Rashbam), notes that the Sages (Eruvin 48a) attribute the verse “Everyone must stay where he is”, to the tradition that gives a person 4 cubits to move outside the city boundaries on the Sabbath, as well as in any public domain. However, the next law stipulated “nobody is to leave his locality on the seventh day” has a different status according to Rashi.
Since the verse does not give measurements or specifications to this second clause, it cannot be a new law, but rather an elucidation to the previous law in verse 26: “You will pick it up for six days, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.” In other words, Moses is instructing the people ‘do not go out of your homes to collect like you normally do’; this is not a new law being promulgated. This view is also held by some Karaite Jews. However, the Talmud (Eruvin 17b) reports in the name of the great Rabbi Ḥiyya (c. 180 AD-230 AD) that one may be lashed by Torah law just for exiting this 2000 cubit city boundary!
To clarify this into modern terms, 2000 cubits is roughly 3,050 feet, or 0.595 miles. How it is that the sages arrived at this number is a bit beyond the scope of this post (see Eruvin 51a and Sota 27b for further calculation). From the Talmud’s report, it remains unclear if this prohibition is biblically binding or not. Sages as early as the 10th century (Behag: Laws of Eruvin 10) record no biblical prohibition to leave city boundaries, but only a later rabbinic enactment not to. Maimonides, on the other hand, notes (Mishne Tora: Laws of Sabbath 27§1) that while the Torah is unclear about the distance prohibited, the Sages have a tradition “from Moses our teacher”, that this distance is 24,000 cubits (around 7 miles) outside the city boundaries, and that the 2000 cubit prohibition is of Rabbinical origins (It perplexes me how Rashi and Behag overlooked this tradition). The Palestinian Talmud (Eruvin 3§4), in support of Maimonides, simply learns this prohibition by defining the term “locality”, in verse 29, as the size of the encampment of the Israelites in the desert. That is to say, just as the encampment of the Jews in the desert measure roughly measured 7×7 miles (see Palestinian Talmud: Gittin 1§2, Mekhilta: Yitro 9, for calculations proving the dimensions of the Jewish encampment), all city “locality” is within 7×7 miles of it. Needless to say, Rashi does not buy into this tradition of Maimonides. The opposite is true of the early Karaite Jews; they did not even leave their homes on the Sabbath (see http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1460-anan-ben-david#anchor3).