The Eruv Controversy – By Marc

So I’d love for this to be an “interactive” post. Mainly because this is a subject I am not well versed on. While we are not “live streaming” or able to have a real-time discussion, I’d really to love to hear from you and get your opinions on what seems like a controversial topic, both within and outside of the Jewish community.I am talking about the Eruv.

I know my friend Howard is in charge of the Eruv in LA, so I had a basic understanding of what it was, but it is only recently that I delved in to really trying to comprehend what it means and the complexities and controversies that surround it. And what got me going was an article in the local paper, The Acorn, talking about the latest controversy over the Eruv in Agoura Hills. Apparently many communities have these debates and issues, so it is not uncommon, and many of the arguments against it come off as being anti-Semitic… but there may also be some potential dangers for wildlife, and so some arguments against it make sense… or at least need to be taken into account, so what do we do?

Let me backtrack a bit and explain what an Eruv is.

“An eruv is an enclosure that allows observant Jews, including the Orthodox, to carry or push objects further than is normally permitted on the Jewish Sabbath (or Shabbat). Normally, on Shabbat, an object cannot be taken from a private domain, like a house, into a public one, such as a street or sidewalk, or moved, in a public area, more than 4 cubits (about 6 feet; 1.7 meters). However, objects can be moved freely if they remain within a private domain, and an eruv effectively extends the private domain through the area it encloses, including streets and sidewalks. An eruv’s markings often consists of utility poles surrounding a given area, with the space between deemed to be doorways, topped by lintels, the telephone or power wires. The poles are regarded as doorposts, and are marked by lechis (singular: lechi), solid objects such as lengths of twine or of plastic pipe, which run from near the ground to just below the wires.”At least for the one in Agoura, “The border consists partly of fishing line installed about 20 feet above the ground as it runs from street to street and marks the areas where Jews can carry their small children and belongings on Saturdays.”

“Rabbi Moshe Bryski of Chabad of Conejo said the eruv is essential to the Orthodox Jewish community and allows members to observe the laws of Shabbat while still taking part in community activities.”

The community’s issues seem to focus on dangers to wildlife, stating that birds may not see the fishing wire and can thus get injured or even killed. But some argue it by saying that it is forcing religion on others who are not Jewish. That argument gets a little sticky for me. The fishing wire is usually around or near existing wires, so how would you even know it’s there… and how is it “forcing” religion on you? These wires are not trying to convert you, they are simply to designate a space that means something to Jews.

And yet… some Jewish friends have even suggested that it is a cheat… that it’s a “fake space” being created to avoid full observance of Shabbat. Before I understood what it was, I might have bought that a bit. But…“An operating eruv allows observant Jews to carry prayer books from home to synagogue on Shabbat, or to push strollers or baby carriages.”

That does not sound like a cheat, this sounds like a legitimate way to get people to Shul who might not be able to go otherwise. That is really, really important.

The Talmud has an entire tractate on the Eruv called Eruvin, which is the second tractate in the Order of Moed. Because of how complex a set up an Eruv is “rabbinic supervision and regular inspection are mandatory.”

An Eruv Chatzeirot “allows these religious Jews to, among other things, carry house keys, tissues, medicines, or babies with them, and use strollers and canes. The presence or absence of an eruv thus especially affects the lives of people with limited mobility and those responsible for taking care of babies and young children.”

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3 responses to “The Eruv Controversy – By Marc

  1. It goes a bit further than that. As we live in a hurricane state, Eruvim lines in various communities routinely get damaged. The issue is twofold: yes, each community has a Rabbi in charge of checking the Eruv right before Shabbos, especially on windy and stormy days. Some communities have a phone/text/e-mail announcements made when the Eruv is broken. But we are also a tourist state, and the visitors are not included in those lists. If they are unaware of our specifics, they would routinely carry Siddurim, Taleisim, glasses, push baby carriages, etc. The second side of the issue is the one you have mentioned – anti-semitism. As we speak, the problem of restoring a broken Eruv line has not been resolved in one of predominantly Jewish communities on the coast. The line was damaged during hurricane Irma, almost a year ago!
    I can’t advocate one way or another. Certainly, there is no reason for women to go to shul with small children, and in the old times, they didn’t. However, nowadays it is important for families to stay together and for children to have appropriate role models. I myself benefit from the Eruv, as I wouldn’t be able to walk in 105 F temperature without my water bottle. So it’s like Tevye says, on the one hand, and on the other hand, and on the third hand…

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