Eruv & Women

The construction of an eruv in most traditional communities may be a response to the needs of women.

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The author, when writing about the familiar Jewish ambience of her own childhood and adulthood, uses the traditional Ashkenazi terms for Shabbat (“Shabbos”) and for synagogue (“shul”). Reprinted with permission from How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, published by Simon & Schuster.

Jewish law forbids the carrying of objects into the public domain on Shabbat; it doesn’t matter if the object is as light as a handkerchief or a house key or as heavy as a book of Talmud. Nor can one push a baby carriage or stroller, or even carry a baby who cannot walk by himself or herself. 

This law can definitely clip one’s wings! Particularly with babies, one can feel “locked in” on a Shabbat. But Jews have found a way to resolve it; or, rather, several ways. One way is by having objects that one needs outside of the home available at the other end of the line. For example: having prayer books and Bibles at a synagogue for everyone who comes is a solution to a Jew’s not being permitted to carry his/her own siddur (prayer book) through the streets.

eruv and womenWhen I was a teenager, I would periodically apply my talents toward finding a good safe hiding spot for my comb and lipstick in the small ladies’ room of my shul. I couldn’t carry these items, and yet there was no way on earth I would walk into shul without recombing after the ten-minute walk there. So I had to provide for these things properly. Best friends were those girls to whom you would tell where your “Shabbos comb and lipstick” were hidden. When I married, and moved away, I left my comb and lipstick in place. It was like leaving a small part of me behind in the shul of my youth. I wonder if it’s still in place. I know no one is looking anymore, because an eruv has since been put up in that neighborhood.

A second solution is to have craftsmen create things like Shabbos keys. A key, nicely gilded, is affixed to a belt buckle or tie clip or pin back; thus, it becomes part of a person’s clothing or jewelry on which there is no restriction of carrying. One would also tie a handkerchief around the wrist rather than carry it in a pocket. Some of this seems ludicrous to an outsider, but it is all part of the total commitment of an Orthodox Jew.

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Blu Greenberg is the founding president of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. She was also the Conference Chair of both the first and second International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy. She is the author of Black Bread: Poems After the Holocaust, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, and On Women and Judaism: A View From Tradition.

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