Magic Jewish Fences

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Two things: first of all, Tamar Fox’s article on Jewcy about the struggle to erect an eruv — or what my friend Rob calls a “magic Jewish fence” — in Long Island. (We are digging the shout-out!) (And you should definitely read Blu Greenberg’s essay on MyJewishLearning about the relationship between eruvs and women.)

So yesterday, I was doing research at the local Jewish bookstore and, unsurprisingly, the proprietress starts up a conversation. After gleaning my history and my religiosity, she asks where I live. “Brooklyn,” I reply, “near Crown Heights.”

Now, when you say “Crown Heights” in a conversation and neither of you is Chabad — since the C.H. is Chabad ground zero — their eyebrows usually shoot up. Hers were no exception. “Do you like it?” she asks pointedly, already answering for me.

So I tell her about how hard it is to have a baby without an eruv, and how one of us has to stay inside all Shabbos, and that, because my wife hates going to synagogue and I don’t, it usually ends up being her. And how I’d love to take my daughter to shul, but I’d never break Shabbos to do it.

She shrugs and says “I don’t believe in eruvs anyway. I think, if G*d doesn’t want you to carry, you shouldn’t carry.”

I came up with a halachic rebuttal on the spot and tried offering it–something along the lines of, the eruv is a rabbinic decree, and we’re actually required to hold by rabbinic decrees. The Torah says not to cook on Shabbos, and the rabbis teach that you can’t cook, but you can eat hot stuff that was cooked before Shabbos. And now, we’re actually not allowed to have a meal on Shabbos without eating something hot. In Temple times, the Karaites didn’t hold by rabbinic decrees, and these days, a Karaite is usually required to convert when marrying a Jew (in Orthodoxy, anyway) — that’s how hardcore Judaism is about rabbinic decrees.

But you can imagine how coherently that tumbled out of my mouth. She stared at me like I was speaking Finnish (she did not look like the kind of woman who understood Finnish) and, when I was done, clamped her lips together and said, “I don’t know about that stuff. I don’t trust this eruv thing.”

Granted, she said she lived on the 11th floor of a building and raised 6 children, never leaving the house on Shabbos. And if she can be that vehement about it, what right do I have to contradict? She got through it, which is more than I can say for me. But I so seriously don’t want my kids never leaving the house until they can walk — whereupon they’re forced to go to synagogue, and scream and yell their way all through it. But that’s just me.

I ended up buying a book that tells which blessings you say over certain foods. I pointed out to her that, on the front cover, there was a salami sitting next to a pile of cheese. She didn’t seem amused.

Posted on August 8, 2008

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3 thoughts on “Magic Jewish Fences

  1. llennhoff

    Next time you want to babble, I might add the following:

    The eruv, a rabbinic decree, allows carrying in a carmelit, an area where carrying is forbidden by rabbinic decree. If one is in a reshut harabim, where carrying is forbidden by biblical decree, there is no mechanism to allow carrying. More than half the fighting over contemporary eruvs is over the question of whether the area covered is a carmelit or a reshut harabbim.

  2. matthue Post author

    Thanks for your diligence! Link fixed — go there to read about carmelises and reshusei harabim to your heart’s content (or to find out what the heck a carmelis *is* in the first place.)

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