Eruv

The eruv allows observant Jews to carry needed things in public on the Sabbath.

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There are hundreds of eruvim in communities throughout the Jewish Diaspora (the U.S, Europe, South Africa, Australia), and many more in Israel. The challenge for these communities is incorporating the eruv into the streets of their cities. They must conduct traffic density studies in order to ensure that the number of people frequenting the area does not exceed 600,000 on a given day, while attempting to make use of existing urban structures to avoid wherever possible the need to construct the entire eruv themselves.

Controversies

Unlike other religious Jewish practices, which usually take place within private spaces, the eruv places signs in the public sphere; several communities have, therefore, encountered difficulty, controversy, and even major public battles in their attempt to receive the necessary authorization from authorities to establish their eruv.

The proposal submitted in 1992 for the North London eruv, for example, was met with public uproar, and was refused by the Town Planning Committee on the grounds that it would constitute a disturbance of visual amenity. Following an appeal made to the Secretary of State for the Environment, who found that the construction of the poles in chosen sites did not present any legal complication, the initial refusal was reversed.

Another controversy surrounding an eruv occurred in Palo Alto, California, in the summer of 1999. Residents of the city debated the eruv in a religious context, arguing over the distinction between temporary and permanent accommodations, and raising the concept of neighborliness as the underlying nature of a community. Some argued that the eruv created a walled city, and compromised property rights and the separation of Church and State, while others asserted that the eruv is not only harmless, but is a positive contribution to the larger community.

In addition, there are other controversies regarding eruvim among Jews as well. Rabbis debate the nature and specifications of the eruv amongst themselves, attempting to ensure standards that fulfill all halakhic (Jewish law) requirements. Many secular Jews are concerned about increased interaction with Orthodox Jews if many new families move to a neighborhood because of the eruv; they fear they may face pressure to change their lifestyle and become more observant. A public discussion over a religious issue such as an eruv tends to bring up many fissures within Jewish communities, often leading to harsh battles between secular and observant Jews over Jewish practice in a modern, secular society.

The eruv has been referred to as "an invisible wall of freedom." It brings about social liberation and an increase in the potential for interaction within the public sphere. It has also been nicknamed--using the Yiddish word for carrying--"the magic schlepping circle." Since the social aspect of Shabbat is one of the most significant elements fostering community bonding, the eruv proves to be instrumental in enhancing the Shabbat experience, though disagreements and disputes surrounding its very nature and essence are likely to continue.

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Sharonne Cohen

Sharonne Cohen is an Israeli-Canadian writer, editor, translator, and teacher. She currently lives in Montreal.