Eruv & Women
The construction of an eruv in most traditional communities may be a response to the needs of women.
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.
When 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.
Privatizing the Public Domain
Still, neither of those solutions addresses the larger problem of taking babies out of doors on Shabbat. But an eruv does. An eruv is a symbolic act by means of which the legal fiction of community or continuity is established. An eruv symbolically transforms a public domain into a large private one; this allows a Jew to carry outside the house items that would normally be permissible to carry from place to place inside the house. In other words, when there’s an eruv enclosure, one may carry on Shabbat, within reason, any item which is not muktzeh [at item without potential use on Shabbat, which, according to rabbinic law, it forbidden to touch].