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December 22, 2014 | 30th Kislev 5775

Boundaries

July 1, 2001
Marc Rosenstein

According to Jewish law, one may not carry objects from one’s private domain into the public domain, or vice versa, on Shabbat. This can make it very difficult to function on Shabbat, as one may not carry one’s key, or umbrella, or prayerbook, from home to synagogue - or a bottle of wine to your host’s home for Shabbat dinner. The halachic solution to this problem is called an eruv, a physical boundary around the whole community which combines all the domains into one, effectively erasing the interior boundaries and making it permissible to carry objects anywhere in the community on Shabbat. The eruv can be a natural boundary (e.g., the water surrounding Manhattan), or a man-made one. Most cities in Israel are surrounded by a ring of metal poles as high as telephone poles, with a wire strung along the tops. This project is funded, constructed, and maintained by the Ministry of Religion.

There are a couple of families on Shorashim whose level of Shabbat observance is such that the presence of an eruv would make their lives easier. There are often guests in our seminar center who need an eruv. A few years ago, when a “chief rabbi” was assigned to our local council (county), I asked him to check the conditions here to see if we needed an artifical eruv. Together we explored the area around Shorashim, and he declared that by linking together the security fence that partly surrounds the moshav, the steep drop-off along other parts of the perimeter, and the high-tension wires over the gate, we were basically “covered,” and anyone wishing to carry on Shabbat could do so.

A year later, he called to say that the Ministry of Religion had approved funding for eruvim, so we could have a proper one if we wished. It seemed a waste to me, but our executive director felt that one doesn’t turn down gifts from the government. So a contractor appeared, and surrounded Shorashim with galvanized steel poles set in cement footings and linked by a taut wire. It was ugly, but no uglier than the security fence - another government project that had been imposed on us a few years earlier.

But the outcry from many members was not over esthetics; it was over our image. People driving through the gate would see the eruv and get the impression that we are an orthodox community - and that would hamper our efforts at growth - for we are certainly not a community that would attract orthodox members, with our egalitarian synagogue - yet if we scare away the non-orthodox, who would be left? The number of people who would understand that we are something in between would be negligible. And beneath the practical objection, I know, the eruv rankled many as a symbol of “religious coercion.” Even though, of course, it would have no effect on the life of anyone who didn’t feel the need for it, its presence symbolized for people from “secular” backgrounds the attempt by the orthodox to impose their values on everyone.

So a compromise was reached: the poles near the gate were removed, so that the frame of the gate itself serves as a link in the eruv, and our image can remain clean of orthodoxy for those driving up the road.

Boundaries II

Today, a rabbi called from Bnai Brak, looking for a hostel for an outing for his yeshiva boys in August. Upon learning that we are a conservative community, he asked whether there is any kind of fence separating the hostel from the moshav. “No,” I said, “the hostel is actually in the midst of the community.” “No thanks,” he responded, “I don’t think that will work for us.”

 

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