The Eruv (ערוב )1 is one of the odder2 Jewish traditions. Basically, Orthodox Jews are able to skirt various rules of their faith by means of a string – pretending that the city streets in their neighborhood are an extension of their homes. We joke about it frequently, using metaphorical eruvs in non-religious contexts.
From Washington to New York State, a series of “snowmageddons” have wreaked a particular form of havoc for Orthodox Jews.
The storms have knocked down portions of the ritual boundary known as an eruv in Jewish communities in Silver Spring, Md., Center City Philadelphia, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Monsey in suburban New York, and Teaneck and Passaic in New Jersey.
Almost literally invisible even to observant Jews, the wire or string of an eruv, connected from pole to pole, allows the outdoors to be considered an extension of the home. Which means, under Judaic law, that one can carry things on the Sabbath, an act that is otherwise forbidden outside the house.
Prayer shawls, prayer books, bottles of wine, platters of food and, perhaps most important, strollers with children in them — Orthodox Jews can haul or tote such items within the eruv. When a section of an eruv is knocked down by, let’s say, a big snowstorm, then the alerts go out by Internet and robocall, and human behavior changes dramatically.
Call it a case of absence as a form of presence. Conceive of the eruv and its tenders as the sets and stagehands of a Broadway show. You sit there in the audience, and whether the play is scintillating or tedious, most times you don’t notice or even think much about all the lights and scenery that are hitting their cues. Only if the expectedly ordinary goes haywire do you notice the offstage apparatus.
[Click to continue reading On Religion – On Religion – A Jewish Ritual Collides With Mother Nature – NYTimes.com]
I’ve heard there are eruvin in Skokie, but I haven’t run across one yet. Probably in Rogers Park near Devon as well, but I don’t know specifically.
From the Wikipedia entry for eruv
Though a valid eruv enables people to carry or move most items outdoors on Shabbat, all other Shabbat restrictions still apply. These prohibitions include:
Objects that are muktzah may not be handled anywhere on Shabbat, indoors or outdoors.
Opening an umbrella is analogous to erecting a tent, which falls under the category of construction. Since umbrellas may not be opened, they are muktzah and may not be handled.
To protect the sanctity of Shabbat, one may not perform typical weekday activities (uvdin d’chol). The precise scope of this prohibition is subject to a wide range of rabbinic opinion.
One may not carry or move items in preparation for a post-Shabbat activity (hakhana), unless one has a legitimate use for them on Shabbat itself.
Sports involve several issues. Many authorities consider balls muktzah; others do not. In general, sports that result in holes or ruts being carved into the playing surface may be played only on surfaces that are not subject to such damage. Exercise of any kind is forbidden on Shabbat unless it is done solely for the pleasure of the activity itself, rather than for health or some other reason.
and the basis of the whole practice
There are 39 categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat. On Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), the Torah forbids moving an object from one domain to another, no matter its weight or purpose. According to Torah law as understood by the Talmud, this encompasses three actions: Moving an object from an enclosed area (such as a private home, public building, or fenced-in area) to a major thoroughfare, moving an object from a major thoroughfare to an enclosed area, or moving an object more than four cubits within a major thoroughfare. To prevent confusion over exactly what constitutes a major thoroughfare, the rabbis expanded the ban to any area that was not fenced or walled in.
An additional, rabbinic prohibition, which Jewish tradition ascribes to the religious court of King Solomon, forbids carrying in any area that was shared by the occupants of more than one dwelling, even if surrounded by fences or walls. But, in this case of areas surrounded by walls, carrying was allowed through the use of an eruv. The eruv consists of a food item – in general bread – that is shared by all dwellers. By means of this shared meal, all the dwellers are considered as if they were living in a common dwelling, thus exempting them from the added prohibition. The prohibition against carrying on the sabbath received special mention in the prophecy of Jeremiah, who warned the people of Jerusalem to “beware for your souls and carry no burden on the Sabbath day” (Jeremiah 17:21).
And it shall be if you hearken to Me, says the Lord, not to bring any burden into the gates of this city on the Sabbath day and to hallow the Sabbath day not to perform any labor thereon, Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on David’s throne, riding in chariots and with horses, they and their princes the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and this city shall be inhabited forever. (Jeremiah 17:24-26)
The Radak, a medieval Jewish commentator on the Prophets, opined that the reason Jeremiah referred to carrying a burden through the gates of the city is that Jerusalem had an eruv and its walls formed the boundary, so carrying within the city was permitted. This view that an entire city could have an eruv influenced later views that an eruv could encompass a “courtyard” covering a wide area. The Radak also held that the reference to “kings” rather than a single king refers to future kings yet to come, and hence that this prophecy, with its stress on the importance and redemptive power of observing the prohibition against carrying a burden on Shabbat outside an eruv, remains available to this day.The Talmud, in Tractate Shabbat, opined that consistent observance of Shabbat could bring redemption to the Jewish people.
Seems like a lot of hassle, but whatever floats your string…Footnotes: