Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Know Your Jewish Community: Eruv

An eruv is a legal loophole. Literally it is a fence built around a community so that a certain area or areas are enclosed, thereby making them the "private" domain. This distinction is important because it allows traditionally observant Jews to carry* on the Sabbath.

The prohibition is against carrying on Shabbat is against carrying from one type of domain to another. There are three domains: public, private, and intermediate. The private domain is the home, anywhere inside your house, or your fenced-in yard. The public domain is defined (if I recall correctly) as a three square meter area through which 600,000 people pass a day. The intermediate domain is everywhere else. The problem arises because as soon as you walk out the door, you are in the intermediate domain. This effectively traps observant women who have small children in the home for a full day.

There are a lot of social ramifications for this somewhat self-imposed imprisonment (after all, they chose to be observant, right?) but they are pretty easy to tease out. What is more interesting is when a Jewish community decides that it wants an eruv, but the broader community has an objection. In some cases these objections are based on nothing more than anti-Semitism, but this is clearly not the case with the projected eruv in LA. The Washington Post (as does the LA Times, courtesy of Jewlicious) reports that the community is worried about the environmental damage that might be caused by the eruv, and also that it may be an eyesore.

The comment from the article that interests me the most, however, is this one:
"This is really nuts," Mark Massara, director of the Sierra Club's California Coastal Program, said of the eruv proposal. "To the extent that we're allowing public property to be used for religious purposes is very troublesome."

Public property used for religious purposes. Now, I may be incorrect here, but as I recall from the AP US Government class that I took my senior year of high school, that isn't necessarily so problematic. Schools can be used after hours as the site of religious meetings. "See you at the pole" is a prayer circle that takes place outside of many schools, right by the flagpole, in fact. I am sure that there are other examples of the use of public property for religious purposes, but in this case I'd like to point out one important distinction. The eruv costs money, and the Jewish community will be paying the entireity of the cost for the eruv. None of the $20,000 that is required will come out of the state budget, whereas in the other cases religious groups use public property without paying in any way for its maintenance.

Not a sermon, just a thought.**

*Carrying in this case means carrying anything. Traditionally observant Jews do not carry any objects on the Sabbath, be they keys, children, prayerbooks, etc. There are ways to get around this by "wearing" an object, such as keys on a belt, but for the most part it means just what it sounds like. No carrying.

** This statement is often used by Lon Solomon, an evangelist who converted from Judaism, to sign off of his radio commercials for McLean Bible Church. If you're from the Metro DC Area you know what I'm talking about.

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