The concept of an eruv tends to sow some confusion in a community. Do we really need one? Who does it cater for? Can the costs be justified especially if we are a predominantly less observant community?
The arguments are valid, especially if one may not have little children at home and doesn’t anticipate any grandchildren visiting any time soon. It is also valid if you thankfully have good mobility and don’t require a wheelchair or walker, nor anticipate anyone who does, coming to visit. It also presumes that members in the community don’t anticipate any sort of spiritual growth.
An eruv is a symbolic enclosure that surrounds the Jewish community. Under Jewish law, carrying on Shabbat is a prohibition. However this only applies in a public domain or when carrying from a private domain into a public domain or vice versa. The exception to this therefore would be carrying only within a private area which is defined as an area with set borders surrounded by a wall. The entire area within an eruv is considered to be a single property. An eruv may consist of natural boundaries such as a river bank or of walls, fences, buildings or hedges. It can also consist of designated utility poles and wires (electric, telephone and/or cable) or strings, as long as the perimeter of the community eruv is uninterrupted.
In the ancient past, cities and neighborhoods were enclosed by walls, and the entire city or neighborhood was considered as one large private area. Accordingly, carrying was allowed on Shabbat within these areas. In the absence of a walled city or neighborhood, many communities throughout the world have established, pursuant to Jewish law, a symbolic wall called an “eruv” to surround the community for the sole purpose of permitting, within the eruv, carrying on Shabbat.
The celebration of Shabbat is a communal celebration. Traditional families walk together to shul for prayers and then gather to eat and visit with family and friends. The eruv facilitates this sort of communal unity without discriminating against any one segment. Moreover there are always those who might presently feel they have “no choice”, but would surely feel better knowing they are adhering more to the spirit of Shabbat because of the existence of an eruv.
The success and growth of any community is contingent upon its ability to cater to every group type regardless of religious standing. This invariably necessitates that those who may already be more observant, or those who are always considering further personal growth and development, which a community as a whole certainly looks to do, have their religious requirements met and are able to enjoy Shabbat with their community. It would be counter-productive for a community to have members that are looking to observe that little bit more, needing to immediately consider relocating because of the lack of an eruv. This is all the more the case when a community is surrounded by other communities, all containing established eruvin.
An eruv not only enhances the quality of life in a Jewish community, but also makes the community much more attractive to those considering moving to a new community. For many, the presence of an eruv is key to their decision of where to live and raise a family.
It is for these reasons and more that the eruv was always seen as vital for the continued growth of Jewish communities across the globe. Which is why in Washington even the Whitehouse is included in an eruv, as is the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In the Mill Hill community we are fortunate to have a dedicated team who have devoted many, many hours to exploring the possibility of an eruv, and it is exciting to note that they have made serious headway in this regard. Even as not everyone can necessarily see it now, in time, we will all look back with great appreciation for having achieved this incredible milestone.
Rabbi YY Schochet
Rabbi of Mill Hill United Synagogue