desh ([personal profile] desh) wrote2007-06-03 01:04 am
Entry tags:

A loophole measuring about five square miles

The Center City eruv is up! Which gives me a great opportunity to describe another fun bizarre Jewish legality to y'all.

OK. So one of the things that many observant Jews don't do on Shabbat is "transfer between domains". It's one of the 39 traditional things you're forbidden to do. (Many of the modern prohibitions are interpretations or derivations of things on the list, but this is one of the literal ones.) What does it mean? Well, for all practical purposes, it means you can't carry things in public, or carry something from a public place to a private one or vice versa. And, again for all practical purposes, "public" means "outdoors". (Outdoor spaces that are legally private, such as a backyard, would have to be fenced in a certain way to count as private for our purposes, and indoor spaces that are kind of public, such as the hallways in an apartment building, can be considered private for this purpose via an easily-created loophole.)

So I and many other people who follow this rule have to take steps to structure our Shabbat to avoid problems. If I'm attending a potluck dinner on a Friday, for example, I'll make sure to bring my food before sunset, and I won't bring leftovers home. (My friends and I often run around right before sunset bringing food to each other's houses and quickly leaving, only to come back several hours later, relaxed and dressed fancier and empty-handed, ready to eat said food.) No reading in the park on a lazy Saturday afternoon, either. In order to avoid carrying my house key, I instead wear it on a string as a necklace, carefully put together such that the key is part of the necklace loop rather than hanging off of it, so it is truly part of the thing I'm wearing, and not something that my necklace is "carrying". Many people also consider pushing a baby carriage "carrying", which has helped to create some unfortunate gender implications of this rule over the years.

Well, this can be mighty inconvenient, so of course we've come up with a way around the problem. If one simply walls in an entire city neighborhood, one can consider it and all the houses in it "private", and therefore carry things all Shabbat long! (Well, there are other things you'd have to do, legal formulas to recite and all, and other restrictions you'd have to follow, such as not walling in areas as busy as Times Square, but I won't bore you with details. Anymore than I already am, that is.) So let's build a wall!

Except that that might disrupt traffic, bother the neighbors, and cost millions of dollars.

Well, actually, it doesn't. What if the wall in question has lots of gigantic doorways? With no doors in them? And the non-doorway parts of the wall are really thin? People might not even notice.

So that's what we do. We build the wall. In city settings, the "wall" is usually telephone poles and the "doorways" are the space between them. Any good doorway has to have a piece on top (because if it doesn't, it's just a gap in the wall), so the electrical wires serve that purpose. Since the top part has to be directly above (but not necessarily touching) the "wall" part, and since electrical wires tend not to go right over the tops of the poles, pieces of plywood about 3 feet high and 1 foot across are often nailed to the poles in such a way that the wires are going directly above them. If there are gaps in the wiring, one can instead string some fishing line across roofs of buildings, erect "poles"/"walls" by attaching thin plastic dowels to building walls (or, in non-urban areas, simply free-standing wooden stakes), and so on. (I only know some of the details because I've helped build such a monstrosity once or twice before.)

So this thing, together with some other legal elements, is called an eruv. Even though it's much less disruptive than a real wall (in fact, you wouldn't even notice one unless you knew how to look), and much less expensive too, it still usually requires city permission and it's still kind of pricey. The price goes up when you factor in the rabbi or other competent source required to not only certify that it was built correctly, but to have it checked every week to make sure it's still intact.

So a Center City (Philadelphia) eruv has been in the planning stages for years. It's had a website and brochures and a really ambitious map and everything. But no one knew how the process was coming along. Rumors were going around that it was anywhere from stalled to completed-but-not-certified. And then, suddenly, this weekend right before sundown Friday, the website changed and emails went out. The eruv was up!

Today for lunch, I went to a potluck picnic in the park.
trelana: (Default)

[personal profile] trelana 2007-06-03 05:45 am (UTC)(link)
... It wouldn't have occurred to me that there -wasn't- an eruv somewhere in Philly. Huh. Is it the first one in the city, or is it an additional one?

Also, man. That sure is one ambitious map. I'm impressed. :)

[identity profile] 2007-06-03 06:05 am (UTC)(link)
That's a rather big eruv (read: loophole) to be calling "private space". I'm pretty sure it's crazy "letter of the law but not the spirit" like this that make me glad I eat bacon. Sorry if that sounds ridiculously confrontational - I mean, I'm happy and all that now you can go to Nodding Head and bring your ID - but it is a tad on the ridiculous side, even for Jewish law.


[identity profile] 2007-06-03 06:47 am (UTC)(link)
"I define my house to be the 'outside'"

[identity profile] 2007-06-03 02:26 pm (UTC)(link)
Hi Jeff, something to perhaps keep in mind is that the Rabbis invented "eruv"s at the same time they greatly expanded the set of places that it's forbidden to carry on Shabbat. Sort of like this chart:

Step 1: Torah says don't carry in X, but you may carry in A + B
Step 2: Rabbis say don't carry in X + A, but you may still carry in B
Step 3: Rabbis add that as long as one builds an eruv, a person can also carry in A as well.

One is not allowed to build the eruv/loophole in an "Extremely Public Domain X" (reshut rabim deoraita), only in the "Middle Domains A" (carmelit) in which it was permissible to carry anyway until the Rabbi forbade it!. (And of course one can always have carried in one's "Private Domain B".)

This situation - the Rabbis inventing a loophole to get around something they invented anyway - leads me to believe that there's some reason that the rabbis wanted people to thinking about this and build Eruv's and check on them. I'm not exactly sure what it would be though, but it seems to me it's the only explanation.


(Anonymous) 2007-06-04 05:48 pm (UTC)(link)
Because the Rabbis were scared one may cary in X.

[identity profile] 2007-06-03 08:52 am (UTC)(link)
Woohoo! Nice! So exciting!

Now don't get lazy and forget to check the website, though. Eruvs go down more often than is convenient. (Like it's ever convenient....)

[identity profile] 2007-06-03 02:12 pm (UTC)(link)
The one in Cambridge was down the Shabbat after you were there....

And yeah, it's a toss up. You probably feel more upset at the moment because you've become used to it. But if you can be rational, realize to be grateful for what you have?

[identity profile] 2007-06-04 06:07 pm (UTC)(link)
back in the old days when UMD didn't have an eruv, I came to enjoy being free and empty handed all shabbat.

After the eruv was built (in planning stages for years, got a major shot in the arm when a couple with a young child were hired as educators and lived in CP), I got used to not having to make sure my siddur was at hillel, all food was where it needed to be, etc, before shabbat. And I lost track of my "shabbos belt". So it wasn't so fun on rare occasions when the eruv was down.

[identity profile] 2007-06-03 07:59 pm (UTC)(link)
"potluck picnic in the park"

that's 3 scattergories points.

[identity profile] 2007-06-07 06:55 am (UTC)(link)
Also in Rittenhouse on Saturdays 10-3 (on Tuesdays too apparently) is a farmer's market. You can go now, yay!

[identity profile] 2007-06-07 02:43 pm (UTC)(link)
damn. is barter ok? since it is open on tuesday you could conceivably pay a farmer on tuesday and pick up food for post shabbat dinner saturday (unless that work around is also not ok).

but, double checking about that did show me that it is open on tuesdays, too!


(Anonymous) 2007-06-04 08:52 pm (UTC)(link)
Might be time to move back to Philadelphia. In terms of size, that's still small compared to the Manhattan eruv(125th to 59th, river to river roughly). And even that eruv goes down on occasion.

Re: Wow

(Anonymous) 2007-06-05 04:47 pm (UTC)(link)
In 2001 the upper west side eruv was expanded north from 110th to 125th(covering Columbia, JTS, and Old Broadway Synagogue). In 2005(I think) the eruv was expanded to the east side between 110th and 59th(plus a little dip into midtown east). That expansion included all of central park in the eruv. There are now plans to expand the eruv south on the east side to include NYU. Note, the LES will not be included because of historical objections by Rav Moshe Feinstein.

How many square miles is the center city eruv? I'm not as positive on the size of the Philly street grid to estimate the distance.