The <EM>eruv</EM> before the politics

Friday, June 13, 2008

The eruv before the politics

Another frequent OtBB reader has posed a fairly good inquiry, certainly good enough to take some time to explore.

"It is not within the purview of the Village Board to deny the eruv, is it? The first newspaper articles about the eruv stated words to the effect that it was Jewish tradition to ask the municipality for permission but the Village didn't require it. Or did I misunderstand? Could you clear up this ques­tion for us? If the Village has no say one way or the other, then it doesn't make sense to use the eruv question as an instrument for or against any of the candidates."

Having attended all the meetings on the eruv... not the ad hoc Christian Citizens' Council ones on Quiogue, but the public ones in Village Hall... my understanding of the basic mechan­ism is the same as that of Tugboat Bertha's.

Orthodox Judaism is a religion rich with tra­di­tions (he writes as a non-practicing goy) and the process of establishing an eruv chat­zerot within a political subdivision, by tradition, re­quires that a request be made to the govern­ing entity of that township or municipality.

In this instance, the Hampton Synagogue ap­proached the Westhampton Beach Village Board through its attorney, Richard Haefeli, and its Executive Director, Sam Nussbaum, as first reported here in February.

There was no doubt that this was going to be a controversial matter, one reason being that the Synagogue's "Founding Rabbi," Marc Schneier, has spent much of the past two decades, if not alienating area residents, then irking them with his various ego-centric pronouncements.

(Of course, the Synagogue's debut in the Village was inauspicious, and subsequent episodes of stri­den­cy by some mem­bers certainly didn't aid in as­suaging those initial less-than-positive feelings.)

And Rabbi Schneier is still at it, at once depicting himself as one "who believes in promoting tol­er­ance," while posturing and fomenting antagonism in the Jewish press.

In witness whereof... in the June 4th edition of The New York Jewish Week, one paragraph of an interview with Rabbi Schneier reads:

"He said that in the 18 years since the congre­ga­tion was founded, after what the rabbi described as a 'nasty, ugly battle' with village officials who tried to stop it, there 'has been a growing tra­di­tion­al element in the synagogue and a growing number of young families.'"

That's revisionist, and bullroar... and another example of what he was guilty of almost 20 years ago.

More importantly, it belies whatever positive comments he has to offer about Westhampton Beach, and suggests that Rabbi Schneier is a cynical and duplicitous media hound who is not above stirring something up to get his name in the news.

And it gives important ammunition to those who oppose the creation of an eruv on whatever grounds they can come up with.

But it's not a First Amendment issue... there is no mention of a "separation of Church and State" anywhere in the Constitution.

Back to the original question posed....

There is no requirement within Village Code that the Synagogue make application for an eruv; that is solely a matter of Orthodox custom.

The property involved... the poles upon which the lechi devices are mounted to mark the boundaries of the eruv chat­zerot, belong to the utility companies which maintain them.

Which is why this is all so unfortunate and so unnecessary.

The request was a simple matter dictated by the strong traditions of Orthodox Judaism, and it should have been handled by the Village Board as a mere formality and been done with. They would have said "Sure, go ahead," the virtually invisible devices would have been mounted on the LIPA and Verizon poles, the special rabbi would have performed his ritual obligations, and those observing Orthodox congregants would have been able to "push and carry" in parts of Westhampton Beach, and no one would have noticed!

But noooooooooooo!

The first portent of how badly the Synagogue's request was going to be mis-handled occurred at the February Work Session when Attorney Haefeli handed up some plain paper copies of graphic depictions of the then little wooden devices¹ which would be mounted on the utility poles used to define the boundaries of the eruv.

Because the copies were black-and-white, Mr. Haefeli used a green marker to outline the lechi, and the first question from the Board was asked by Trustee Toni-Jo Birk in an utter bird-brain moment:

"Do they have to be green?"

As Warner Wolf used to say: you could have turned off your TV sets right there!

More later.


¹.- Subsequently changed to thin strips of PVC.


1. WHBYankee said...

The only objections I can understand are those that come from reform and secular Jews who generally disapprove of eruvs because they don't see any need for them.
Here are some objections and justifications I read on the BBC website regarding the creation of an eruv in NW London:

  1. It's a 'device for evading the strict rules' of the Sabbath: supporters say that it's a creative use of Jewish law to make the Sabbath better.
  2. It's visually intrusive: supporters say that it's usually very hard to see the poles and lines at all.
  3. It claims a public area as a private area: supporters say it's purely symbolic and does not make the area any less public.
  4. It takes over a public space for a religious purpose: this argument is particularly strong in the USA - eruv supporters reject this argument saying it fails because the public space is only changed for Orthodox Jews; it remains unchanged for non-believers.
  5. It breaches human rights by giving a religious Jewish role to the walls and fences of non-Jews: supporters say that the symbolic role that the boundary has for a Jew does not exist for non-Jews, therefore their rights are not affected. The non-Jew retains the right to demolish the wall, or do anything else they want to it.
  6. It breaches the human rights of non-Jews because they are forced to pass through symbolic Jewish structures when they go in and out of the eruv: supporters say that the symbolic role that the boundary has for a Jew does not exist for non-Jews, therefore their rights are not affected.
  7. It is religiously divisive and may therefore promote anti-Semitism: supporters say that it's no more religiously divisive than synagogues or Jewish schools.
  8. It creates a symbolic ghetto, reminiscent of past persecutions: supporters either disagree, or say that it doesn't matter.
  9. Non-Orthodox Jews argue that it encourages separateness and discourages assimilation: supporters probably agree, but don't see the problem.
  10. Jews will be encouraged to move into an area with an eruv: supporters argue that this argument should be dismissed as anti-Semitic.
  11. It's an archaic idea: supporters say that following ancient laws and traditions is part of Jewish continuity and a vital part of the survival of the Jewish people.
Read the whole article.
Thanks, Yank­. I fear this will only give nutburgers like Irene Barrett greater resolve. "Hey!, I never thought of #1 or #6!"

2. Tony Joe Berk said...

"Does it have to be green!!??" That's rich!! I actually scrared the pooch while laughing out loud.

3. Tugboat Bertha said...

Bravo Dean for addressing this question, and thanks WHBYankee for the information you submitted to the blog. Your information may quell some of the fear that generated this tempest.

4. LoveThyNeighbor said...

The eruv is really a symbolic way of permitting women and the handicapped to be able to get out of their house and participate in community life by being able to push baby strollers and wheelchairs. It is in a way an extension of our committment to handicap accessibility seven days a week not just six for those commmitted to Mosaic Law.

Email address is not published
Remember Me

Write the characters in the image above