About Eruvim...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

About Eruvim...

A Guest Blog Exclusive to OtBB.

For the first time ever, OtBB is opening up to a "Guest Author," David Gertler, who for the past four months has been covering the Hampton Synagogue's attempts to obtain municipal approval to establish an eruv within the Village. Take it away, David!

What follows opens up floodgates that do not exist for my core readership in various Jewish media.

As an individual who has devoted the greater part of his life to critical analysis of Biblical and Rabbinic texts including the context of their time and detail of their language and also lives a lifestyle that many unbiased observers would categorize as aligned with that of Orthodox Judaism, I feel a bit unnerved by one of the arguments the eruv opposition has tossed forth.

This idea can be most simply formulated as: "forget the lawyer, attack the law." While Rabbi Marc Schneier has risen to the task of advancing the members of Westhampton Beach (and surrounding municipalities) in their animosity toward the tenets of Rabbinic Judaism, others, not so qualified, have sug­gested he use his authority to issue variances to the law.

This is so laughable to Judaism that it is the punchline of a joke:

Three Ultra-Orthodox individuals were sitting together talking stories showing the greatness and supreme power, each of their rabbi.

The first said that his rabbi was walking with a group of his students when they came to a busy highway. Without a moments hesitation the rabbi lifted his arms and said: "Cars to this side; cars to that side." The cars split (as the sea) and the group walked through without any fear of being struck by a car.

The second said that his rabbi was walking with a group of his students when they came to mountain in their path. The rabbi lifted his arms and said: "Mountain to this side; moun­tain to that side." The moun­tain split and the group walked through the middle.

The third, with a smile on his face, told his story: "My rabbi and I were walking alone once on Shabbat. We came to a large sum of money in a pile in the road. I looked at my rabbi. My rabbi, without hesitation, lowered his hands to the pile of money and said: "Shabbat to this side; Shabbat to that side." The Shabbat split and we took the money."

The laws of Shabbat are not as such that they can be outright ignored, but if you know them well enough you can figure out ways around them.

Before I explain what those ways are and explain the real rules of an eruv, one thing needs to be clear: When I read people say things like "in my religion the priest can do annulments, why don't you try the same thing," I find it revolting. Nobody, not Rabbi Schneier, not the US constitution, is telling you how to structure your religion1, it's rude to suggest how we could restructure ours [even based on your success].

Now that I've established that I have no respect for the opinion that suggests the rabbis try to do away with something that is an established rule, I can continue and try to explain what people have rudely suggested is Judaism's insincerity toward its own rules.

First: Judaism is a religion of rules. Pharasitic (rabbinic) Judaism gives dimensions to those rules. When the Bible says: "You shall be fruitful and multiply," the rabbis explain that this obligates upon those to whom the commandment is relevant (which is detailed elsewhere, based on other verses) a minimum of two children. The detailed reasoning is an essay in itself, this is simply to explain that the rabbis give the parameters to each law.

On Shabbat, there are many complicated laws. One rabbinic student said to me: "the more I learned about Kosher and other things, the more I felt the freedom to do things I pre­viously thought were forbidden; the more I learn about Shabbat, the more I feel I am not allowed to do anything."

There are a few key ways of circumventing the laws. The most common is to not do the action. This is called "Grumma" and it indicates an indirect/uncertain action. When one of my teachers tried to explain this he brought in Rube Goldberg cartoons. For those unfamiliar Goldberg would create elaborate machines to do simple tasks. His method of getting out of bed in the morning involved a bed that would be hoisted vertical by a lever, the counterweight of which was activated by another lever activated by the sun (enhanced by a magnifying glass) burning a hole in a bag of water.

Even if all of the mathematics were correct there is a major issue on relying on this device: the sun doesn't come out strong every day! Relying on this mechanism would be classified as Grumma, because there are actions involved that you do not control.

This basic concept is what is used for what is known as the "Shabbat telephone," and what the synagogue currently uses: the "Shabbat sound system." Although no expert in the mechanics, my guess is that the Shabbat telephone uses some sort of electronic roulette wheel for aspects of its use that would be classified as violating the Shabbat2.

The second most common method of circumventing the laws may sound identical to the first, but it differs greatly. The second most common method is to not do the action. This is, under various names, what happens when someone else does the action. Notice I did not say "someone else does the action for the Jew" or "at the Jew's request." If it is clear that the action only benefits the Jew, it becomes questionable whether the Jew can benefit. The Jew is not permitted to request the action be done, otherwise it becomes clear that the only reason the action was done was to benefit the Jew. This leads to Jews asking really stupid question and making stupid comments like: "Did you know this door was locked?" and "It sure is cold in here3." It is not permissible for a Jew to derive pleasure from the actions done by another Jew on Shabbat. The observant Jew does not make a distinction for other methods of observance, just as an act is forbidden to him/her/it, it is forbidden, in his/her/its mind, to every Jew.

It should be noted, for those unclear, issues of life and death preside nearly all other rules in Judaism. They do not preside other issues of life and death (triage and euthanasia are huge topics in Jewish law). They do not preside incest (gun to ones head, one is supposed to choose death over incest). For Shabbat purposes, life/death also includes any injuries which, if left unchecked, could be problematic. Anything worthy of a visit to the emergency room and up is worthy of violating the Shabbat (with, as always, a few logical exceptions). Getting to synagogue on Shabbat is not considered a matter of life and death unless the bomb was falling and the synagogue doubled as a bunker.

To drive home the rules, let's take a practical example. Suppose a house is on fire. There is nobody in the house (so there is no issue of life and death). There are no houses nearby (so there is no issue of potential life and death). The house is on a concrete base (the fire cannot spread). It is Shabbat, there is no person around who is not Jewish, there is no eruv, the house and the contents inside are worth many millions of dollars aside from sentimental value, it is your house and you don't have insurance. Do you know what you do? Well, if you catch the fire early enough you can employ Grumma. Do this by surrounding the fire with containers of water. When the fire approaches, the containers will open and put out the flames. If the fire has already grown beyond containable, but you are still able to save stuff from your house, wear whatever you can wear and get out of the house. (Undress and repeat.) All those non-wearable valuables, however, you have to let burn. You can't call the fire department, you can't directly put out the fire.

Now let's deal with the only case with more drama: the eruv.

The first thing to deal with here is definitions:

1) What is an "eruv?"

The word eruv means "combination." Definitions in context can mean 'mixed up,' 'confusion,' and 'night.4' There are a few kinds of eruv. There are two relevant to a regular Shabbat. Both are derived from the Biblical verse (Exodus 16:29) "a person may not go out from his place on the seventh day."

a) Erev Techum- According to the laws of Shabbat, one is required to stay within their house/community. One is required to stay within ~3000 feet5 of the nearest house. If there is a distance of larger than 3000 feet between one house to the next, one is permitted to put up a symbolic house every 3000 feet to extend the permitted distance. This requires a small amount of food put aside on location (before Shabbat). This is almost non-existent today as the second kind of eruv negates the need for the first kind.

b) Erev Chatzerot – According to the laws of Shabbat one is not permitted to transfer an item from the private domain to the public domain. (The immediate surrounding area is considered one's own private domain. If one is laying on the sand on Friday afternoon and while asleep it became dark, that one would be permitted to pick up and use the things within a 3ft radius. Transferring something beyond that limit is akin to taking it from the private domain to the public domain.)

2) What is a "public domain"?

Most Orthodox Jews don't remember what I am about to say: there are four relevant classifications of space.

a) A No Man's Land is any location that is not at least one (1) foot in length or width (if one is less the other can be any length). In such a domain, carrying is permitted. (Practical application would be passing from window to window where a very narrow distance separates two buildings.)

b) A private domain is any location of at least ~1ft x 1ft that is enclosed by barriers of ~40 inches high.

c) A Public Domain is an area of at least ~24 feet in width that does not have barriers of at least ~40 inches high or a roof. According to many opinions, the street has to be traversed by a minimum of 600,000 people on a given day to be considered the public domain.

d) A "Carmalit"an area that does not qualify as a public or private domain. It looks like a public domain but it has the rules of a private domain. One is permitted to carry in such an area on the Biblical level.

The Juicy Part:

The rabbis saw a problem: There is no visual difference between a Carmalit and a public domain. How can it be that I can carry in one open area and not another? The rabbis therefore decreed that one may not carry in a Carmalit6. They did not want people easily confused about the rules and to make a mistake and be in violation of the Shabbat. It was important to be careful since one who is knowingly in violation of the Shabbat, according to Biblical rules can be put to death if proper warning was issued. (By violating Shabbat, a matter which is characteristic of Judaism even today, the person was separating themselves from the nation- a naysayer in the strongest sense.) However, the rabbis realized that their ruling was overly strict and opened up doorways to rebel (since their stringency had little real basis), so they enacted the method of privatizing a Carmalit known as eruv. The rules are complex, but in short, each section (two poles and wire above) is intended to look like a doorway. A doorway is part of a wall, and a series of doorways is an entire wall for this mock-private domain. The idea is to make Jews more aware of their surroundings, to make a rule to distinguish between a Carmalit and a public domain.

As I said, many opinions believe that a public domain requires 600,000 people. This is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (The Code of Jewish Law), Orach Chayim (The section dealing with day to day living), 345:7. The commentary of the Beer Hetev explains that the majority of opinions are in accordance with this idea and thus the majority of the world is a Carmalit. (Biblically permissible to carry, rabbinically forbidden.) It should be noted that the only place an eruv could apply is in a Carmalit, a public domain negates an eruv, so even a fully walled city with over 600,000 people is considered a public domain and one is not permitted to carry.

So while suggesting that the rabbis do away with the law is rude, this knowledge of where the law came from and that according to the Bible one would be permitted to carry in Westhampton Beach can open the floodgates a little more. Instead of asking that the rabbis do away with the rule, why don't you suggest they return to the original Biblical law, in which the rule does not apply.

The next part of this discussion is why involve the authorities. This is actually a chicken and egg problem. The Mishnah in Eruvin 6:2 says that someone within an eruv who is not interested in allowing people the right to make the area private can invalidate the eruv for everyone. For this reason, the "Eruv authorities" need to lease the area from someone with the authority to lend or lease it. This way the person who does not wish the eruv has no ability to invalidate it since the area in question isn't technically his. If there weren't people opposed to the eruv, there would not be a need to ask anything of the government.

For a simpler outline of the above rules, see: "What's the deal with carrying on Shabbat?"


End Notes
  1. Obvious exceptions apply. These are cate­gorized by the government as "compelling state interests." One is not permitted to have a crusade for the sake of religion in this country. It'll be an interesting day when such a thing breaks out. There are many other exceptions. Civil rights is considered a "compelling state interest." Discrimination by sex, religion or creed for most purposes is not permitted. Tom Lehrer noted that to some rights are taken to the extreme as to not discriminate even based on ability.
  2. Not every action is considered permissible because it is indirect. In the examples cited, there is no certainty of the outcome. There is a proverb in the Talmud which translates into modern proverbs as "you can't have your cake and eat it, too." The Talmudic one states that a chicken cannot live if you cut off its head (even if you cut off its head without the desire that it would die- you just needed the head!). Permitted is the act that resembles the person who walks on your nice floor with his nice shoes, insisting that they won't scuff. Not permitted is the person who walks on your nice floor with his muddy shoes, insisting that the floor won't get dirty.
  3. Translation: Can you please fix this door? And, can you please turn up the heat/turn off the A/C?
  4. On a completely different note of Biblical understanding, the days of creation each end with the phrase "and it was evening and it was morning." The Hebrew word for even­ing is "Erev," "mixture" and the word for morning is "Boker," "clarity." Each day con­tains the creation of distinctions (light/dark; sky/earth; sea/land) and is likely not refer­ring to evening and morning of an actual "day."
  5. All measurements are approximations based on the conversion from "hand-breadths" and "cubits."
  6. Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 346:2


1. 'amme said...

Nice spin. It still does give you the right to take away my rights! Ego- Mask an attempt to reverse ego's hold on you by practicing to serve the needs of others, and all your own needs will be fulfilled. The problems with all Religions are that they are interpreted by a human as he sees God's word. Good leadership by humans, who find themselves in a supervisory role, foster their beliefs without dominating or ruling the people outside of their religious circle! Live in harmony with all below heaven. The basic solution to wars and conflicts is to see yourself in others. Then you would treat yourself with the highest regard. Every human has been conditioned by the country you were born in, the religion you were assigned at birth, the culture you were immersed in or even the family who raised you. Rather than God bless America (or whatever country you happen to reside in), Allah save our people, or Krishna bless those who believe in you, treat everyone as you would want to be treated.Look at the other person as if it was you. In times of struggles it becomes easier to communicate if the opposing person is you. If all people took the time to see their own actions as the one receiving them, then it becomes a less intimidating mountain to navigate. This is why you need to take the time to review what you are saying or doing. Would your behavior and attitude be the same if you are on the receiving end? Everyone Is God speaking, Why not be polite and Listen to Him? Hafiz

I'm unclear who you are addressing when you say 'you.' Also, to be clear, I don't think I really gave anything a "spin" -just information. While I'm certainly not a fan of holy wars, I am partial to the blind men and the elephant approach.


2. Jeanne Speir said...

Thank you, David Gertler. This is complicated material. I can see why it takes a lifetime of scholarly endeavor to master; that is, if you're lucky, motivated and intelligent enough to decipher it.

As a lapsed Catholic, I have waxed impatient over the years with the hydra-headed dogma that rules much of mankind's lives. My replacement philospophical and theological influences range from the writings of J.Krishnamurti (who opposed ALL organized religion), to Jeff Cooper.

This month there is Muslim Ramaden, and the daylight fasting it requires. As with, for instance, the Jewish and Christian faiths, Muslims take their religious laws very seriously.

Cross-translating the most orthodox positions on all the world's religions is a task tantamount to breaking the code at the Tower of Babel. Nigh impossible.

A Talmudic scholar I'm not. As long as no portend of harm or "covetting of one's neighbor's goods" is derived from one's practice of religion, I suppose a nation as inclusive as ours can assume "no harm, no foul." It implies the community at large will not see a conflict.

Last week's JPOE meeting was an illumination of the conflict within your own faith. I subsequently reached out to my Jewish friends, and was surprised to find out they too remonstrated against the establishment of the eruv!

Can you folks effect an Grumma, or can you ask your Rabbi to adhere to the original Biblical Law?

Seems to me both these options have nothing to do with the community at large, and would spare a heck of a lot of grief.

I hope I haven't stepped too heavily on anybody's toes.


Regarding Grumma (apparently most people transliterate it as Grama, but I prefer Grumma), I don't really see how. In Grama, there is some sort of (not entirely predictable) delay between the action and the intended consequence. I'm sure the Jewish world is open to suggestions, but the solution hasn't come to them yet.

Returning to the Biblical law is not something that any of the Orthodox would do as it would be jumping sects to the Karaites or the Sadducees. I included the idea to dispel the notion that eruv for this purpose was of Biblical origin.

The question I hear people consistently asking is: "What is at the core of the disapproval of the eruv?"

If the eruv would be a non-issue in Jewish law, would (some) people still fear a demographic change? Would grief be spared?

I dunno.


3. Hampton West said...

Dean - a mitzvah you have done - very educational piece.

I am not a Biblical scholar but... I do have a friend who was a rabbi in the military and he tried to explain to me the public-domain/private domain issue - and I now understand it from the Jewish Law side. It also helped me understand the Biblical Law side of the issue.

However, it seems to me a religious law dating to God knows when in a different time, culture, and world is now forcing a civic entity to rule on an issue of religious law. And with Tenafly the civic entity can be sued and essentially fined should the civic entity say "no."

I am not anti-eruv - should it happen Westhampton Beach will not become Lawrence and after a short period the plastic cones will blend into the landscape. Had the rabbi handled this the right way and not made it a civil rights issue with the new Sheriff in Albany he probably would have his eruv. Instead at best he will have a Pyrrhic victory and further polarize the community.

Let's hope devine intervention leads him to Bibical Law.

I don't think Westhampton Beach will ever become a Lawrence, either... but the Rabbi cannot guarantee that, and even if he could, no one trusts him anymore because of all the other things he's said.

With all respect to Mr. Tuchman's brief that an eruv is a Civil Right, I remain dubious.

And I make it 13-5 that Governor Paterson won't be coming back here anytime soon and making that same declaration.

As for the Rabbi being led anywhere, unless it's someone sporting a well-turned ankle, I doubt it.
– Dean
If the religious law forces the civic entity to do anything it is only based on the civic entity's own rules. If the eruv wins in court, blame the court (not the religion).

According to the news, the "new sheriff" used the exact same phrase on a different matter recently, so maybe he just likes the expression.


4. Tugboat Bertha said...

This scholarly discussion does not answer the question. The bottom line is: Do they get their eruv or don't they?

Right now it's 6-5 and pick'em.

What Reporter Gertler's treatise does, I think, is explain some of the heretofore unexplored nuances of the eruv issue, and dispense with some of the avenues gentiles have suggested as a solution.

Yes, he does get a little "huffy" in one of two instances, but before he takes offense, he needs to remember that no one else has performed the scholarship that he has.

At the time time, that sense of prickliness simply demonstrates the passion some of the Orthodox feel.
– Dean

As I am not a legal scholar or a fortune teller, I can't address the question directly. I attempted to, as directly as possible, explain "precisely what an eruv is" from the text sources, with the sole agenda of providing information to those who seek it.

The only point at which I "got huffy" was when people suggested annulling the law. If that was an acceptable option, I'm sure Orthodox Judaism would differ only philosophically, but not practically, from other forms.


5. Lexie said...

See NY Post article "Hasid Lust Cause" from September 12. Is this what we have to look forward to?

I dunno, Lexie... what do you think?

But for those with even a modicum of imagination, that article suggests a sure-fire strategy of keeping Westhampton Beach "Hasidim-free!" How do you feel about two-piece bathing suits?
– Dean

This has been Schneier's continued reasoning as to why the Hasidim would not frequent Westhampton Beach. The beach side community connotes men and women in beach attire.


6. Redheadmom said...

Dean Speir said "I don't think Westhampton Beach will ever become a Lawrence, either."

I would think that the residents of Kew Gardens (Queens) NY, Spring Valley NY, Nyack NY, and Lakewood NJ, also thought that it would not happen. But it happened!

Kew Gardens? Isn't that Chabad, or Hasidic? And the biggest problem there seems to be car alarms.

Spring Valley? That has a Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox community. Where is the dominant Lubavitch or Hasidic population? Same as Nyack. (Are you sure you don't mean Monsey, New York?)

But yes, Lakewood does have a large Orthodox population... I don't know how it happened, or over what period of time. So what's your point?

I still don't believe that Westhampton Beach will evolve in that direction. The local Synagogue itself is too diverse, and if it was all that Orthodox, there wouldn't be a parking problem, would there?

7. Hampton West said...

About Lakewood...

My 1st set of in-laws lived in Lakewood from 1973 to their deaths in 1981. They were reformed Jews. I also knew Lakewood from earlier days as being on U.S. Route 9 - the back way to the Jersey Shore. Route 9 was Madison Street, the main drag through town (they actually had a Studebaker dealership there!) It was for the most part a quiet little place whose claim to fame was that their Little League team won the Little League World Series.

There was always a Jewish presence in Lakewood that I can remember. As early as the 1970s when my in-laws were there the Orthodox population began to grow. I re-call that because my in-laws were complaining about it and they had to drive to nearby Howell to get non-kosher food! The local stores pretty much catered to the Orthodox. I understand now over 50% of Lakewood is Orthodox and there is an Orthodox mayor. But honestly I haven't been there since the early 1990s and that was just a drive through.

8. David Gertler said...

An update. The phone works in an interesting Gruma form: the negative. Apparently, all the buttons are constantly active, so you press down all the buttons you don't want to be active and it will register the one remaining digit. At least according to the review I read of the movie "Religulous."

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