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"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Have Eruv, Will Travel…

Posted by lchaimlover on June 26, 2007

First Berkeley, now Palo Alto. After 8 years of hard work on the part of Emek Bracha, the Palo Alto frum community is getting an eruv. While this is a cause for great excitement among the Orthodox community of Palo Alto, there is a surprising amount of discussion about the issue, ranging from separation of church and state to just plain silliness: example: “what if living in an eruv violates my religion”.  I have a response for just a few of the arguments.


An eruv in Jerusalem 

Church & State

While I, being a former citizen of the secular world, can understand how an eruv appears to be silly, I would have also said that if it doesn’t affect me, what’s the big deal? As for the separation of church and state, this is meant to assure citizens that the government will not become a theocracy, but this does not mean that the government won’t support the freedom to practice religion. Isn’t that why people have been coming to America for over 230 years? Whole states (Massachusetts and Rhode Island to name a few) were founded on the principle that people could practice in America what they couldn’t in other parts of the world.

Furthermore, the eruv is being supported by private funds! The only thing the Jewish community is asking for is permission to place it. Thin clear string or twine that isn’t costing the city a penny, how is this a violation of someone’s Constitutional rights? How is this a matter to get so heated about that people are now calling it an embarrassment to live in Palo Alto?

Explain to me, if you will dear Gentile friends, how an eruv, an invisible tool for Jews, is more of an endorsement then a Christmas tree in town square, in plain view for all to see? The Christmas Tree is clearly a religious symbol, and yet I see very little argument on those going up each year, and my feeling is because they are “pretty”. Yet my tax dollars are going to actually support that tree (along with any other holiday decorations) for two months out of the year!

A religious symbol?

Another argument raised is that an eruv is just as much a religious symbol as a cross is, this is not particularly accurate. A cross has no purpose or function in religious ceremony, while an eruv has an actual purpose. An eruv is not the equivalent of putting up a menorah, an eruv is the equivalent of having communion wine and wafers. An eruv allows Orthodox Jews to practice their religion with a little more ease. Isn’t this something guaranteed to us (Jewish American Citizens) in the Constitution?


“Embarrassing…Disgusted…Insane…” These are some of the words that the secular are throwing around to describe the eruv. “Jewish…” This is the word that the Orthodox is using in it’s contract with the city to create the eruv. ::pause:: excuse me, I am weighing the terms against each other. The Orthodox are calling the city “Jewish” in a contract meant only for the Jews as a symbol that the eruv is OK’d by the city. In return, the secular are referring to one of our religious tools as embarrassing, disgusting, and insane. Forgive me if I am a little offended by this. I am not calling communion wine and wafers insane. I mean come on, we think our little string is Hashem’s way of telling us we can carry on the Sabbath, while the Catholics think that the wine and bread turns into flesh and blood, and then eat it. My argument is, words are very serious things, be careful when you use them.

There is my two cents. I’ll stop now so you can have yours.


9 Responses to “Have Eruv, Will Travel…”

  1. Separation of Church and State does not dictiate that the government exclude itself entirely from religion. Rather, it means the government should not push or fund any religion.

    There are religious organizations that apply for government grants. It’s perfectly acceptable to me, as a Jew, that a church might recieve government funds (not to mention the tax exemptions on church property!) for a program designed for social good.

    I hardly think implementing an eruv (without using public money) constitutes ANY violation of separation of Church and State. Instead, it goes hand-in-hand with the intent of it. Pray tell how putting up a near-invisible wire (some places just designate certain telephone lines to serve as such) so that Jews can practice the holiest of holidays the Shabbat in peace?

    In response to ANY kind of outcry, from the secular world, the Christian world or any others, let us examine the rest of the Bay Area: There is a HUGE statue of what’s-her-name in front of the Santa Clara government office. The Virgin Mary herself. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Not to mention all the Christian religious symbols throughout state seals, inside and outside government buildings, most commonly courthouses.

    You know that snake statue that embarrasses downtown San Jose (it’s pretty ugly)? The one right at the end of Park Street, where they hold the huge Christmas fair (complete with ice-skating, more Christmas trees than little kids can handle)? It’s a religious icon Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec’s patron symbol, to which a small handfull of people still worship. This statue was commissioned and paid for by the City of San Jose. And people are complaining about getting the OK for an eruv?!?

  2. mishgolden said

    There _is_ a First Amendment issue here — freedom of religion.

    Suppose the city government fobade the Jews to put up string to create an eruv; what would be ther government’s reason? Remember, in this country, the assumption is that is something is allowed unless forbidden (not the reverse); the First Amendment’s gurantee of freedom of religion strengthens that assumption where religious practice is involved. All sorts of private things are allowed to happen on public property (parades, block parties, privately-provided monuments), so why not this one? If it’s just because it’s religious, that alone would violate the freedom of religion!

    The government might say that it would forbid this religious practice because is is religious and, being on public property, it constitutes a government endorsement of Judaism. If that were true, it would be a sufficient reason. But it is not the case here. The main Supreme Court test for whether governemnt endorsement of religion is happenning is whether an objective observer would get the impression that the government is favoring one group over enother. Here, the objective observer wouldn’t even know that it’s a religious display! (It’s just some wire strung up on poles.) The Supreme Court has OKed public displays that are reconizeably religious (e.g., Hanukkiahs, not to mention the Christian ones), so some wire would clearly pass constitutional strutiny.

    So the city goverment, if it were to forbif an eruv, would be left with only one reason — it’s religious. _That_ violates the First Amendment!

    (I’m glad my law school education is still good for _something_ 🙂 )

  3. Oyster said

    MG: Your legal reasoning rocks my socks off. Keep it comin’! 🙂

  4. R Lee Smith said

    As an observant Jew who identifies with the Conservative approach I just wanted to point out that many Conservative Jews also appreciate the benefits of an Eruv. Many Conservative Jews also consider carrying in public on Shabbat to be a violation of Halacha. (Interestingly, those who wrote the infamous Conservative tshuva on driving on Shabbat didn’t seem to deal with the issue of carrying but who says one has to be consistent?) In any case, I’m always disturbed when articles about the many eruvim being erected around the country ignore the existence of Conservative Judaism and just talk about Orthodox Jews.

  5. lchaimlover said

    I don’t think it’s disturbing, just an understandable misconception as, it appears that the majority of Conservative Jews wouldn’t consider carrying on Shabbat a violation of Shabbat. I say this only by the appearance of the lot full of cars at the more “conservative” Conservative shul down the street from where I daven each Shabbos.

  6. Squeedle said

    What’s disgusting and insane is that the anti-religious climate around here has encouraged such intolerance and bigotry, that people have decided it’s okay to insult people who show any outward signs of religious observance, flying in the face of principles upon which this country was founded.

    Furthermore, don’t just post your opinion on here, write a letter to the newspapers in Palo Alto. I’d especially encourage mishgolden to post exactly what you wrote above. Here are links:

    Palo Alto Weekly online:

    Palo Alto Daily News:

  7. R Lee Smith said

    All I can say is that some folks drive to the Orthodox shul down the block from me as well — they park across the street from the shul in a supermarket parking lot. The important thing to me is that one needs to support Jewish observance no matter what the title used is. As an aside, to me one of the worst things about the driving Tshuva is that it seems to have reduced the number of LaChaims in Conservative shuls since folks who aren’t that concerned about being caught violating Shabbat by driving, simply don’t want to drink and drive.

  8. Oyster said

    RLS: Amen! We need more l’chaims at ConservaShuls. That would make our ‘kiddush club’ a real deal.

    The driving teshuva was really a mistake IMNSHO. Not because of the particular halakha, per se, but the unintended consequences. What was originally a way to keep Jews moving out to suburbia “in the fold” by allowing them to come to shul on Shabbat, has instead lead to whole-sale disintegration of Conservative Judaism Jewish neighborhoods, where everyone is within walking distance of one another.

    A big mistake.

  9. Ish Tov said

    Wow, this has turned into a really interesting thread. Squeedle makes a great point. I think it’s more anti-religious people that are against the eruv than Christians. About a year ago I was at Emek Baraka and someone mentioned the struggle to try to get the eruv approved. They claimed that it was being blocked by non-religious Jews who didn’t want Palo Alto to turn into Black Hat ville.

    Oyster, great point about the driving teshuva. I think that’s the one where Conservative Judaism started to lose its street cred among the Orthodox. I’m not saying that the Orthodox are the grand bestowers of Jewish street cred, but I do think it had an effect. Electricity is obviously subject to interpretation, but starting the combustion engine of a car involves lighting a fire, which is forbidden on Shabbat in the text of the Torah.

    As someone else pointed out, some Orthodox folks also drive on Shabbat. But the ideology as embodied by a movement’s laws should hold up to the Torah, even if the practice of its members doesn’t always.

    On the other hand, my understanding was that driving on Shabbat was only supposed to be for the sick, the elderly, and those that couldn’t afford to live in the community. And even then one was only allowed to drive to shul and drive back home. My understanding is that any other driving is still forbidden according to Conservative halachah.

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