Thursday, June 4, 2015

On Friday Someone Checks the Eruv

A thin line delineating a space, a tradition of years measured in thousands

Every Friday before sunset, someone checks the eruv. Preferably earlier in the day, so there's time to repair it if needed, and notify the community that it is up. I suppose by car, but in this case potentially by bicycle, the checker navigates all 32 miles around it, verifying that its structural elements are intact.

Provided everything is as it should be, or if it's not, the checker will activate the established communication to the community. For example, for this one, the Valley Eruv Project, it is via web site, and the message is both helpful/positive, and informative: " Shabbos Behaaloscha, June 5th-6th, The Eruv was inspected and is up for Shabbos. Please be sure to check every Shabbos that the Eruv is up. Good Shabbos!"

Map of the boundary

I noticed the eruv, or rather, some of its structural components, at various points around it, because I ride my bike in, around, and through it all the time. I asked around. Regularly, persistently, but apparently I was either not asking the right questions, or the right people, because no one offered the correct explanation. 

When I figured it out, my mind verily exploded with a mixture of delight, curiosity, awe, wonder, and a kind of reverence. I've spent some preliminary time learning what I can about eruvs, or more properly, eruvin. Once you get a lead on what you're looking at with those four characters, though, e-r-u-v, it's a little like unlocking a door to a fascinating other world that you had little idea was happening alongside inside around part of yet separately in/to this world, your city.  Many large cities around the world have them. Many that I have visited or lived in. But I had no idea.

What I understand so far is that an eruv is an enclosing structure symbolic of walls and gates typically composed now of contiguous combinations of man-made structures and natural forms (hills of a minimum 24 degree slope for example) which define a grouping of properties which, due to the proper validation of the eruv by recognized authorities, are considered during the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbot or Shabbos) (from sundown Friday to when three stars appear on Saturday evening) as a kind of abstract extension of the home, sort of a giant back yard. 

Within the extension of the home, mainly, carrying is permitted during Shabbos, with "carrying" defined very specifically and comprehensively, including quite necessary things like toting a prayer book, or pushing a baby stroller, or carrying food. Thus, for the observant, an eruv actually enables many important things. Not, however, riding a bicycle. There should be, on the other hand, a store of common food for the community somewhere within the eruv.

The poles (lekhi) are vertical, the wire/rope/line (korah) run over the top, as with a crossbeam, forming a "Tzurat Ha'Petach", or image of a doorway through an enclosing wall

Some relevant primary texts:

Understand that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day He will give you two days’ worth of bread. Each of you stay where you are; no one is to leave his place on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:29)

Thus says the LORD, Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem. You shall not bring a load out of your houses on the sabbath day nor do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers. (Jeremiah 17:21-22)

Police car entering the eruv through a Tzurat Ha'Petach

As I read more and more about eruvin, I felt like I was entering a vast and complex subject of great interest. I have the great opportunity of living near one which is relatively easy to study and explore, at least in part on a bicycle. As I do so, and learn more and read more, I will eventually do a follow-up post that offers some clarity on why I found this so intriguing, why it triggered such a significant and powerful feeling in me. For now, though, I'll finish this post with a nice short film about eruvin, called "It's a Thin Line,"  as I ride off to read some books about eruvin.

Sometimes, my local place turns out to include simple/complex wonders I didn't even imagine, and I find them on my bicycle.

It's a Thin Line - The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York and Beyond from Yeshiva University Museum on Vimeo.


  1. North Seattle and North Dallas both have ERUVs. None in Tarrant County or Gray's Harbor County.

    1. I think I noticed an offshoot of this one. I'll check it out when I have time.


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