Belief Beat

Covering religion requires an open mind. I’ve written about all sorts of faith traditions in the 10 years, and not much raises my eyebrows anymore, but some things do require me to suspend disbelief more than others: celibacy-with-exceptions for Catholic priests, ultra-Orthodox Jewish slaughtering rituals, Shabbos goys, Young Earth creationism campaigns, the Westboro Baptist Church’s highly educated members, the extent to which people of faith will shelter and defend criminals in their midst, etc.

Eruvs, however, fall into a “really?!” category all their own, at least for me.

In a nutshell, Jews traditionally believe that observing the Sabbath means not doing any work on that  day, which in modern times prohibits plenty: driving, riding elevators, flipping light switches, walking the dog, pushing a wheelchair, pushing a stroller, even carrying your house keys or baby. For some activities, Jews can get a Christian to oblige them — see “Shabbos Goy” above. But since pushing/carrying activities are permitted within your home, an eruv (pronounced AY-roov)

Manhattan's eruv, among power lines.

 lets you wheel Bubbe and the kids to synagogue by symbolically extending your property boundaries, using existing fences and running a wire or string continuously around the desired neighborhood/city. Jewish officials have to inspect it before every Sabbath to make sure it’s still kosher.

Apparently, God loves a loophole. (I have several Jewish friends who shrug when I ask about this, and say, “That’s why we make good lawyers.”)

But towns rarely applaud a proposed eruv, though it more or less blends into existing telephone wires and power lines, because of fears that it may prompt an influx of ultra-Orthodox Jews, which could change the character of a community — perhaps only cosmetically, perhaps in more serious ways, such as in public school funding disputes. Eruv supporters, in turn, say it’s a matter of religious freedom, and reiterate that most people don’t even know it’s there. (There are eruvin — the proper plural of eruv — all over the world, including dozens of American cities and suburbs.)

Anyway, last night’s Daily Show With Jon Stewart did a bit about the controversy over the proposed Westhampton eruv. Check it out:

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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