It is a commandment to enjoy the happy Jewish holidays and particularly the Sabbath. But beginning with April 6-7, Sabbaths became even more enjoyable for members of modern Orthodox synagogue Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah and other observant Jews in Glendale.
“People are able to bring small children into the synagogue,” said Dr. Arnold Slyper in a telephone interview. “And we don’t have to think about bringing our prayer things to shul. In the past, we had to bring them before Shabbat.”
Social lives of synagogue members also are different on the Sabbath, Slyper said. Before, “if you were invited for Shabbat to somebody’s house, you couldn’t carry gifts or dishes…. Now, we can do this.”
What made the difference? The Jewish community in Glendale now has a functioning eruv.
And this is not the only new eruv in the area. According to Rabbi Moshe Rapoport, program director of Congregation Agudas Achim Chabad, an eruv for Mequon is scheduled to be operational beginning with the Sabbath of April 27-28. (The Orthodox community on Milwaukee’s west side has had a functioning eruv since 1995, according to Miriam Lapping, administrator at Congregation Beth Jehudah.)
But what is an eruv? This is not an easy concept to understand or apply. The Talmud devotes an entire tractate to the subject. But with help from several area rabbis and the Encyclopedia Judaica, its basics become more clear.
Activities Jews are not supposed to do on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur include carrying objects from a private domain (e.g., one’s home) into a public domain (the street, a park, etc.) or for certain distances within a public domain. This can make Sabbath observance more of a hardship than a pleasure for some.
“[T]he prohibition against carrying, because of its concomitant restrictions on pushing baby carriages or strollers, using canes, walkers or wheelchairs, constrains severely the mobility and activities of many in our community to the confines of their homes,” states a pamphlet on the subject by ASKT spiritual leader Rabbi Nachman Levine. “These constraints often negate the very Oneg Shabbos [enjoyment of the Sabbath] that we as a community should strive to foster.”
The Encyclopedia Judaica states, “The literal meaning of eruv is ‘mixing’ and it probably connotes the insertion of the forbidden into the sphere of the permissible.” An eruv is therefore a device that mixes private and public domains in a way to permit observant Jews to carry at least some things.
Making an eruv requires setting up a “courtyard” that surrounds a designated area. According to Rabbi Mendel Senderovic, dean of the Milwaukee Kollel Center for Jewish Studies and consultant to both eruvim, making such a courtyard requires two components: partitions and gateways.
A partition can be virtually any kind of man-made structure, like a fence or a wall. The Glendale eruv uses the fence along the west side of Interstate 43 between Mill Rd. and Brown Deer Rd. as a large part of the eastern border of its eruv.
A gateway can be made of any structure that has two vertical posts (l’chiayim; lechi singular) linked by a “lintel” that can be a beam, wire or rope extending from the top of one to the top of the other. In Mequon, most of the telephone poles along such main streets as Port Washington Rd. have wires connecting the tops of the poles and therefore can be included in the eruv as a long series of “gateways.”
If the “lintel” is not located directly over the top of a pole or pillar (i.e., is on the side), some construction is required. A u-guard can be put on the side of a telephone pole directly underneath the line. Or a barrel or post can be set up directly under the “lintel” within a certain distance of the lintel’s support, which in effect amalgamates them into a lechi.
Quality of life
It is possible to construct an eruv to cover a small area. CAAC has one that covers just the synagogue’s grounds. Many Jews have them covering their homes.
But a large-scale community eruv is an important “quality of life” component for observant Jews, especially younger families. To attract such families was one of the reasons that about six years ago, observant Jews in these communities decided they wanted an eruv.
Slyper, who said he initiated the project in Glendale, explained, “It’s important for an Orthodox community to have an eruv. It enhances the communal spirit, especially on Shabbat.”
The Mequon project has an organizational wrinkle. Though most of those pushing for an eruv were members of CAAC, most members of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement, like Rapoport, and some other groups of Orthodox Jews will not take advantage of a community eruv.
They do this not because an eruv is some kind of “loophole” in Jewish law, but because “some try not to get used to carrying on Shabbat,” said Rapoport. Rapoport himself said he will use it “only if I’m stuck.”
Partly for this reason, but also to emphasize that the eruv is available to the whole community, CAAC itself is not sponsoring the eruv, which is under the control of a separate group called Mequon Eruv.
Even so, Rapoport is helping with the project because “it makes the community complete” by enabling it to provide a full package of services — a synagogue, a mikvah and an eruv — for area Orthodox Jews.
The projects took so long to realize for several reasons. Initially, the planners thought of constructing an eruv just around homes within their communities. Dr. Lewis Chamoy, co-president of CAAC and a prime mover of the Mequon eruv along with Dr. Dennis Maiman, told The Chronicle that he suggested it would be easier to cover a large area by using the pre-existing structures.
The chief problem was working with various private companies — Wisconsin Electric Power Co., Ameritech, railroad firms, etc. — to get permission to use their structures and do the construction.
Attorney Bruce Peckerman spoke to representatives of these firms for ASKT. He told The Chronicle that the process took a long time partly because the railroad company involved got sold at least twice; because he had to deal with different departments — real estate, legal, licensing; and because he had to explain to many puzzled non-Jews what this was all about.
Chamoy said it took more than two years for electric company officials in Mequon to grant permission to use its structures and do construction for the eruv. “There was no anti-Semitism in this, not even a hint,” he said; rather “the engineers were too busy” and others didn’t see what benefit the eruv would bring to the company.
Once the necessary permissions were obtained, actual construction took about a month for both. Real estate developer Larry Appel oversaw the work in Glendale as a volunteer. The Mequon group employed Midwestern Electric Co., which had worked on the Milwaukee west side eruv.
The Glendale eruv covers close to seven square miles between Brown Deer and Mill Rds. (north to south) and Interstate 43 and the railroad east of Teutonia Ave. The Mequon eruv covers about 24 square miles between Highland and Brown Deer Rds. (north to south) and Port Washington and Cedarburg Rds.
Both projects cost in the low tens of thousands of dollars and funds were raised largely, though not solely, within the communities that will use them. ASKT also made a special payment of one silver dollar to the Milwaukee county government, in a ceremony on April 5 involving County Executive Thomas Ament, to fulfill a halachic requirement to pay a rent to the non-Jewish owners of any land used for an eruv.
Both eruvim will be inspected carefully before every Sabbath to make sure they are intact. Glendale residents should call ASKT, Mequon residents 262-242-8913 on Friday afternoons for an eruv report.