Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eruv Battle in Hamptons

(Hat tip: Patti)

This story is interesting, but not just because of the battle:

Tensions over the proposed creation of a symbolic Orthodox Jewish boundary in a tony Long Island hamlet boiled over yesterday at a raucous meeting in Westhampton Beach.

Organized by a group called Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, the rowdy morning gathering of more than 250 people pitted Reform Jews against Orthodox Jews.

At issue was the proposed creation of an "eruv," a boundary consisting of marked telephone poles that form a figurative extension of a home. The eruv would allow Orthodox Jews to engage in activities normally prohibited on the Sabbath, such as pushing strollers and carrying keys.

Members of the Hampton Synagogue, led by high-profile Rabbi Marc Schneier, had hoped to marshal support for the eruv during the summer season. But recent town meetings have degenerated into shouting matches.

The interesting - and troubling - part of the article is the second half:

"We don't want to change the community," said Jack Kringstein, co-chairman of the Jewish group opposed to the eruv. "We feel like we will be converting Westhampton to [Orthodox Jews'] tastes."

Hampton Synagogue member Alan Shecter, one of only a handful of eruv supporters at yesterday's meeting, was shouted down.

Schneier said that the opposition is inspired by baseless fears of an Orthodox influx.

"I'm very saddened and disappointed by what's taken place," he said.

I don't understand. Replace Orthodox Jews with any other group and we'd hear cries of racism, would we not? The comments are similar disturbing, claiming falsely that
"However what will follow will probably duplicate what has happened in the 5 Towns and in New City. Stores will be forced to close Friday eve and on Saturday for fear of losing business and driving likewise prohibited."
The openly anti-Orthodox fear and dislike is mind-boggling. An eruv isn't "converting to Orthodox Jews' tastes" and fears of an Orthodox influx? Really? Is that such a horrible thing even if it were true, to the point that anything that might encourage such a thing must be stopped? Imagine blocking a Baptist church because of fears of an influx of black people - wouldn't such an attempt be decried rightly as racism? How is this different?



  1. I have friends who are Reform Jews and live in the five towns. They say that the Orthodox community threatens to BOYCOTT ALL STORES that are not closed Friday night and Saturday, so the stores don't have much choice. If you were a store owner in the Hamptons, would you want people who do that moving in?

  2. Those stories have been repeatedly proven false. A good post on the subject is here.

  3. Believe me, the anti-whoever feelings travel both ways. One group tries to block this, another group tries to block that, both groups are slamming each other . . . I think your posts highlighting the serious abuse problems and economic issues in your community are worth focusing on, and have been very informative.

    I try to ignore the nut jobs (on all sides) who steal media and blog attention with their petty fights. I also find a healthy spoonful of the now-available-in-stores Shannon Road Ice Cream to be a big help in alleviating stress :-) Hey! Maybe we can unite the factions with ice cream! Everyone loves ice cream - what's to argue about? Butter Pecan or Cookies and Cream?

  4. My mom has always said that frum Jews don't have to worry about the goyim dissing them--the worst anti-semite is another Jew who believes differently from you. Every time I think she is wrong another one these situations pops up and proves her right.

  5. There are those that say that getting the eruv passed is a relatively EASY task (due to simple legalities) even WITH all the opposition but that the Rabbi is playing up the controversy to the hilt and fanning the fires just to make a name for himself and get exposure. Once he has all the publicity he needs or wants, he will get the eruv and be a public "hero".....(and maybe then write a book entitled "How I got the hamptons an eruv")

  6. I am open to the possibility that the stories are not true, but that's not an article, Ezzie. That's a blog post. An article would be in a publication that cites some sources, interviews townspeople, etc. Arguments from silence (it wasn't in the newspaper, so it didn't happen) are not credible, either.

  7. Katrina - I was just giving a quick example. The stories that you're citing are from people who heard stories from others who heard it from others. There's never been anything to substantiate them.

    Anon - The article is discussing the meeting that occurred. It sounds as if it was quite the discussion, and the quotes seem telling. If the Rabbi is hyping it up it's a shame, but it doesn't take away from the issue itself.

    ProfK - Oy.

    Ezer - Agreed that it can go both ways. And can you bring us some Shannon Road!??! Please?! :)

  8. oooo fun - Road Trip!

  9. Jerusalem's experiencing the same sort of problems.

    Except here, the anti-eruv people davka CUT THE ERUV WIRES on Shabbat, disqualifying it for everyone.

    I posted about this last week.

  10. Ezzie this post is just a reprint of the exaggerations, half-truths and outright fabrications that have already been engineered and circulated though the syndicated noise media. It’s absolutely valueless, divisive and a grave disappointment. Have anyone of you either blogging or relying been to the Hamptons and witnessed what your are commenting on?

  11. Jameel - Yeah, I saw.

    Anon - If there is another viewpoint, by all means, feel free to send it over. Without any other sources to go on, we are reliant on whatever we can find in the media and other sources. Merely calling things half-truths and exaggerations does nothing to show me that that is in fact the case.

  12. 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 towards 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 towards 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.
    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

  13. Anonymous, I am not qualified to offer a comment on your lenghthy discussion, hoewever, I did wnat to ask- what is the difference between a Carmalit and a public domain?