Monday, December 18, 2006

Please Fence Me In

I am in San Jose, California at the moment, and have recently heard about a controversy happening at the other end of the state in Venice, CA. The controversy is over an eruv, a temporary fence of sorts that surrounds a Jewish community on the Sabbath.

The need for an eruv comes from the challenge posed by Sabbath observance in the Torah. The Torah prohibits working on the Sabbath and considers carrying something between a public domain and a private domain on the Sabbath to be work. Torah does allow you to carrying things within an enclosed "private" area. So you can carry a pizza from the kitchen to the dining room in your house, but not from your house to a neighbors house. Since half the fun of the Sabbath is to visit and share food with friends this law needs to massaged a bit. The solution is an eruv.

The rabbis of the Talmud developed a means to render a public area a private domain by surrounding it with an eruv, Hebrew for joining together. An eruv integrates a number of private and public properties into one larger private domain so that people within an eruv district can move objects from one area to another.

So are so good. In Venice, however, proposals to erect an eruv puts the Orthodox community at odds with ordinances that restrict blocking the view of the ocean and protect the flight paths of birds. The eruv, opponents of the measure argue, does both.

The proposed eruv would use 200 pound fishing net, and I can see how this would restrict my view of the ocean (though to be honest with all the nearly naked people walking around Venice I hardly notice the ocean at all), and pose a danger to birds. But there has to be a way of freeing the Sabbath observant from their homes without inconveniencing beach-goers and birds.

Here is my suggestion: I propose that some enterprising rabbinic scholar team up with an enterprising fish net maker and create personal eruvim (plural of eruv). People could wear them like giant mosquito nets covering their bodies. Wherever you went you would be within your own eruv, and thus able to carry things freely from place to place. This way the only person whose view of the sea would be inhibited would be the Jew wearing the eruv. Since we are basically a desert people anyway, what do we care about seeing the ocean? And as for the birds, unless they intend to attack they will not have any problem flying over eruv-wearing Jews.

Of course there may be some reason why portable personal eruvim aren’t kosher. I am not a halachic (Jewish legal) scholar. If there is no legal objection, however, I am offering this idea free to anyone wishing to make and market it.

PS: After knocking the idea around a bit more, someone here in San Jose suggested that I might create a eruv shooter that would shoot web string from place to place ala Spiderman thus creating an eruv as you go. This might be a big hit with Orthodox kids, but firing the eruv shooter might violate the Sabbath law against work, so we would need a ruling on this first.

Another helpful soul said I could market hula-hoops as eruvim. People could walk with their hips swiveling the hoop getting both a halachic and an aerobic workout at the same time. This too sounds a bit like work, and we would have to check that out, but I appreciate the seriousness with which people are taking this idea.

I am sure that with a little imaginative effort we can create Sabbath law that is good both for the Jews and the birds.

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