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An eruv (plural: eruvin) is a virtually invisible unbroken demarcation of an area.
In the Northeastern US, many eruvin specifically use materials that are indistinguishable from the materials commonly found on utility poles. Often, the choice of material is mandated by the utility company.
An eruv is required because Jewish law prohibits the carrying or pushing of objects from a “private domain”, such as a home, to the “public domain” on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur.
For the current litigation going on in Bergen County, the maps below will indicate the placement of the eruv. In some locations, the eruv was completed prior to litigation commencing and in others, it’s the planned eruv expansion.
As was stated in court pleadings:
“The Vaad HaEruv, which is responsible for the eruvin in this area, determined after extensive review that the only feasible way to expand the existing Rockland County eruv (the “Eruv”) so that it covered all of the members of the Jewish Community of Rockland County was to cross into a stretch of Bergen County” (doc. #36 paragraph 11.)
In this map, the green area is part of the pre-existing NY eruv.
The yellow area is the part that was not within the NY eruv boundary the association wished to enclose.
The blue area is part of Bergen County where the eruv was placed in order to enclose the NY side.
As can be seen in a street map of the designated area (see below), the path chosen by the Eruv Association tracks the first streets in Bergen County running parallel to the border with utility lines to accomplish the goal of enclosing the eruv.
The structures comprising the eruv, as well as its maintenance and upkeep, is funded by the organization constructing it in a particular location.
The public does not fund eruvin through taxation.
If the eruv makes use of structures (e.g. telephone poles used to affix wires or tubing), a fee may be assessed by the owner of the utility poles to the eruv association. Any costs associated with the eruv are paid directly by those who put up the eruv, not passed through to utility customers.
Court cases to remove or block an eruv installation can be very expensive. The prevailing party in the eruv litigation is entitled to receive attorney’s fees from the losing party. The amount will depend on many factors including the length and complexity of the litigation.
In the 6 year Tenafly lawsuit, an agreement was reached for the Township to pay $325,000 to the eruv Association’s attorneys. In addition, the Town also paid the costs of their own counsel, experts and others.
In some litigation, such as in the Hamptons cases, the fees were waived by the Town in a settlement permitting the case to end and the eruv to permanently remain.
The Mayor of Mahwah, NJ has said that he predicts the Town could face a $10,000,000 bill if the litigation is seen through to the end.
No. An eruv is a purely functional device that encloses an area, and as opposed to signs, eruvin do not have an expressive component. In fact, many attachments are virtually impossible to spot.
In this photo, one of the rubber tubes is an eruv lechi while the other is a utility attachment:
Court have reached this conclusion several times.
The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (which is binding on Federal Courts in NJ) said:
“[W]e conclude that the plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing that affixing lechis to utility poles is “sufficiently imbued with elements of communication” to be deemed expressive conduct… on the record before us, it appears that the eruv serves a purely functional, non-communicative purpose indistinguishable, for free speech purposes, from that of a fence surrounding a yard or a wall surrounding a building.” (emphasis addded)
In fact, the Court went so far as to say why this is not a serious claim:
“[T]here is no evidence that Orthodox Jews intend or understand the eruv to communicate any idea or message. Rather, the evidence shows that the eruv–like a fence around a house or the walls forming a synagogue–serves the purely functional purpose of delineating an area within which certain activities are permitted.
We also reject the plaintiffs’ contention that the eruv may be deemed expressive simply because some residents of Tenafly who are not Orthodox Jews discern various unintended messages emanating from it, notwithstanding that these persons would not be intended recipients even if the lechis were meant to send a message. To accept this position would mean that whether conduct is expressive depends entirely on how observers perceive it–even if the actor had no communicative intent, and even if the actor disapproves of the message (or messages) discerned by the observers.” (emphasis added)
Not necessarily. Federal Courts governing New Jersey have ruled that an Eruv is not in the same legal category as objects, such as crosses or menorahs, that express a religious message.
This issue came up most recently in the opinion the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (which governs New Jersey) decided in the Tenafly litigation.
In that opinion, the Court said that the claim an eruv is expressive (like the 18-foot Chanukah menorah at issue in Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU) was misplaced.
While the Court did agree that “things ordinarily used for functional purposes can be used for communicative purposes as well”, they went on to say:
“the 18-foot menorah was both intended and understood to express “a recognition that Christmas is not the only traditional way of observing the winter-holiday season” and “an acknowledgment of Chanukah as a contemporaneous alternative tradition.””
“In sharp contrast here, there is no evidence that Orthodox Jews intend or understand the eruv to communicate any idea or message. Rather, the evidence shows that the eruv–like a fence around a house or the walls forming a synagogue–serves the purely functional purpose of delineating an area within which certain activities are permitted.”
“We also reject the plaintiffs’ contention that the eruv may be deemed expressive simply because some residents of Tenafly who are not Orthodox Jews discern various unintended messages emanating from it, notwithstanding that these persons would not be intended recipients even if the lechis were meant to send a message. To accept this position would mean that whether conduct is expressive depends entirely on how observers perceive it–even if the actor had no communicative intent, and even if the actor disapproves of the message (or messages) discerned by the observers.” (link to opinion)
Just as someone cannot look at PVC piping used for electrical or other purposes on a home and claim it is a sign, one may not change the ordinary way PVC piping is construed based on their subjective impressions.
There is no violation of the the Establishment Clause of the Constitution in permitting an eruv to be placed in the public “right of way”. This is an accommodation under the law, not an endorsement of religion. The items being accommodated are virtually identical and indistinguishable from items found on ordinary utility poles.
The Church / State argument has also been litigated at length. In discussing this issue in the Tenafly action, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said they found the “the Borough’s claim that it can remove the eruv because of its religious nature” to be “unpersuasive”.
In that case, the Borough of Tenafly argued that the decision to remove the eruv was “justified by its “compelling” interest in avoiding “an Establishment Clause controversy.”
The Court declared:
“Contrary to the Borough’s position, however, a government interest in imposing greater separation of church and state than the federal Establishment Clause mandates is not compelling in the First Amendment context.”
There is a biblical prohibition not to carry between a private domain (e.g. one’s home) to a public domain (often defined as a space which 600,000 travelers traverse in a single day).
As a safeguard against accidentally violating this proscription, Rabbis instituted rules against carrying from areas that are demarcated as private (rashut hayahid) to public area (rashut harabim), and vice-versa. Consequently, Jews observing the laws of Shabbat are not permitted to carry objects from a private to a public domain on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur.
However, the same Rabbis that created the safeguard which extended the rules against carrying in this non-private/non-public area (called Karmalit in Hebrew), also created the concept of an eruv which converts the space to a private domain, thus allowing people to carry objects.
Since the eruv acts as a large private domain, carrying is permitted within the boundaries of the eruv.
A popular misconception is that you are not permitted to carry objects on the Sabbath or Yom Kippur and the eruv acts as a “loophole” or “trick”. In fact, the prohibition and the eruv were both created by Rabbis, more than a thousand years ago, in an effort to balance strict adherence with the written law and practical functionality.
There are over a thousand years of commentary and rulings on the issue and you can consult your local Rabbinical authority with any specific questions.
The following is a halachic (legal) opinion from Yehuda Halevi (The Kuzari) written around 1140 C.E.:
(נ) [אמר הכוזרי]: אולם עלי לשאלך עוד בדבר הערוב אשר בו הקלה במצות השבת איככה מתירים את אסר האלוה ית’ על ידי תחבולה נקלה ופחותה כזאת:
50. Al Khazari: Now I wish to ask thee concerning the Eruv, which is one of the licenses of the law of Sabbath. How can we make lawful a thing which God has forbidden by means so paltry and artificial?
(נא) אמר החבר: חס ושלום כי יסכימו המון החסידים והחכמים על התרת קשר מקשרי תורת האלוה ית’ הלא הם הם אשר חזקו את הקשרים האלה באמרם ועשו סיג לתורה ואסור זה של הוצאה והכנסה מרשות היחיד לרשות הרבים ומרשות הרבים לרשות היחיד הוא אחד הסיגים שעשו הם כי התורה לא אסרה אסור זה אולם אחרי עשותם את הסיג הזה עשו בו דרך להקלה ראשית למען לא יחשב האסור שאסרו הם מתוך השתדלותם לחזק את המצוה כעומד במדרגה אחת עם אסור התורה ושנית למען הקל מעט על העם בהלוך ובטלטול אך כדי שיגיעו בני אדם לקלה זו ברשות הטילו עליהם את מעשה הערוב לשם הבחנה בין המעשה המתר לגמרי לבין הסיג ולבין עצם האסור:
51. The Rabbi: Heaven forbid that all those pious men and Sages should concur in untying one of the knots of the divine law. Their intention was to make it tighter and therefore they said: Build a fence round the law. Part of this is the Rabbinic prohibition of carrying things out of private to public ground or vice versa, a prohibition not of Mosaic origin. In constructing this fence they introduced this license, to prevent their religious zeal ranking with the Torah, and at the same time to give people some liberty in moving about. This liberty was gained in a perfectly lawful way and takes the form of the Eruv, which marks a line between what is entirely legal, the fence itself, and the secluded part inside the latter.
-Yehudah Halevi, The Kuzari, 3:50-51 (circa 1140 C.E.)
While eruvin are traditionally built within areas where Jewish families live, there are times where the physical structures present make this hard or impossible.
In the case of Rockland County, an eruv encompasses the vast majority of areas in which Jewish families reside. To enclose the remaining areas, it was necessary to create an eruv that extended to the closest available utility poles in Bergen County, which can be seen on the map here in blue.
An eruv (technically, an eruv chatzeirot) is a boundary made of natural geographic features (e.g. a cliff), manmade structures (e.g. a wall) or most commonly a series of theoretical doorways which consist of the side posts called “lechis” and the top lintel called “mashkoff”.
There is no requirement for the eruv to be particularly visible, so eruvin are often designed to be as unobtrusive as possible.
In the Northeast, eruvim are typically established by the attachment of a small string as well as wooden or plastic strips, called “lechis,” to telephone or utility poles.
These are the types currently found in Towns such as Englewood, Teaneck, Tenafly and others in Bergen County.
Based on the sincerely-held religious belief of certain observant Jews, without an eruv, they are unable to push or carry objects outside their homes on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur.
As a result, men or women who are confined to wheelchairs or who have small children (or have relatives / guests who are) cannot attend Sabbath and Yom Kippur services or engage in any outside activity or even carry prayer books, keys, reading glasses or medicines.
The eruv serves to permit these everyday activities
Bias crimes are codified under NJ Rev Stat § 2C:16-1 (2013).
An act of vandalism may be considered a bias crime if
the victim or his property was knowingly selected to be the target of an offense or harassment because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.
The vandalism need not be directed at a religious object in order to constitute a bias crime under the statute.
As an example: vandalism of cars owned by Black families in a particular neighborhood may be a bias crime because the crime was knowingly targeted at the race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity of a specific groups.
Similarly, vandalism of PVC piping used by Jewish groups to form an eruv may be a bias crime because the target was knowingly chosen based on the religion of the group that put it up.
For more information, please see the Guide to Identifying & Understanding Bias Crimes prepared by the NJ Attorney General’s office.
Does the construction of an eruv in my area mean that Orthodox Jews are claiming ownership of my house?
No, an eruv affects only an area’s status for the purposes of carrying on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur. This is no different that how every inch of the continental US has been designated part of a specific Catholic diocese, governed by a Bishop for the purposes of Catholic religious observance. Much like the eruv’s “private domain”, being placed in an diocese does not affect you unless you are practicing that particular religion.
The use of the term “private domain” when talking about eruvin might cause one think that its construction implies some sort of rights over the properties inside. There is no basis for this view in US law or Jewish law.
The class of “domain” here refers to how enclosed an area is, not who has property rights over it. The only function of an eruv is to make an area technically “enclosed” and allow carrying inside it in public places as if it was not the Sabbath or Yom Kippur. An eruv does not give anyone permission to occupy, sell or trespass on another’s private property.
There are also those that object to encountering any sort of religious “domain”, but we think it’s apparent that such a designation is entirely imaginary to anyone but Orthodox Jews.
A multitude of eruvin have been established nationwide and worldwide. The first documented eruv in the United States was established in 1894 in the city of St. Louis, Missouri.
Since then at least twenty-eight out of the fifty states now contain one or more municipalities with an eruv. These include, among many others:
- Cherry Hill, New Jersey
- East Brunswick, New Jersey
- Englewood, New Jersey
- Fort Lee, New Jersey
- Maplewood, New Jersey
- Paramus, New Jersey
- Passaic-Clifton, New Jersey
- Rutherford, New Jersey
- Teaneck, New Jersey
- Edison, New Jersey
- West Orange, New Jersey
- Long Branch, New Jersey
- Tenafly, New Jersey
- Ventnor, New Jersey
- Westhampton Beach
- Southampton, New York
- Quogue, New York
- Huntington, New York
- Stony Brook, New York
- Patchogue, New York
- East Northport, New York
- Merrick, New York
- Mineola, New York
- North Bellmore, New York
- Plainview, New York
- Great Neck, New York
- Valley Stream, New York
- West Hempstead, New York
- Long Beach, New York
- Atlantic Beach, New York
- Lido Beach, New York
- Roslyn, New York
- Searingtown, New York
- Forest Hills, New York
- Kew Gardens, New York
- Belle Harbor, New York
- Holliswood, New York
- Jamaica Estates, New York
- New Rochelle, New York
- Scarsdale, New York
- White Plains, New York
- Albany, New York
- Manhattan, New York
- Bridgeport, Connecticut
- Hartford, Connecticut
- Norwalk, Connecticut
- Stamford, Connecticut
- New Haven, Connecticut
- Waterbury, Connecticut
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Springfield, Massachusetts
- Worcester, Massachusetts
- Providence, Rhode Island
- Berkeley, California
- La Jolla, California
- Long Beach, California
- Los Angeles, California
- Palo Alto, California
- San Diego, California
- San Francisco, California
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Lower Merion, Pennsylvania
- Chicago, Illinois
- Buffalo Grove, Illinois
- Glenview-Northbrook, Illinois
- Skokie, Illinois
- Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Southfield, Michigan
- Oak Park, Michigan
- West Bloomfield Township, Michigan
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Potomac, Maryland
- Silver Spring, Maryland
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Birmingham, Alabama
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Miami, Florida
- Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
- Boca Raton, Florida
- Boyton Beach, Florida
- Deerfield Beach, Florida
- Delray Beach, Florida
- Jacksonville, Florida
- Denver, Colorado
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- Columbus, Ohio
- Portland, Oregon
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Nashville, Tennessee
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Dallas, Texas
- Houston, Texas
- San Antonio, Texas
- Richmond, Virginia
- Seattle, Washington
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Washington, D.C.
Most recently, eruvin have been established in Plano and Austin, Texas; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Omaha, Nebraska.