As an Urban Studies major at Columbia University, I was required to write an undergraduate thesis before completing my degree. My concentration within the major was sociology as I loved to learn about the various cultures and communities that resided in a particular city, how the city was physically structured to enable, enforce, or eliminate group boundaries, and to understand how immigrant groups in particular acculturated and adapted over time. As a Talmud (Jewish Law and Rabbinics) major in the joint program with the Jewish Theological Seminary, it was important to me to put a Jewish spin on whatever topic I was going to write about for my thesis, but the areas in which the two disciplines overlapped were few and far between.
I’ve grown up hearing people ask whether one “holds by the eruv,” and have on more than one occasion heard it referred to as a rabbinic loophole, but I was interested in looking at the eruv through a different lens. There is a biblical prohibition observed by many religious Jews against carrying from the private domain into the public domain, and vice versa, during the Sabbath (Shabbat). In order to allow families to push strollers or carry house keys, prayer shawls, or children from home to the synagogue and back, the rabbis established the eruv, a wire or string that is raised a particular height within a public area to symbolically enclose it, thereby creating a larger private space and allowing them to remain a physical part of their community. I wanted to explore the ways in which the eruv not only enables observant Jewish people to partake in their community, but the ways in which it created a community in and of itself. Through my research I found that synagogues and individuals who “hold by” or utilize the eruv regularly communicate with one another about its status and function, they work together to establish and care for the wire, and they benefit from the fact that members of their communities are able to be together through Shabbat.
Rabbi Ari Moffic and her idea of the spiritual eruv echo the notion of community formation as a function of the eruv. By enabling individuals to connect with others who share their interests, schedules, and professions, the spiritual eruv is able to help individuals seeking out a Jewish community with which to belong, particularly those who may otherwise feel alienated or isolated from a community, to be active and contributing members within it. I know that as an adult in New York City, I often feel overwhelmed by the number of programs offered to Jewish individuals by the many organizations throughout the city, and disappointed when I miss an event I would have loved because I had no way to find out it was happening. Although I have friends throughout the city, the chance to learn of the many opportunities that are available and applicable to me as a married, twenty-nine-year-old Conservative Jewish woman would enable me to develop more than just a larger group of friends; it would allow me to build my own community without ever needing to feel alone. Similarly, interfaith couples may sometimes wonder how they will be perecived in a congregation, whether there will be barriers to full participation by them and their extended family, and whether the partner who is not Jewish will feel part of that community and not like a guest. The spiritual eruv offers these couples opportunities to meet in smaller groups with others who understand and appreciate their journey, as well as with a supportive Rabbi, in their own spaces and in their own time. This necessary and welcoming outreach is sure to help interfaith families feel welcomed and accepted, offering this alternative community as a blessing to all who call it home.