Eruv or not to eruv: who cares?

By David Aaronovitch, August 12, 2012

The other day, notices appeared in our area informing of a consultation concerning the erection of an eruv. As the notices went up, so too did the balloon. One hundred per cent of those questioned by Aaronopoll in a survey for this column, were not just opposed to the eruv, they were foaming at the mouth. In fact, they were opposed to an angry extent completely out of proportion with what an eruv is.

It is certainly true that the idea of an eruv is not an easy one to explain. For a start, it means dealing with what a peculiar deity the God of the Orthodox Jew really is. It is one thing to be omniscient and omnipresent. Creating universes is a big activity; populating them with everything from microbes to Madonna requires detailed work on an unimaginable scale. But to then become side-tracked by the minutiae and trivialities of human behaviour, down to worrying about whether one human has stepped outside its own front door carrying a baby during Shabbat, suggests a super-picky celestial Jobsworth. Like an old-time, cane-happy, public-school teacher on the hunt for pubescent sinners, this God is a minor sadist and it rather follows that those who choose to believe in this version do so out of masochism

So to temper that divine sadism - as an eruv does - seems problematic. The Great One has told you to rest on Shabbat and by that He means DO NOTHING. Zip. Carry nothing. Go nowhere. Rest even if the result is utterly unrestful. Or else. But if you stick a wire up between some poles, then the Eternal will bend the rules for you. Somehow He agrees to be fooled into thinking that you're still at home, when in fact you're a mile away, festooned in babies.

It is very funny then, when Orthodox folk, encountering opposition to an eruv, accuse opponents of making life difficult for them. "Don't you want us to be able to carry our babies around?" they ask accusingly, seeming to forget that it's the Almighty who is the problem here.

We can agree, then, that people who want eruvs are an odd, irrational bunch. But my next proposition is that so are the people who oppose them. In the first place, you really do hardly know they're there. In fact on my Saturday morning run (you don't like it, God? So make it snow) I pass into and out of an eruv four times. But I only know this because I looked the map. Yet to listen to some anti-eruvniks you'd think barbed wire and guard-dogs marked the boundaries.

You’d think barbed wire and dogs marked the boundaries

Others accept that they may not actually notice anything, as such, but that the very knowledge of the eruv's existence around them is some kind of imposition. If Orthodox Jews turn my garden walls into an imagined border (this thinking seems to go), then this is an act of psychic imperialism, incorporating my essence somehow into their strange territory.

If that's irrational, then so is the punitive desire to make the Orthodox suffer for being so bloody pious. After all, if you think that all these rules are daft, why would you nevertheless insist on other human beings applying that daftness as rigidly as possible?

In fact, I can think of only one rational objection to an eruv and that is that if you have one, then Orthodox Jews will flock to your area from un-eruved locations, and before you know it all the shops will close on Friday, the pavements will be blocked by multi-buggies and the streets will be full of old Volvos being driven with the true believer's unconcern for the present life.

To which there is an obvious answer. Make the eruvs as big as possible. String one round the M25. Another round Manchester. Then Orthodox Jews can negotiate more comfortably with their strangely officious God wherever they are. And we'll all be happy.

Last updated: 11:45am, August 12 2012