Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Chicago Eruv Controversy

If there was anything more controversial that the Chicago Eruv, I can’t think of it. Full disclosure, I don’t use the Eruv.

From its very inception, when it was only a twinkle in the eye of its proponents there was heated debate over whether an Eruv should be built. The biggest obstacle was Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik. And every time the idea was brought up it was shot down because of Rabbi Soloveichik’s opposition. Rav Ahron was not the only one opposed. So were the Roshei Yeshiva from Telshe and the Roshei Kollel of the Chicago Community Kollel (Lakewood).

But the pressure to build one was mounting, and one Modern Orthodox Rabbi here, Rabbi Leonard Matanky was prevailed upon to do so. He is a very Ehrliche individual and very trustworthy. At about that time, the very charismatic Rabbi Zev Cohen, who had been a popular Avreich and Magid Shiur in the above mentioned Kollel had been hired to be the Rav of his current Shul. (Rabbi Cohen is currently the very popular and beloved Rav of the largest Orthodox Shul in the city of Chicago and he has many people who consider him their Posek and confidant, well beyond the Shul membership.)

He was recruited to “partner up” with Rabbi Matanky and he accepted. I’m not sure exactly why he became involved, but he has been quoted as saying something to the effect that if Chicago is going to build an Eruv he wanted to make sure that every possible Hidur (religious enhancement) be built into it.

But he knew that Rav Soloveichik was opposed. So he set up a meeting to try and convince him of the necessity of building one in the community, that they were going to do it with or without him anyway, and that though Rav Ahron would not be expected to endorse the project, that he should at least not resist it. He was roundly refused and told not to build it. Rav Ahron fought the Eruv, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Rav Ahron was opposed to the Eruv for two reasons. One was the Brisker position that a Reshsus HaRabbim D’Oraisa (biblically defined public domain) does not require a population of Shishim Riva (600,000 residents). As long as the width of any public area is 16 Amos (cubits), that makes a public domain. An Eruv cannot be made in any area so defined.

But this is a minority view and Rav Ahron did not oppose construction based on that. He opposed it based on the majority opinion that a public domain requires the 16 Amah wide parameter plus a population of 600,000 people. Without getting too technical Rav Ahron said that the area to be enclosed by the Eruv had those two conditions met, thus any Eruv built would not be effective and that people using the Eruv were in effect being Mechalel Shabbos B’Shogeg on a biblical level. And that those responsible for the construction were being Machtie the Rabbim, causing the public to sin, a position held had until his dying day. He based his Psak on his understanding of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Teshuvos. And he strongly believed that Rav Moshe would have Assur’d the Eruv.

Rav Moshe’s son, Rav Dovid Feinstein disagreed and said his father would have permitted it. So the Eruv was built much to the consternation of Rav Ahron. And I’m told that Rabbi Cohen suffered greatly from Rav Ahron’s strong rejection. But he went ahead anyway and if I understand correctly it was also against the advice of his former Rosh Kollel, Rabbi Dovid Zucker who told him not to do it.

Agudath Israel Dayan, Rabbi Shmuel Feurst was also opposed to it saying that if the Zaken HaIr, the elder Rav of the city, Rabbi Soloveichik, is against it, it is a non starter.

The construction was not without threat of disruption. Brisk has its share of Kanaim who were very Makpid on the Kavod of their Rebbe and threatened to sabotage the project. But I don’t think they ever went through with it.

Rav Wosner of Monsey, an expert in citywide Eruvin was brought in to oversee the project as a Posek. As in all citywide Eruvin, in order to make them economically viable various pre-existing structures are incorporated to serve as Mechitzos (walls) to enclose the area. One of those was across the longest street in Chicago which is traversed by about 600,000 people per day. At the time of construction they actually measured and found it to be a bit under 600,000 but it was close. So they went ahead with it. This was a very controversial step. But the Rav HaMachshir, never-the-less gave his OK. There were many other Kulos utilized as there always are in every citywide Eruv. The Eruv was built, and it was given a Hecsher by Rav Wosner.

For those who rely on it, it has indeed enhanced the enjoyment of Shabbos, especially for young families with small children. They can now go out with their families to eat a Shabbos meal at a neighbor, parents or friends and they can similarly invite people with small children over to their own homes. Mothers with young children can go to Shul on Shabbos. Walks to the park with small children in the summer and all manner of outdoor activity previously unavailable are now very common occurrences. Young mothers no longer feel like prisoners in their own homes on a Shabbos.

Who uses the Eruv? Chasidim, Modern Orthodox, and most of those with young families who were Talmidim at HTC. Who does not use the Eruv? Briskers, Telzers, Lubavitchers, and members of the Chicago Community Kollel. There are individual exceptions to this but that is pretty much the breakdown.

I don’t use the Eruv in deference to my Rebbe. Besides, the Issur of Melacha on Shabbos is a pretty big one. If I am going to be Machmir in anything, it might as well be this. But I do not cast any aspersions on those who do use the Eruv. Two of my children do and two don’t.