Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why Do They Hate Us?

I do not use community wide Eruvin. An Eruv is a Halachic partition that encloses a halachicly public domain and makes it a halachicly private domain. Carrying in a public domain on Shabbos is forbidden. By building an Eruv one may carry.

I have always felt that the task of building a community Eruv is too huge and complicated to implement so that all Halachic concerns - and the wide array of Halachic opinions - are accounted for. No where is this more evident than in Chicago.

The community-wide Eruv in the West Rogers park section of Chicago is typical of these problems. It was built under the guidance of two of the most respected Rabbanim in Chicago - one Charedi and one Modern Orthodox - in a marvelous example of friendship and cooperation between these two worlds.

Their work was vetted by a Halachic expert in this issue. Additionally Rav Dovid Feinstein - the distinguished Rosh HaYeshiva and son of the late Posek, Rav Moshe Feinstein - stated in writing that his father would have approved of it. The West Rogers Park Eruv is therefore widely used by a cross section of the entire spectrum of Orthodox community.

So what’s the problem?! The problem is that the Eruv is still very controversial. The right wing Yeshivishe world generally does not use it. Rav Aaron Soloveichik was strongly opposed to it based on his interpretation of Rav Moshe’s Psak - which was at odds with Rav Dovid’s interpretation. He said that according to Rav Moshe, an Eruv in a population of the size incorporated by this Eruv cannot render it a private domain. Carrying inside it violates an essential prohibition of Shabbos.

The truth is that even without Rav Soloveichik’s concerns there are reason to be cautious about community-wide Eruvin. But even with all of the problems I do not oppose their construction. An Eruv enhances Oneg Shabbos - enjoying the day - an important element of Shabbos. It enables people with very young children to leave their homes and visit friends and family. One may rely on the Psak a reliable Rav and use a community-wide Eruv.

Which brings me to an issue that has recently raised its ugly head - that of anti-Semitism by Jews ignorant of Jewish law. Non Orthodox Jews generally do not understand the fundamental nature of an Eruv. When they hear ‘Eruv’ - they see ghetto. They protest it because it’s ‘too Jewish’. They do not want their enclaves to become identifiably Orthodox. What turns a community more into a ghetto than partitions? They want to be Americans first and Jews second. The Eruv -they think - will subvert their Americanism.

How ironic it is when non Jewish government officials are willing to accommodate their Orthodox constituents while other Jews oppose them. The further irony is that an Eruv will make Orthodox Jews less ‘different’ and be more like them. It enables Orthodox Jews to do what secular Jews do - visit their friends and family instead of being forced to be ‘different’ and stay home.

I don’t blame them entirely for this attitude though. Their fears may in part be based on an almost constant stream of negative news in the media about what is happening in the Orthodox world.

They see a Chasidic Rebbe involved in an elaborate tax evasion scheme. They see another Chasidic Rabbi guilty of sexual abuse and escaping to Israel to live freely for decades. They see another Chasidic Rebbe being proclaimed as the Messiah. They see a Charedi Rabbi being arrested for over 20 years of child sexual abuse. And they see a Modern Orthodox rabbi convicted for decades long sexual abuse and sentenced to prison. And then there are all those riots in Meah Shearim and Ramat Bet Shemesh. All these stories have been reported in major news media including the New York Times. Can anyone really blame them for saying, ‘Not in my backyard’? Maybe when Orthodox Jews talk 'Eruv' - they see burning dumpsters. It’s hard to blame them for thinking this way.

But, the real issue is ignorance. That is the real enemy here. And these non Orthodox Jews need to be educated by their own Rabbis - who know better... that an Eruv will not harm their image and that Orthodox Jews are Americans too.

Modified: 6/22/08 10:36 PM CDT