A New York community is struggling to understand the concept of an eruv, which effectively establishes a legal fiction that allows Orthodox Jews to carry things from their homes to their synagogues on the Sabbath. From Friday night to Saturday night, Orthodox Jews are allowed to carry objects within an enclosed space, but not from one domain to another. The eruv is pretty unobtrusive and it effectively creates one large enclosed space … as far as carrying objects for Orthodox Jews is concerned:
The eruv would consist of about 60 10-to-15-foot-long, five-eighths-of-an-inch-wide PVC strips affixed to utility poles, and painted to blend in with them. They would be difficult to see, and would be shorter than the poles themselves.
Here are two Jewish members of the community who simply don’t understand the concept of an eruv:
The president of Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach, Arnold Sheiffer, described himself as a proud Reform Jew. He argued that it was unconstitutional for the government to allow a symbolic religious boundary on public land.
“I should not be forced to live in any area demarked for one religious sect,” he said. “I don’t like the idea.”
Estelle Lubliner, another Jewish member of the anti-eruv group, said she feared that the eruv “will make more Orthodox people come in, and it’s not right to the history of these towns.”
“Why are they forcing the community to change?” she added.
So, I suppose it’s more accurate to say that some are struggling to understand it. Others, like Lubliner above, and like the “many” in the quote below, just don’t like Orthodox Jews and, apparently, aren’t too worried about saying so:
[M]any in Westhampton Village — a diverse mix of Catholics, Protestants and Jews — say they fear the prospect of more Orthodox Jews moving in if the eruv is constructed. The mayor, Conrad Teller, estimated that perhaps 90 to 95 percent of Westhampton Village is now against it. “It’s divisive,” he said. “I believe they think somebody’s trying to push something down their throats.”
Storekeepers on Main Street have voiced practical concerns, because Orthodox Jews traditionally don’t spend money on the Sabbath. “Retail is hard enough as it is,” said Anick Darbellay, sitting in her dress shop on Friday. “I don’t want to have to shut down on Saturdays. Have you been to the Five Towns?” she asked, referring to an Orthodox Jewish enclave in Nassau County. “That’s what happened there.”
These people, in order to blunt their blatant fear and distrust of those who are different in some way, turned to their narrow (and incorrect) understanding of the Constitution to make some sort of argument grounded in public reason rather than fear:
In 2012, the Quogue board of trustees ruled
that constructing an eruv “would very likely constitute a violation of the establishment clause” of the Constitution, and denied the application. Southhampton and Westhampton Village have not made a formal ruling, but Mr. Teller, the mayor, said he agreed with that reasoning.
“It’s about the separation of church and state,” he said.
This, of course, is patently false. There isn’t an establistment clause problem here because the government isn’t establishing a religion or preferrign one religion to another; the government is simply allowing a religious minority to more easily live their lives and practice their religion in a manner that doesn’t actually impact anyone else.
I should note that an eruv was constructed here in Omaha last year and, so far, no stores have been forced to close on Saturdays, nor has Omaha’s community been forced to change in any way. I know that it exists but I have never seen it, despite driving through it almost every day. All it has done is to make life easier for the Orthodox Jews who live here.
It’s absolutely bizarre — and very sad — that, rather than attempting to learn something about those whose beliefs are different, the majority population immediately acted like there was some sort of terrible threat to their country and their way of life.
HT: Sara Kohen.