Eruv & Women

The construction of an eruv in most traditional communities may be a response to the needs of women.

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An eruv encircles a town, and makes it all private property, even though we all know it isn’t private property. An eruv is sometimes nothing more than a wire connected at appropriate points to existing telephone wires, in order to completely close the perimeter. There are eruv checkers and eruv hot lines—to see if the eruv is in order.

In recent years, many communities have constructed eruvin (plural), putting Shabbos keymakers and Shabbos babysitters out of business, but, in general, making life much less complicated and more pleasant for traditional Jews.

A Wall that Liberates and Unites

For most of my early married and childraising years, I lived in a community that had no eruv; and therefore, if I didn’t plan ahead for a babysitter to mind the babies at home or take them out in the carriage, there was no way that I could go to shul or take an afternoon walk with [my husband] and the bigger children. For the most part, I took it with great equanimity.

When I look back on those times, I can only wonder in amazement why it didn’t bother me more and why I didn’t organize a huge rally of all Orthodox mothers of young children. Although no eruv has come out of a women’s protest group, I think the increase in eruvin has something to do with the new perception women have of themselves, their needs, and their place in community life.

In Riverdale, New York, where we live, it took five years to get that eruv up. There were people who resisted the idea, fearing it would lead to transgression of Shabbat—that is, the domino theory of sinning.Also, the law is very complicated, and there are very few eruv experts around. And, like all things, it costs money. But, finally, it was accomplished. I was very pleased to see it go up, even though it came too late for me to benefit personally. However, in a way I, too, reap its benefits every week. It’s very satisfying on Shabbat morning to see all those baby carriages and strollers parked outside of shul, and to see all the beautiful new young life inside.

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Blu Greenberg

Blu Greenberg is the founding president of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. She was also the Conference Chair of both the first and second International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy. She is the author of Black Bread: Poems After the Holocaust, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, and On Women and Judaism: A View From Tradition.