Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Daily Show Raises the Eruv

There are certain obscure laws in Judaism that one doesn't expect to be explained and debated on Comedy Central. Certainly the "legal fiction" known as an eruv is one of these.

According to Jewish law, a Jewish person is forbidden from carrying (or even pushing a baby stroller) from one domain to another on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays. There are actually several types of eruvin (plural) that allow Jewish people to circumnavigate what is forbidden on Shabbat, including the eruv tavshilin that allows us to cook meals for Shabbat on Jewish festivals.

On last night's episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, correspondent Wyatt Cenac took up the ongoing debate in Westhampton Beach, Long Island as to whether to allow for an eruv (thin wire attached to existing electrical poles that gives the appearance that all the homes are within the same domain for carrying on Shabbat). The secular Jews of this town object to the erection of an eruv as they believe it will turn their town over to an Orthodox Jewish majority as has happened in other locales.

The segment is humorous, but also tainted with the type of infighting and vitriol that Samuel Freedman wrote about in his book, Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry .

Here is the video:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartRabbi Jason Miller
The Thin Jew Line (Eruv)


Susan Bonowitz said...

Jon Stewart is brilliant...that skit was funny but it really makes us all look ridiculous.

Bobbie Naidoff Lewis said...

Well, the only one who REALLY looked ridiculous was the old guy leading the anti-eruv protest. The Orthodox were modern Orthodox and came across as very reasonable, as did the others who said it didn't bother them. And that one guy deserved to be made to look like an idiot!

Karen Kosarin Frank said...

Am I the only one who found the piece sad?

Susan Bonowitz ‎ said...

@Karen: No.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

This is not the first eruv controversy. The one in Englewood NJ (or maybe it was Teaneck) lasted for many years.

The thinking is that once there's an eruv, the public schools suffer... because the eruv makes the community enticing for the Orthodox who won't use the public schools. Less kids in the public schools leads to less funding, which leads to less extra-curricular programs, etc. It's really the ultimate in the Jew vs. Jew face-offs. The observant get mocked because the legal fiction is easily made to look silly and the secular Jews get mocked because they look so intolerant.

Anonymous said...

The fumiest part though was the black-hat with the eruv on the top of it - where the gentile can eat pork and milk at the same time.

I was having a tough time controlling my laughter.

Rabbi Charles Arian said...

That piece may contain the greatest line ever uttered in the history of television. "Whatever you are doing, it has to be horrible. You made a 73 year old Jewish man complain."

Anonymous said...

I can understand secular Jews being against the eruv, but I don't understand why I sometimes encounter affiliated Jews being opposed to the eruv on the grounds that they are "not Orthodox."
I don't understand this, doesn't the Conservative movement maintain that one is not allowed to carry in the public domain on Shabbat?

Anonymous said...

Great piece but couldn't they find a better spokesperson for the opponents of the Eruv? What's sad to me is that the Conservative community has pretty much forgotten the concept of the eruv. At it's best it can be a powerful, albeit symbolic, tool for strengthening Jewish communities. It's curious to me that the driving decision of the 50's didn't discuss the eruv.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

I also don't recall the "Driving Teshuva" discussing the eruv. I suppose that when you're already recognizing that the people have moved out to the suburbs far from the shul, you're beyond the point of using an eruv as a fix.

Remember, the rationale for that teshuva (right or wrong) was because Conservative Jews moved away from the neighborhoods around the shul. Once they lived too far to walk to shul, they simply stopped attending (or so the theory went). The teshuva sought to give them a heter (permission) to ride to and from the synagogue.

By the way, a true story: In rabbinical school I was sent to a congregation for Shabbat as a guest speaker. That Saturday night was a bar mitzvah havdallah service followed by a party. The rabbi allowed a valet company to come before Shabbat and park the guests' cars. He explained that this was the reason there was an eruv surrounding the parking lot -- so the guests would be able to carry their valet tickets into the shul.

Anonymous said...

My understanding of the driving teshuva was that it was OK to carry without in eruv in the process of driving to to shul.
If one can burn fuel why not carry?
Does the Conservative movement have any official position on carrying on Shabbat?
Most Conservative rabbis that I have known carry without an eruv, but I have never heard them say that this is OK, either. And most I have known that don't carry without an eruv, seem to do so as a personal choice, not because they view it as mandatory.
I have only been to one Conservative synagouge in my life where they announced if the eruv was up.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen any document really describing the "halacha" of driving to shul. What do you do if you are stopped by a policeman, if you run out of gas, if your battery goes dead, if you get a flat, let alone the role of the eruv. Perhaps you could put an eruv on top of the car much like the "hat eruv" that Jon Stewart's colleague was wearing. I do recall learning somewhere that according to the rules of driving on Shabbat, you could only drive to the nearest shul. More recently some have re-interpreted that as the nearest egalitarian shul. Perhaps my biggest concern however, is that if one accepts that one can drive on Shabbat to fullfill a mitzvah, there are lots of other mitzvot that in my mind equal the importance of going to shul. One is going to a friends home for a Shabbat meal, another is visiting a sick person in a hospital or at their home, etc. I think that the driving teshuva even if halachically correct (which I can't judge) ignored the importance of the geographic community, of Jews getting together on Shabbat and Yom Tov, of Jews simply passing each other on the street on Shabbat on their way to their shuls and saying "Shabbat Sholom". The decision was much too centered on the Synagogue, and a cynic might say on preserving jobs for Rabbis.