Eruv Fits Early Into Route 34 Plans
by Paul Bass | Jul 30, 2012 4:33 pm
Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Religion, Transportation
The rabbi pointed high up in the sky to a light pole bearing a barely distinguishable wire. “Do you touch that one?” he asked the civil engineer beside him.
“I need to look at my plans,” replied the engineer as cars whooshed by on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
For the most part, though, the engineer, Daniel P. Casey (at left in above photo), was asking the questions. The rabbi, Dov Greer (at right), was offering answers, offering a seminar on the Jewish concept of “eruv.”
An eruv is an area with a continuous symbolic boundary that allows the religiously observant to carry keys or food or push strollers on the Sabbath. Downtown New Haven has an eruv (known as the “Yale Eruv”), though most people don’t notice it. It consists of wires high up on poles connected to each other or to walls or fences; existing telephone and electrical wires can count, which is why most people don’t notice them. New Haven’s downtown eruv connects to an older west side eruv at Orchard Street, enabling religious Jews to travel on foot and carry things basically from the Wilbur Cross Parkway in upper Westville to State Street. (Details of the boundaries can be found here.) Eruvs date back some 2,000 years to the time of the Talmud.
The engineer and the rabbi’s colloquium was more than academic. Casey, on contract with the state Department of Transportation (DOT), walked along Route 34 with Greer to start figuring out how to keep the eruv intact next year when a $35 million overhaul of the road begins.
The state plans to gradually fill in the Route 34 Connector mini-highway-to-nowhere and reconfigure the streets there as part of a project called Downtown Crossing, which includes construction of a new $100 million 10-story biomedical-oriented office tower by developer Carter Winstanley.
In the process, crews will move or replace light poles that keep the eruv aloft and connected and rip up streets along the boundaries.
So Casey walked the stretch of road with Greer last Wednesday to start planning an eruv-preservation strategy, with the goal of avoiding any Sabbaths with the boundary broken.
“We’re getting on top of it before the project takes off,” Casey said.
In the process, the state hopes to avoid the headaches it caused observant Jews on its last controversial large-scale street reconfiguring in New Haven, the $18.8 million widening of upper Whalley Avenue. The removal of telephone poles near Dayton Street blocked the paths of some people walking to Sabbath services at Westville Synagogue. (Read about that here.)
Greer met Casey in front of Knights of Columbus headquarters at Church and MLK. The DOT will widen the street there to prepare for closing the last exit of the Route 34 Connector. In the process, it may have to move light poles out of the way, including the one pictured, atop of which runs the eruv wire.
Moving the wire from old poles to new poles “should be the last thing you do before removing the old poles,” Greer suggested.
“You don’t need a rabbi to relocate a wire,” Greer told Casey. Just remember that wires must always rest on top of the poles, not the side.
He also suggested moving wires on Mondays or Tuesdays, so that if a problem arises, a rabbi and the DOT can swing into action before Friday sundown ushers in the Sabbath.
How about wood rather than steel poles? Casey asked.
That’s fine, Greer responded. “The key thing is the wire on top.”
Casey took Greer’s number as well as the numbers of Rabbi Noah Cheses from the New Haven Eruv committee as well as of the rabbi overseeing Yale’s eruv, Mayer Behrend. “Every time a contractor comes on board” for a portion of the project, Casey promised, he will forward all the numbers.
They crossed the busy intersection to walk the grassy slope dividing MLK from the Connector just west of the Church Street intersection. The eruv crosses high over trees there before swinging back across MLK. Greer needed his sunglasses; you could barely see the wire in the midday sun.
The duo, by this point joined by Tony Bialecki (at left in photo) from city government’s economic development office, proceeded to the corner of MLK and College. Greer pointed across the bridge to the other side of the Connector, to the Yale-New Haven and medical school district. At that point you don’t see light poles on the west side of College. In fact, around the hospital complex the eruv committee has found too few spots for several blocks around to which to attach wire or otherwise complete a boundary. As a result, people have to walk through the children’s hospital to get into Smilow Cancer Hospital or the main Yale-New Haven buildings. Greer said he hopes that the Downtown Crossing street reworking will also lead to a solution for a complete Yale-New Haven eruv.
Next year in New Haven, perhaps, or the year after. In the meantime, modern progress is rumbling its way to Route 34, with an ancient imperative riding along.
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Oh My God.
This is pretty cool! I will google more info.
Very interesting tradition.
I can’t help but wonder though if all religions with similar “idiosyncrasies” will be able to maintain their (admittedly symbolic) infrastructure in place no matter what.
And can we clarify that no special pieces of religious wire, with no other purpose, are being used in state construction projects?
Well I certainly learned something new today from you Rabbi Dov Greer…..thanks!
Jewish law also forbids one from harming someone directly or indirectly and requires that a person take effective steps to ensure that his or her property is safe.
The Eruv is a noble cause, but personally, if I were Greer I would be far more worried about all of the drivers and pedestrians who will continue to be killed on this road (literally, every year) due to the inability of the DOT and City to design something that meets basic safety minimums.
Is it legal for the government to spend money or time to put up religious symbols or apparati? Just because they aren’t Christian doesn’t mean we should not care about the separation of church and state. This is just a question; I don’t know the answer.
I do think it’s a nice gesture by the DOT.
If an eruv is an area with a continuous symbolic boundary, why not just use the city line? isn’t that a symbolic boundary?
it seems having a wire laying on top of utility poles may be hazardous to electrical, cable, and telephone workers.
if an eruv wire came down in a storm, or is taken down by a falling branch, and it scratches a car, who is liable for the damage, Rabbi Greer, for the wire, or City of New Haven, for allowing it?
Just my thoughts…
Eruvs serve to create a larger private domain. In order to consider an area a private domain, the area must cover at minimum an area of about 12 square feet and must be somehow demarcated from its surroundings, either by a wall of some sort or by virtue of its topography (that is, it is either all higher or all lower than its surroundings).
The problem was that it is impractical to build a continuous solid wall around a community. However, the Rabbis noticed that doors are permitted within walls, and that a doorway consists of two parts: the vertical members and the lintel on top. In fact, a wall may have quite a few doors, and still be considered to enclose an area. In the limiting case, there are many doorway openings and having very little of solid wall remaining.
It’s gotta be a door, dude. A door in a wall.
No objection from me, but it does seem somewhat odd that these special arrangements are made, when similar government action re Christians would result in a big stink,
Just looked across the street where a lone wire complete with a transformer runs from the top of one pole to the next , and up the hill toward Ridge Rd..
Do I live a special route to the Ridge Road Synagogue (B’Nai Jacob?) or is it just Comcast?
The history behind this is fascinating but it is really silly in this day-and-age. We are spending money on making sure wires don’t come down during road construction? I thought church and state are separate in this country? Why not invite the Rabbi to rent a cherry picker and move his own wire.
For all those posting in regards to separation of church and state, please explain to me why all of our state offices are closed on Christmas? Thank you
@Madison. I don’t claim to have any answers. And like I said, I don’t object to the DOT’s involvement here (as long as it doesn’t cost too much). Your Christmas question is also a puzzling question, but it’s not this question, so I don’t see what your point is.
Imagine some Christian group put a bunch of crosses on public property and then, during construction, the DOT consulted with them about how to leave the crosses in place and to agree how to help put some of them back up. Wouldn’t that violate separation of Church and State? I should hope so! How’s this different?
@ Madison: It has nothing to do with holidays that have ZERO result in increasing spending of tax payers money. It has to do with the fact that we are proposing spending excess money to make sure a string doesn’t get taken down during construction process, because of a religious belief.
Let me remind you we put up menorahs now right beside the Christmas Trees so your argument about Church and State only having to do with Christian holidays is null.
Bottom line is we are all hypocrites in this country. I just don’t want to see an already out-of-control construction project eat up more of our tax money for a string that really doesn’t do a thing (in all reality) other than make a group of people feel like they are adhering to their ancient, religious beliefs, which in fact are actually not being adhered to at all by doing the activities they are doing during the shabbat, within the boundaries of this string.
I do understand the concern regarding tax dollars being spent. However, lets not use the separation of church and state issue. In fact, not only does the state close for specific christian holidays but so does New Haven.
Specifically Christmas but also good Friday and a few others. Workers were off with pay for those days yet other religions had to use a personal or vacation day if they wanted off for one of their religious holidays. Lets keep the Church and State separate from this issue and argue about how much this is going to cost…. thank you very much.
WestvilleAdvocate’s third paragraph gave me chills!
“Bottom line is we are all hypocrites in this country. I just don’t want to see an already out-of-control construction project eat up more of our tax money for a string that really doesn’t do a thing (in all reality) other than make a group of people feel like they are adhering to their ancient, religious beliefs, which in fact are actually not being adhered to at all by doing the activities they are doing during the shabbat, within the boundaries of this string.”
Ouch! However the article states that this tradition dates back a good 2000 years…
Seems like we all have been attempting to skirt Divine Laws for just as long…
That said I am strongly considering building labyrinth in my neighborhood now.
Kudos to everyone involved in planning ahead rather than going back to fix a problem after it has arisen.
The erev is an important part of an Orthodox Jewish community because it allows members to carry and even to wheel a baby carriage within its boundaries on the sabbath and certain other holidays. People who observe this will often chose to live in a community based on the availability of an erev.
I am saddened when readers immediately assume that sensitivity to the needs of those who practice Judaism constitutes preferential treatment. Separation of church and state involves not imposing the religious views of the majority on a minority—as was done in Spain when Jews and Muslims were forced to convert to Catholicism. But it also means not setting up roadblocks to practice a particular religion—as destroying the erev would do.
The erev does not necessarily incur additional expense when it initiated, since existing power, phone or other lines are used where possible. The community pays to have a rabbi or other knowledgeable person inspect the erev each week to ensure it is unbroken, and sometimes to erect a supporting beam. In most cases, the same people who use the erev save the city money because their children attend parochial schools.
I’m cool with this so long as the public utilities help me arrange my candles in a perfect circle for my wiccan holiday practices, and the City of New Haven doesn’tinterfere with my cousins’ chicken sacrafices for their Santeria celebrations.
Thank you Sarah for your well thought out statement. To some of the other comments….(sigh).
I think Walt’s statement is a bit overboard, because the Constitution recognizes religion not weird private hobbies and Judaism is obviously an ancient and respected religion.
I still don’t understand intellectually how putting up these wires is different from putting up crosses on the top of the telephone poles. Is it just that Jews are a minority religion in the US? Maybe that’s reason enough and that’s what Elaine and Sarah are saying. It’s not a very satisfying answer to me, though.
The whole thing about not going to public schools doesn’t really work, because a lot of Christians go to Catholic school or are home-schooled, etc.
(I also hope Elaine and Sarah are not “sighing” at or “disappointed” by me. I was trying to ask a serious question and have a respectful conversation).
I think you mean Walt B ,not me (Different folks)
My second comment, pointing out that the Church/State relationship is really the essence of this story, contrary to Ms Braffman’s plea, was not accepted by the editors although I think it was nicer than Walt B’s post.
Such is life.