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Tue Feb 5, 2013, 06:09 PM

Eruv: The (Nearly) Invisible Borders That Define Religious Jewish Life



Hazon Ish

Each of these images illustrates a type of architectural space where an eruv might be built -- a street, an alley, an intersection, etc. Similar images are common if not standard in contemporary discussions of eruvs. This compendium of images was created by Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, who was among the premier living rabbinic authorities in the first half of the 20th century.

Posted: 02/05/2013 11:18 am
Zachary Paul Levine

Along with notices about power outages, flooded subway tunnels, and gas shortages in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy came this dispatch from Long Island:

IMPORTANT POST-HURRICANE INFORMATION

Carrying or causing any item to be moved (ex: pushing, pulling, kicking, throwing, etc...) a distance of approx. 6 feet in an unenclosed area (such as a street or non-fenced- in lawn/backyard) is prohibited.


This notice was part of an announcement that the eruv in the Five Towns area would be "down" for the Jewish Sabbath. Though peculiar (can't carry a book more than six feet?), this notice relates to one of the most important aspects of Judaism: resting on the Sabbath. An eruv is a conceptual and physical enclosure around a Jewish community that allows its members to accomplish certain activities that Jewish law otherwise restricts on the Sabbath.

Yeshiva University Museum is currently presenting an exhibition, "It's a Thin Line," which I curated, on the eruv -- a topic that continues to amaze and confound our visitors, and, not least of all, me. Though the concept manifests in nearly invisible structures surrounding our neighborhoods and us, the exhibition's artifacts illustrate how much this topic affects Jewish life.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zachary-paul-levine/eruv-invisible-border-defines-sabbath-religious-jewish-life-photos_b_2567613.html

52 replies, 2661 views

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Reply Eruv: The (Nearly) Invisible Borders That Define Religious Jewish Life (Original post)
rug Feb 2013 OP
Skittles Feb 2013 #1
rug Feb 2013 #2
Skittles Feb 2013 #10
rug Feb 2013 #13
muriel_volestrangler Feb 2013 #14
rug Feb 2013 #15
muriel_volestrangler Feb 2013 #16
rug Feb 2013 #17
Meshuga Feb 2013 #18
cbayer Feb 2013 #3
rug Feb 2013 #4
cbayer Feb 2013 #5
rug Feb 2013 #6
cbayer Feb 2013 #7
virgogal Feb 2013 #8
rug Feb 2013 #9
virgogal Feb 2013 #11
rug Feb 2013 #12
Jim__ Feb 2013 #19
rug Feb 2013 #21
pink-o Feb 2013 #52
mr blur Feb 2013 #20
cbayer Feb 2013 #22
DavidDvorkin Feb 2013 #23
cbayer Feb 2013 #24
DavidDvorkin Feb 2013 #25
rug Feb 2013 #28
DavidDvorkin Feb 2013 #29
rug Feb 2013 #30
DavidDvorkin Feb 2013 #31
rug Feb 2013 #36
DavidDvorkin Feb 2013 #39
rug Feb 2013 #40
DavidDvorkin Feb 2013 #41
rug Feb 2013 #42
cbayer Feb 2013 #32
DavidDvorkin Feb 2013 #33
cbayer Feb 2013 #34
DavidDvorkin Feb 2013 #35
cbayer Feb 2013 #37
DavidDvorkin Feb 2013 #38
cbayer Feb 2013 #45
DavidDvorkin Feb 2013 #50
cbayer Feb 2013 #51
muriel_volestrangler Feb 2013 #44
cbayer Feb 2013 #46
muriel_volestrangler Feb 2013 #47
cbayer Feb 2013 #49
Meshuga Feb 2013 #43
cbayer Feb 2013 #48
pinto Feb 2013 #26
rug Feb 2013 #27

Response to rug (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 06:43 PM

1. I find this stuff fascinating

yes INDEED

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Response to Skittles (Reply #1)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 06:47 PM

2. So do I.

A lot of these practices seem silly at first blush (and maybe even on tenth blush), but there is something to be said for setting aside a time and place to put down your everyday concerns and spent some quiet time with friends and family.

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Response to rug (Reply #2)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 08:46 PM

10. I became interested in Jewish history when I Googled messusah

after being intrigued by one I spotted on an apartment door........it led to other links, each more interesting

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Response to Skittles (Reply #10)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 09:28 PM

13. Oh, that's a mezuzah.

The history and tradition of these customs is eye opening.

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Response to rug (Reply #2)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 09:46 PM

14. But 'eruv' seems to be designed to get away from that

It is there to stop the restriction to your own property, and allow you to go miles away. It has the slight whiff of the Mormon baptism of others after their death - a symbolic appropriation of property that is owned by people outside your faith.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #14)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 10:04 PM

15. The core attribute of property anywhere is the power to exclude.

But that's not what this is about.The eruv exists only because of, and is entwined with, Shabbath, the day of rest.

Here, somebody who knows about it can explain it:

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/practices/Ritual/Shabbat_The_Sabbath/In_the_Community/Eruv.shtml

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Response to rug (Reply #15)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 10:41 PM

16. But it's a way to get around the restrictions designed to make them rest

Rather than being restricted to their homes, where all they can do is rest and be with their family, it allows them to walk around for miles, carrying things. Now, I'd say carrying things is fine, but it's not the 'extreme rest' that the rules originally demanded. It's a ridiculously complicated way of getting rid of the effect of the law, when they could just change the law.

Yes, it's only symbolic property, but the OP article notes in the slideshow that there was a symbolic leasing of the island of Manhattan to the Jewish community in the 60s, by the New York mayor, to get the idea to work.

Frankly, it seems like an attempt to get attention, to me - "look at us, we hold these laws so sacred and unchangeable we'll do all kinds of crazy stuff to stick to the letter of them, but the spirit doesn't matter so much".

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #16)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:03 PM

17. Or, it's a way of accommodating daily life within the time of Shabbat.

The word means blend or mixture. It's an attempt to attend to the "profane" while residing within the "sacred', to use Durkeim's terms.

I suppose you could look at it as cheating, or, as you put it, attention seeking, but that would mis the point.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #16)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:14 AM

18. I agree with you

An eruv is nothing but a loophole in the same way that selling chemetz on Passover and (as one DUer posted here a long time ago) an Orthodox Jew giving ownership of his/her pet to the veterinarian so a (prohibited by Jewish Law) neutering/spaying could take place are ways to get around the law.

I also agree with what you put as "the way to get attention" since all the overly exaggerated restrictions, that became stronger and stronger especially in the past 200 years or so (as a reaction to Jewish emancipation), are worn as badge of honor by the "more pious" Jews to the point that Jewish ethical laws are overshadowed by ritualistic paranoia. So, for some of the show offs, it is very easy to be shomer shabos and shomer kashrut and still be seen as pious and "Halacha following Jews" even when they most of the time act like douche bag to others.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 06:52 PM

3. I have a friend who owns a shop on Venice Beach that sells bathing suits, flip flops, etc.

He works tirelessly there, except on the Sabbath. This is, of course, the busiest day of the week for his shop.

His "eruv" is his boat, which he stays on during that time but does not take out of the slip. It's fascinating to talk to him about it.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #3)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 06:54 PM

4. I wonder what he does there that day.

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Response to rug (Reply #4)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 07:05 PM

5. He does go to synagogues in the morning and has lunch there.

Then he goes to the boat. He calls his family in Italy. He sleeps. He drinks wine. He reads a bit. He listens to music.

It's very important to him

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Response to cbayer (Reply #5)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 07:09 PM

6. Wow, I wish I has the discipline to do that.

To truly relax, to put everything down and take time requires great effort. At least for me. Even on vacation my mind wanders back to this or that.

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Response to rug (Reply #6)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 07:16 PM

7. He feels it is his obligation to do it, but I can see how he benefits from it.

We often have dinner with him after sundown on Saturdays (he's an amazing cook) and he is less stressed and more at peace than I ever see him otherwise. I forgot to add that he prays a lot on the sabbath as well.

Anyway, everyday is my sabbath since I retired. I found that I eased into that really easily, lol.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 07:33 PM

8. We've had an eruv in my neighborhood for years.

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Response to virgogal (Reply #8)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 07:34 PM

9. Is it well known or, as the article puts it, "almost invisible"?

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Response to rug (Reply #9)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 08:49 PM

11. Yes,it is "almost invisible". Telephone poles and wires and the like are used. I lived in

the area 10 years before I knew it existed. (I am not Jewish).

I probably drove,shopped,and walked within it's border thousands of times before I was aware of it's existence.

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Response to virgogal (Reply #11)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 09:26 PM

12. Thanks.

I used to take the bus to work through Kew Garden Hills in Queens. It's heavily Orthodox, not Hasidic, and until recently I had no idea about it.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:45 AM

19. I can't remember why, but "The Yiddish Policeman's Union" has big part about an eruv.

I looked up a review:

Meyer and Berko visit the Verbover sect early in their investigation to talk to the “boundary maven,” Zimbalist. Zimbalist is in charge of maintaining the eruv for the Verbovers. Don’t know what an eruv is? Meyer Landsman is a little foggy on it as well:

Landsman has put a lot of work into the avoidance of having to understand concepts like that of the eruv, but he knows it’s a typical Jewish ritual dodge, a scam run on God, that controlling . It has something to do with pretending that telephone poles are door posts, and that wires are lintels. You can tie off an area using poles and strings and call it an eruv, then pretend on the Sabbath that this eruv that you’ve drawn…is your house. That way you can get around the Sabbath ban on carrying in a public place, and walk to shul with a couple of Alka Seltzers in your pocket, and it isn’t a sin. Given enough string and enough poles…you could tie a circle around pretty much anyplace and call it an eruv.


That passage sent me racing back to WikiPedia for a more learned definition of eruv. It reminded me of my Miami Beach days when there was a visible string on PVC poles that encircled a large part of South Beach. I read an article once in the local weekly about what that string was all about. Later, I would point it out to people and try to explain its significance. Almost no one noticed it unless it was pointed out to him/her. Nobody believed my half-remembered explanation either. (Check out a map of the North Miami Beach eruv here.)


I don't remember what it was about; but I remember a big section of the book where this Zimbalist was reconstructing the eruv based on all these architectural drawings that he had. That book was the first time I'd ever heard of it.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #19)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 11:26 AM

21. That looks like a fun read, Zion in Alaska.

Here's some more commentary on the eruv.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #19)

Fri Feb 8, 2013, 09:57 AM

52. My Great-Grandfather was an Orthodox Rabbi.

But my dad married a gentile, so I was raised completely non-demoninational. Reading "The Yiddish Policeman's Union" was the first time I'd ever heard of an Eruv. Even my dad didn't remember one--albeit he was brought up in a German neighborhood in Baltimore during the 30s and 40s. Something tells me those guys didn't have any cables strung across their streetlights!

Dad told me that my Great-Grandfather had a gentile employee, who used to do everything on the Sabbath that Jews were not allowed to. They couldn't even turn on the lights in the Temple. So I figure that's why we ended up with "The Clapper". I bet when that thing went on sale in the 70s, more Jews bought it than anyone else.

The other "loophole" I've never been able to understand is the wig thing. Orthodox women are supposed to keep their heads covered, just like their Muslim sisters. I think the whole (vomitious) concept was about womenly modesty, and not becoming vain about one's hair. So how does wearing a luxurious wig adhere to that?

I could go on and on about the inherent illogic (and sexism) in Orthodoxy, and as a woman I'm ecstatic that I was not raised in it! But I also understand that after Diaspora and so many centuries of persecution, Jews have held onto their traditions, and the religion has survived against the worst odds. There's a need to keep it pure, yet somehow not eschew modern life, so the "loopholes" seem to be the best solution.

Personally, I'm an atheist so I think it's all mythology. You don't have to hide indoors and meditate every week to find peace and contentment. People turning to external sources and supernatural solutions mystify me more than any concept of God!

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Response to rug (Original post)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 09:05 AM

20. It's truly absurd, the lengths to which people will go

to prop up their irrational, superstitious belief systems.

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Response to mr blur (Reply #20)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 12:49 PM

22. It's also really absurd the lengths people will go to attack religious traditions

and customs that have zero effect on them.

:youcannotseeme: :lol:

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Response to cbayer (Reply #22)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 01:57 PM

23. mr blur didn't have to any lengths

All he did was point out how absurd the custom is.

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #23)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 01:59 PM

24. It's not absurd to everyone. But it is to him and he wants to make sure everyone knows it.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #24)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 02:01 PM

25. I agree with him

And I'll add my voice to his.

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #25)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 05:51 PM

28. "I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what

what didn't."

The Stranger, Part 2, Chapter 5.

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Response to rug (Reply #28)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 06:03 PM

29. Meaning what, in this context?

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #29)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 06:04 PM

30. Your disinterest, if not antipathy, does not establish absurdity.

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Response to rug (Reply #30)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 06:51 PM

31. I didn't claim that my antipathy makes the practice absurd

The absurdity of the practice is what makes it absurd.

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #31)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:23 PM

36. Which, again, is an opinion only based on your disinterest or antipathy.

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Response to rug (Reply #36)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:42 PM

39. You have no idea what my opinions are based on.

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #39)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:43 PM

40. How does it go? Without evidence, blah, blah, blah.

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Response to rug (Reply #40)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:45 PM

41. You've just described your own posts.

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #41)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:50 PM

42. Actually, if you scan this thread you'll see plenty of citation.

As a rule, I don't feel the need to pop into a thread and post that the topic is absurd. There are some exceptions.

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #25)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 07:18 PM

32. We all have our personal customs, rituals, beliefs, ways of doing things.

I suspect you have yours as well. My thinking yours might be absurd does not make them so and, if they don't impinge on me, I might just keep that to myself so as not to offend.

But that's just me. You are free to do whatever you wish, of course.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #32)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 07:50 PM

33. My ways of doing things

don't involve invisible men in the sky or rules about not doing certain things on a particular day of the week or an absurd collection of dietary rules.

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #33)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 07:53 PM

34. So what? Why would that make yours any less absurd to someone else?

How does theirs impinge on you in any way whatsoever?

Why can't people just admire and respect that everyone is different and that's what makes life so interesting?

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Response to cbayer (Reply #34)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:19 PM

35. Because those things I described are absurd

Is there nothing that seems absurd to you?

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #35)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:27 PM

37. They are absurd to you. Doesn't matter whether they are absurd to me.

As I posted upthread, I have a dear friend who follows a lot of religious practices that I do not really understand. I have a deep respect for him and I can see that he benefits from following his religious practices. I would never call what he does absurd either to his face or behind his back.

And his habits do sometimes impinge on me, as I have him over for dinner and accommodate his diet.

My question is, why would someone go out of their way to disparage other people for what they believe when their beliefs have no bearing on your life? Does that just make you smarter or better?

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Response to cbayer (Reply #37)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:40 PM

38. I repeat, is there nothing you find absurd?

Are all religious and social practices to be admired and respected?

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #38)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 12:37 PM

45. I admire and respect others as individuals even if I find their practices to be really

foreign to me or to make no sense.

If one is straight and can't even fantasize sexuality from a GLBT perspective, would one call those practices "absurd"? I hope not.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #45)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 02:03 PM

50. I have no trouble fantasizing various sex practices

So I don't find those absurd.

I can't, for example, fantasize having sex with a corpse. I consider that idea horrifying and sickening, rather than absurd.

In any case, you ask an irrelevant question. I have no trouble imagining myself observing various religious rituals. When I was young, I was religious and did observe a number of rituals. I grew up and now see those observances as absurd.

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Response to DavidDvorkin (Reply #50)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 02:13 PM

51. Suit yourself. You can be judgmental or you can be tolerant and affirming.

Makes no difference to me, only to you and those you judge.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #34)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 07:45 AM

44. They impinge on others in the area by erecting extra poles

ie more ugly street furniture, stringing unnecessary lines between them, and requiring public officials to use their time to OK them, and arrange how they are temporarily taken down when something needs access to a street hindered by the string.

I cannot see anything 'admirable' about this at all. It's interesting in the way that a study of obsessive-compulsive disorder is 'interesting'.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #44)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 12:38 PM

46. Oh, please, Muriel. Poles??

And again calling those with particular religious beliefs mentally ill is really offensive (and weak, imo).

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Response to cbayer (Reply #46)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 12:55 PM

47. You can't just go erecting poles on public property for any old reason

if you're a private group. You have to have a religious justification for it.

I'm not saying they are mentally ill; I'm saying their religious superstitions are making them behave as if they're mentally ill. They obsess over whether there are wires that may be miles away, before they decide if they can carry a handkerchief in the pocket while walking down the street - but only for one day a week.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #47)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 01:05 PM

49. Does not sound like a big deal. This country was founded on freedom of religion (and from

religion). Of course there was no guaranteed freedom from ridicule, but those that ridicule are saying much more about themselves than those they target.

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Response to mr blur (Reply #20)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 08:55 PM

43. To each his/her own

While some individuals may find the use of Eruv as extremely important due to individual "superstitious beliefs," the practices in Jewish Law (including Shabbat observance) are performed to accomplish one of the main goals in Judaism: to keep the tribe alive/the survival of the Jewish people.

The Orthodox go to great lengths (becoming very rigid) to stay on target. In contrast, in the non-orthodox point of view, the rigidity is seen as harmful so the different non-Orthodox Jewish movements use a different approach (removing the rigidity) to achieve this goal.

To non-Jews (or to Jews who do not care about Judaism), this issue is obviously meaningless and irrelevant.

However, in short, all we can say is to each his/her own.

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Response to Meshuga (Reply #43)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 01:00 PM

48. Agree - to each his/her own and thank goodness for diversity.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 02:53 PM

26. I find this fascinating. Lived in Kenmore Sq. (Boston) for a while. It neighbors Brookline,

the heart of Boston's Jewish communities. It was common to see Hasidim out and about in Kenmore any day of the week, save the Sabbath. I always understood the rest on the Sabbath standard, but their total absence on Saturdays was striking.

My aunt and uncle lived in Brookline. One day I was at their apartment and asked a neighbor about it. He said, "You notice it because the Hasidim are distinctive and obvious, yet many of us hold the Shabbat. Kenmore is outside our eruv." And went on to explain the thing, its boundaries, exceptions to eruv, etc. Then asked, "Are Kate and Marnie watching the game?" It was a Sunday Red Sox-on-TV visit for me. He joined us for a couple of innings, pizza and a beer.

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Response to pinto (Reply #26)

Wed Feb 6, 2013, 05:45 PM

27. Thanks for that observation.

I don't live too far from South Fallsburg, New York in the Catskills which has a very large Hasidic population in the summer. It's the same there.

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