By Tom Hart
There is a border surrounding this university’s campus — not maintained by a government, but instead by a group of individuals carrying on an ancient tradition.
The College Park eruv encircles the campus and portions of adjacent neighborhoods to form a loophole in Shabbat rules that makes life much easier for the Jewish community. The loophole the eruv creates modifies rules concerning carrying items on Shabbat. Without an eruv, strictly observant members of the Jewish community are not allowed to carry so much as books or a prayer shawl if they aren’t wearing it.
A broken eruv would mean the strict rules on carrying would go into effect within a Jewish community, “[making] life impossible on campus,” Judah Eisenman said.
Eisenman is a junior classics major and a member of the eruv committee, which checks the eruv on a weekly basis. The eruv includes the entire campus, and many of the neighborhoods east and south.
“Eruv” is a Hebrew word translating to “mixture” — a blending of private and public space so that Jewish communities are able to carry items outside of their homes. Once a border demarcating the eruv is in place, the community pitches in to buy an item of food to establish the bordered area as a shared private space. This explains the stale matzah one may find tucked away in Hillel and other Jewish community centers.
From there, it is a question of consistent maintenance. Senior bioengineering major and eruv committee member Ben Kaplan said the committee usually checks the eruv between Wednesday and Friday to leave enough time to fix any breaks in the eruv that are usually caused by weather or construction.
“There have been issues we’ve had to fix, but we always fix them on time,” Kaplan said.
The eruv committee runs a Facebook page to inform community members of the eruv’s status.
Most “eruvian cities” are built within an area surrounded by a wall or a fence that serves as the border, committee leader Rabbi Alexander Tsykin said.
A solid border isn’t feasible in College Park, so the committee uses power lines and markers called lechi to establish the border.
According to Jewish law, a wall is comprised of a top and two doorposts. Lechi are the doorposts that mark certain parts of the eruv and extend others, where power lines can’t be used. The committee uses fishing line to create the top.
“If you put on your Jewish glasses,” Eisenman said, the lechi and the fishing line, or the power lines and their posts, become a wall.
Members of the eruv committee view their participation as an opportunity to learn the Jewish laws surrounding the construction and maintenance of such a resource.
“My home community of Baltimore had [an eruv] my whole life,” Kaplan said. “But I never understood the ins and outs of how it works [until I joined the committee].”
The eruv committee is also a vital community service.
Eisenman, who hopes to continue maintaining the eruv in other Jewish communities he will enter, said “by joining a community like the one that you join here, you feel a bit of a responsibility.”
While many members of the Jewish community happily use the eruv, the concept has its complications.
Senior economics major Noam Weintraub helps maintain the eruv over the summer. He said he has used an eruv all his life.
“I personally benefit from it being there,” he said, but “there is definitely a part of me that feels like it’s a problem.”
Weintraub said that creating an eruv, especially one that’s not easily visible, like the one in College Park, to encompass a large area is practically sidestepping the intent of Shabbat rules.
Still, an eruv bordering as large an area as College Park is pragmatic for modern Jewish life. Short of rewriting religious texts or reforming longstanding traditions, it appears the College Park eruv is here to stay.