By Paige Maizes
An eruv [air-oov, er-; Sephardic Hebrew e-roov; Ashkenazic Hebrew ey-roov] is an important aspect of Shabbat that the Orthodox community protects and preserves each week.
Co-head of maintaining the eruv at this university, Judah Lesser, a junior computer engineering major, explained how carrying things in a public area is a prohibited activity on Shabbat.
“An eruv is like making a legal fiction wall around an area that makes it an enclosed area,” he said. If that area is enclosed, then Orthodox Jews can carry items within it.
Although Lesser said the eruv is just a legal fiction closure that doesn’t actually look like a wall, it surrounds the campus and therefore has the quality of a barrier. There are many eruvs (eruvim in Hebrew) across the country in areas with large Orthodox communities.
The one that is set up at this university was made in 2004 by students who came from cities that had an eruv and were in the Orthodox community. For halakhic reasons, the area enclosed by the eruv has to be Jewish-owned, at least in a technical sense, and so the Orthodox students rented a portion of land from Prince George’s County.
Due to the inconvenience of being unable to carry items such as “bags, siddurs-prayer books, food,” it took a large student effort to gain permission to build one, according to freshman hearing and speech major Maya Goldberg.
The eruv at this university was built and finished in September 2004 through the help of the students as well as the couple from JLIC (Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus), a program where a couple is sent to college campuses to assist Jewish programs.
Kedma is the Orthodox community at UMD, which means that members benefit from the eruv and the committee is made up of students who are in Kedma. This group of students is in charge of maintaining the eruv on a weekly basis and uses a car to inspect the metaphysical wall to ensure it has not been damaged. If repairs are needed, this committee restores it on site.
“An eruv is a string basically, and once a week someone from Kedma drives around campus and makes sure it is up to its appropriate height and meets the requirements,” Goldberg said.
As a result of the coronavirus, the members who patrol each week have to wear masks and keep the car windows open as they drive around, according to Lesser.
Additionally, Shabbat for the Orthodox community has been affected by the virus, since meals and all prayer services now take place socially distanced and outdoors. Without the eruv, meals and services wouldn’t be the same.
“We would have to pray by heart because we couldn’t bring our siddurs,” Goldberg explained.
More broadly, enclosing the campus with the eruv has enclosed a sense of community.
“Being able to carry on Shabbat is so integral to making this community feel close-knit, so the community now is so much bigger and more involved than 20 years ago when the eruv wasn’t up,” said junior mechanical engineering student Sarah Warshawsky. “It’s also awesome how the eruv is almost completely run and maintained by students.”
For those who are interested in learning more about the Eruv, you can follow this route depicting the eruv which surrounds the university and go check out the Facebook page!