Thursday, December 09, 2010

Eruvim and TCPs

David Rotenstein has done another of his fascinating blog postings on Washington DC-area eruvim – see . This one flatteringly quotes me (a dumb-as-dirt goy resident within the Silver Spring eruv) and mentions my connection with traditional cultural properties (TCPs; see for instance

Before anyone starts jumping up and down about this, I wouldn’t for a moment propose that every eruv set up by an Orthodox Jewish community is a National Register eligible TCP. Some might be, I suppose, but I don’t think the mere designation of an area as an eruv would qualify it for the Register or impose any legal constraints on the activities of federal agencies in its vicinity.

The connection I found between eruvim and TCPs is this: I’ve lived within the boundaries of the Silver Spring eruv for about 30 years, and until David started publishing his research, I had no idea that this was the case. When I saw funny little sticks and strings running up utility poles, I figured they were something the power company had put in for some obscure electrical-engineering purpose – when I thought about them at all. Yesterday I saw one and thought: “Oh, a…..” and hurried home to check David’s site and remind myself that it was a lechi.

Anyway, it is much the same with, for instance, Indian tribal or Native Hawaiian spiritual places. Most of us live in, work in, travel through, view, or ignore such places without consideration of their spiritual qualities, because they aren’t marked with crosses, stars, crescents, or other such indicators of religiosity. And we never notice when we cross their boundaries, because those boundaries are marked, if they’re marked at all, in ways that only someone knowledgeable in the ways of the culture can recognize. But this general anonymity doesn’t make the places any less significant in the eyes of those who ARE within the culture. Just as a breached eruv boundary can have real effects on the perceptions and behaviors of an Orthodox Jew on the Sabbath, so a perceived violation of a tribal spiritual place’s important characteristics can affect the sociocultural integrity of a tribe – even though the violation is entirely innocent and the violator has no idea that he or she has done anything.

I doubt if knowing that I live in an eruv will alter my behavior, but if I were responsible for managing my neighborhood I’d certainly want to consult with the Orthodox Jewish community before, say, taking out a bunch of utility poles on a Friday – not because there’s a specific law requiring that I do so, but because I’d think such consultation to be the fundamental responsibility of a public servant. And I wouldn’t assume that I could determine just what actions would have impacts on the beliefs and values of my Jewish neighbors; only they could do this. In just the same way, a federal land manager ought to be careful about doing things that may impact the values, beliefs, and practices of tribes (and others) who view themselves as tied somehow to the lands being managed – not necessarily to avoid doing things, but to consult with those affected and to mitigate the effects.

1 comment:

Jesse Hefter said...

The "spiritual quality" of an Eruv can only result from the fact that all attachments are physically in-place. In other words, the physical quality of the Eruv is the critical component; that is what is checked weekly to be 100% complete and, if not, must be repaired.

I would say that the impact of having the Eruv kosher for a Shabbat weekend is that traditional Jews are able to carry and move permitted items outside that they otherwise would not be able to do. This serves to enhance the Shabbat experience and can then be described as a "spiritual quality".

It is great that you see Eruv as complementing the community/neighborhood space and as non-threatening to the populace.

Jesse Hefter, President
Greater Boston Eruv Corporation
Boston Eruv