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Eiruv: Privilege Or Obligation?

By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg

Chofetz Chaim Torah Center

Residents of the Five Towns are well aware that there is an eiruv that extends from the tip of Far Rockaway to the end of the Hewlett border. And without any doubt, they are well aware of the great privilege of living in a community that has a rabbinically supervised and approved eiruv and that it has been a significant factor in the explosive growth of the community over the last two decades. If anyone is not completely convinced of what a wonderful privilege it is, just ask a friend or relative who lives in a community without a halachically accepted eiruv and compare notes of the wonderful opportunities that a Five Towns resident has over them on any given Shabbos.

The Rosh lived back in the 13th century and noted in Teshuvos HaRosh that when making an eiruv is halachically feasible, it is important to provide one for the community. The Rosh heard from a colleague, Rav Yaakov ben Rav Moshe of Alinsiya, as to why he did not allow the building of an eiruv in his town. The Rosh (in his teshuvos) contended that Rav Yaakov’s concerns were without merit and he should begin to make an eiruv immediately.

Rav Yaakov felt differently and would not build an eiruv in his community. The Rosh went on to severely rebuke Rav Yaakov for his refusal to make an eiruv when it is halachically permissible and insisted that if he continued to refuse, the Rosh would place him in cherem. The Rosh even went so far as to contend that Rav Yaakov had the status of a “zakein mamrei” (a Torah scholar who rules against the Sanhedrin, which is a capital crime in the times of the Beis HaMikdash). It is clearly evident from the Teshuvos HaRosh that holding back an eiruv from a community is unfair to the community and doing them a disservice.

If every family and individual in the Five Towns community values this wonderful privilege of having an eiruv in our community, why then don’t we feel any obligation to be part of it? Despite a public campaign last year to the Five Towns community to help support our eiruv, only 25% of the community responded. Why is it that while 100% of the community values the privilege of having an eiruv every Shabbos, yet only 25% of that same community felt the need to participate in last year’s annual eiruv fund appeal? The only answer I can think of, is that we are not really aware of the huge efforts that it takes to maintain, supervise, and be responsible for the Five Towns eiruv, hence the disconnect. Permit me then to offer a brief historical background.

For decades, the original eiruv, which was limited in size, was constantly being expanded block by block in each direction as the community expanded. The burden and responsibility of upkeep and upgrade were shouldered by a few unsung heroes like Rabbi Heshy Billet and Danny Frankel of the Young Israel of Woodmere and several others. They provided the financial, physical, and technical support to maintain the eiruv for so many years.

In June 2005, following several years of explosive growth in the Five Towns community, several people felt that a comprehensive review of the entire community eiruv was in order and, due to the widening and elimination of certain streets, several adaptations of the eiruv might be necessary.

In that vein, the renowned and universally respected posek and rav, Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita, was invited to personally inspect and improve if necessary the decades-old eiruv. Rav Schachter, along with several local rabbanim, walked the length and breadth of the eiruv area over several weeks and made many valuable suggestions and recommendations for the upgrade and expansion of the eiruv, which were immediately followed through on. After each of those upgrades was put into place, Rav Schachter revisited those areas to confirm that they were done in line with his recommendations.

After several weeks, when this process was completed, there arose a new dilemma and a new reality that had to be dealt with: How can we possibly maintain this eiruv properly, as the area it encompasses is truly massive. Just to have the ability to properly check the eiruv every Shabbos was impossible. Where would we find the “small army” necessary for such an arduous task and also to maintain the standards that Rav Schachter, shlita, had put into place just weeks earlier?

In the midst of this dilemma, that army suddenly appeared. This wasn’t just an army of volunteers, it was an army of bnei Torah and kollel yungeleit from the Yeshiva Gedolah of the Five Towns, who, under the dedicated leadership of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Katzenstein, took it upon themselves to watch, check, maintain, and upgrade the Five Towns eiruv, totally dedicating themselves to its integrity and continued high standard.

The yeshiva first made available to the entire community a comprehensive book of maps of exactly where the eiruv is and where it is not. Then they purchased a special truck that allows them to check as well as repair a broken string or pole themselves, thus ensuring that repairs can be made in time for Shabbos.

Case in point. Several weeks ago in Cedarhurst, there was an aufruf and a bar mitzvah scheduled to take place on a particular Shabbos. Friday morning, there was a terrible rainstorm with strong winds that downed many trees and phone lines in the neighborhood. The eiruv was down in several places as well. The initial report was that the damage was too extensive to have it repaired in time for Shabbos.

Panic set in. The ba’alei simcha were having many relatives join them for Shabbos, many with baby strollers and even one guest who relies on a wheelchair. What were they going to do? How could their out-of-town guests come and be stuck at their hosts’ home without being able to participate in the family simcha that they came for?

We reviewed the halachos together and then scrambled for alternate arrangements. This went on until an hour before Shabbos, when the dedicated bnei Torah and yungeleit completed the repairs, having worked all day, in difficult conditions and without any remuneration, to make sure that we in the community had an eiruv to use that Shabbos, thereby saving the simchas of these two families (and many others as well).

One of the ba’alei simcha said to me on that Shabbos, “I will never take the eiruv for granted again.” Well, neither should we. Why can’t we feel the obligation to support the eiruv without having to endure the trauma of those ba’alei simcha?

The community’s indifference to support the eiruv, despite the direct benefit we all receive from it, even existed in the time of Chazal. The Gemara in Masechtas Eiruvin (68a) tells us of a conversation between two Amaraim. Rabbah bar Rav asked Abayei, “How is it possible that in an area in which reside two great scholars (Abayei and Abayei’s rebbe), there is no eiruv?” Abayei replied, “What can we do? It is not respectful for my rebbi to be involved in this, I am too busy with my learning, and the rest of the people are not concerned.”

I always wondered about that particular Gemara. If the people in town valued the use of an eiruv (and without a doubt they did), why did Abayei say “they are not concerned”? And I thought that maybe the explanation of the Gemara is that they greatly valued the privilege of having an eiruv in town, but in regard to their obligation to help make it happen, they had a disconnect. They didn’t see it as their obligation. Obviously, for 75% of us, neither do we.

The dedicated members of the eiruv committee have shared with me that without receiving the necessary funds, which is a minimal amount for every family, they will no longer be able to continue to maintain the eiruv. Without these dedicated bnei Torah, and without the proper maintenance that is performed each week, there will be no functioning eiruv. And without one, we will lose the privilege of something that we have long taken for granted.

Last week, an eiruv mailing was sent to the entire Five Towns community, asking that every family participate in this communal endeavor. There are three ways one can participate in the campaign. Either go online to their secure site, https:/; mail a check (payable to: Five Towns Eiruv) to Five Towns Eiruv, POB 74, Woodmere, NY 11598; or text “eruv36” to 41444 to donate $36 or any other amount via credit card.

Please note that all proceeds go directly to maintaining the eiruv, and donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

My dear friends and neighbors, we need 100% participation this year, not just 25% as in the past. We need to feel that maintaining the eiruv in our community is not only a privilege, it’s our obligation as well. Have a wonderful and restful Shabbos. v

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Posted by on February 13, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.