Tuesday, July 25, 2006

That shuir last night ruled!

Yeah, thats a statement I never pictured hearing myself saying.

Listen to the shuir here!

Last night my temple Mt. Sinai Jewish Center hosted Rabbi Benzion Wosner shlit"a the Rav Hamachshir on the Washingon Heights Eruv and an internationally recognized expert on eruvin. He was this old Hasidic man who I was scared wouldn't speak a word of English. But he was good about translating most things and I was able to follow. As I've mentioned in a previous post, an "eruv" refers to a fence -- either real or symbolic -- that surrounds a Jewish neighborhood, permitting carrying within its boundaries.

There has been great debate today on our community message board www.MaalotWashington.com. I think the eruv is a great thing that will benefit this community for years to come. I absolutely love the fact that I can sit in the park on Shabbos afternoon and read a book, or the newspaper, or the Chumash. I never liked being trapped indoors all day. I think this fact had been detrimental to my Shabbos enjoyment. This is a large part of why this Rabbi found it neccesary to help us set up the eruv. He sincerely believes that an eruv enhances Oneg Shabbat, the Joy of the Sabbath. He gave a couple examples of this by saying that there are some people who need to carry medicine on Shabbos. Why should they have to perform a melacha or prohibition just to keep themselves safe and healthy? That shouldn't be something a person in their position needs to worry about. The other example he has is for mothers to be able to leave their homes. Why should a woman be trapped in her apartment because she has a baby at home? Why should she not have the opportunity to share a Shabbos meal with a friend who lives across the street? She should be able to take her children outside. He also added that even if you live in a community in which you do not approve of their eruv, you should still give money toward the eruv. Why? Because you are helping people avoid desecrating the Sabbath and you are enhancing Oneg Shabbos. That is something all communities should hope to attain.

My favorite part of the shuir is when someone asks about the idea that if the majority holds one way according to halacha then that should be the accepted decision of all in the community. Rabbi Schnaidman our shul's Rabbi quickly pointed out that he believed this is no longer the case. Rabbi Wosner quickly added (and I'm paraphrasing here, this is around minute 50 if you are listening to the shuir), if you are counting the majority of the people, you cannot count only the Orthodox Jews in the community who hold by our eruv. A yid is a yid. There are plenty of non-observant Jews who live in this neighborhood who carry on Shabbat and go about as though Saturday is just another day. We build an eruv to prevent people from doing a melacha or prohibition on Shabbat. Sure a non-observant Jew is driving a car on Shabbos but at least they are not sinning when they carry the keys to the car. If you're listening to the shuir I'm the one giggling when he mentions this. Rav Wosner rules!

This has become a big, almost scandalous, issue in my community. Basically (and this is truly the basics, I don't need twenty people lambasting me that that isn't the true issue), my unYeshivaeducated understanding is that some Rabbis in our community are not happy that our shul consulted a Rabbi from another community to help set up our eruv. Forgetting the fact that its logistically a kosher eruv that is checked each week prior to Shabbat, a lot of people have ill feelings and have chosen not to hold by the ruling. I say fine. I don't tell them how to live their lives the same way they have no right to tell me how to live mine. But theres more to it than that.

As my friend MSW pointed out on the Maalot site:

"When you disagree with people (and thanks to R' Feinstein zt"l, there will always be disagreement over any eiruv in Manhattan) there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Stop for a minute and think about the difficulties that machlokes (disagreement in regards of Jewish law) has caused Jewish communities over the centuries. Think about whether what you are saying to each other is going to help build achdus (unity) in our community, or just add more bricks to the wall separating the different demographics in Washington Heights."

I agree with her wholeheartedly. I know I'm a good yid. If I choose to carry within our community eruv on Shabbos I don't think anyone should think badly of me. Hell, its better than me driving in a car on Saturday which I've done many times in my life before I discovered the joys of Shabbat. Plus in this neighborhood, if I did choose to drive, I won't be penalized for carrying my stuff to the car. I love this eruv! I Love This Country! Peace y'all!


Meredith said...

I moved to Flatbush a month and a half ago, a neighborhood _notorious_ for eiruv fights. I'm told that the main problem people have with the Flatbush eiruv is that it crosses Ocean Parkway, which may or may not be reshus ha'rabbim -- basically, the same issue people have with Manhattan eiruvin crossing or feeding into Broadway.

Anyway, at the shul I go to, most congregants rely on the eiruv and carry, even though the Rabbi does not hold of the eiruv. And you know what? Everyone gets along just fine.

As you rightly note, people on both sides of the WH eiruv need to take a step back and relax. There is never going to be a community consensus on this. KAJ is not going to convince Mt. Sinai not to use the eiruv, and Mt. Sinai is not going to convince KAJ to use the eiruv. The people on both sides who are having a hard time accepting this (to the exclusion of the people, who I prefer to think are the majority, that already are bearing this in mind) need to remember that there are sheviim ponim le'Torah, seventy faces to the Torah, and move on. Community achdus doesn't mean that we all agree on everything. Community achdus means that we respect peoples rights to their shitos, even if we disagree with them, and move on.

SusQHB said...

Well said Meredith. R' Wosner actually mentioned the issue with Ocean Pkwy. One of the requirements is something to the effect that it cannot cross an area that is passed by more than 600,000 people. I honestly don't know if this number is for a day or year, but he said, even an extremely busy street like Ocean Pkwy at its busiest has only been found to have around 300,000 crossing it. I would have thought that there were many more than that but apparently they had like dudes sitting there counting people or something. As someone before mentioned, if you have a controversial eruv, Rav Wosner may have been involved. I'm sure Flatbush had dealt with similar problems as the Heights in their past.

Meredith said...

I believe that it is 600,000/day.

I _think_ that the 600,000 people includes (and I am not sure if this is one shittah or a halakha that applies universally) traffic on streets that feed into the the main street. My Rabbi in Brooklyn (who grew up in WH and learned in the Breuer's beis medresh, so bear that in mind) said that one issue of concern with the WH eiruv is that some of the streets w/in the eiruv feed into Broadway. I'm not sure if this is a universal stance, though.

Also, I do not know if foot traffic (as compared to cars) counts towards the 600,000, or if it draws the entire street into the purview of the eiruv. This may or may not be pertinent to the WH eiruv, as the eiruv covers at least one part of the western sidewalk on Broadway.

I think that in Flatbush people have more or less settled into their rote of eiruv-dom, which is why nobody really cares, whereas in WH the issue is fresher. This should all quiet down in six months or so, when the novelty wears off and we get another bug fiasco or sheitel controversy. (It is plenty creepy to walk around knowing that there is a little Beda"tz hekhsher sewn into your sheitel.)

meredith said...

For those interested, R' Yosef G. Bechoffer (sp?) has a very good book on the halokhos of eiruvin.

It explains the halokhos quite clearly, and I found it very useful as a newcommer to the topic.

Not sure if he is related to the Bechoffers (again, sp?) of WH, a longstanding family in KAJ.

SusQHB said...

Now, wouldn't that be apropos. :)

Non Heights Resident said...

I thought the fight in WH was more between Mount Sinai and certain Rabbis at YU. Everyone assumed Breuer's would be against the eruv and it was the comments from YU that caused the controversy.

Please correct me if I'm wrong.

ZK said...

Rabbi YG Bechhofer is indeed a cousin of the Bechhofer family of WH. I would imagine that his father is from WH. His wife was my principal in my Senior year of high school. For more info:

Meredith said...


I don't think that's the case. The YU Rabbi who I believe you are in reference to specifically refuses to issue ANY piskei halakha for the Breuer's-side demographic, b/c it is not his "turf."

Anonymous said...

Reb Moshe writes in IGROS MOSHE part 4 tsuva 87 that his ruling is not cler cut because the acronim disage with him