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The utter inanity of eruvs, using magical wires to trick the Jewish god

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The Hamptons (NY.) have been fighting over eruvin there for several years and recently, the towns caved to the religious lobby. An eruv is a geographically enclosed area that, through the magic of religion, allows certain Jewish sects to violate the rules of their religion.

There are many absurd prohibitions laid out for believers in the Hebrew bible and holy texts. A biggie is the prohibition against working on the Sabbath—you get stoned to death if you violate it by, for instance, collecting sticks. But what does this rule—a.k.a the Fourth Commandment, rest on the Sabbath—actually mean? What is work and what is rest? Well, that doesn’t matter to us heathens, but some believers spend a great deal of time and energy figuring out what is permissible and what is not (such as, writing, building, making loops, baking, grinding, tanning, turning on lights, and carrying).

Preparation of Eruv between Oz Zion and Givat Assaf, West Bank by יעקב Wikimedia Commons

But some believers spend even more time figuring out ways around these prohibitions. An entire cottage industry has blossomed as a result, one that Bill Maher lampooned quite well in Religulous. The eruv is one of these attempts to circumvent what is supposedly god’s law. The Sabbath rules are more relaxed in one’s home so the eruv extends the boundaries of the home to the entire enclosed area. This is often many city blocks, outlined by wire or string, though sometimes with markers (lechi). If the wire or string breaks, the enclosure and the eruv’s magical spell are broken.

To sum it up, an eruv is a religious rule foisted upon the public and strung across public property so that religious individuals can trick their god into thinking they are not violating one of his rules. Never mind that he is supposedly omnipotent and omniscient, or that the penalty for violating the Sabbath rules is almost always death—they strung up some wire and now their house is 20 city blocks! Only in the religious mind does this make sense.

The utter inanity of eruvin is this: These believers are devout enough to want to follow the rule, but not devout enough to actually follow the rule. So they cast enchantments to make a magical boundary within which they can violate their deity’s command. Only in religion can such hypocrisy be labeled a virtue. But it seems that the more pious a believer is, the more hypocrisy their religion requires.

This hypocritical piety has been around as long as religion. In An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish, Bertrand Russell wrote “I am sometimes shocked by the blasphemies of those who think themselves pious–for instance, the nuns who never take a bath without wearing a bathrobe all the time. When asked why, since no man can see them, they reply: ‘Oh, but you forget the good God.’ Apparently they conceive of the Deity as a Peeping Tom, whose omnipotence enables Him to see through bathroom walls, but who is foiled by bathrobes. This view strikes me as curious.”

Unlike the modest nuns—a rule that is more likely directed at situational sexual behavior—the eruv is foisted on the rest of as an eyesore. Even if it were not noticeable, the idea itself is an affront. Who are they to declare public property for their religion?  It’s not difficult to imagine how towns, legislators, and citizens would react if Muslims were declaring a zone in which their religious law applied—sharia zone. Citizens are free to follow the quirky rules of their religion, but they should not be allowed to declare public space and other citizens’ private property for their religion. It’s time to take down these eruvin.

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20 Responses

  1. There is a solution. To explain it I will start with a thought experiment.

    If the wire surrounds an entire neighborhood, then the entire neighborhood counts as your home. If the the wire surrounds an entire city, then the entire city counts as your home. And so forth.

    Now imagine the eruv growing and growing until the wire circumnavigates the globe. Then keep pushing the boundary further. The wire starts getting shorter instead of longer, but the area it encloses now encompasses more than a hemisphere.

    Here’s the solution. Erect the wire around a table top. Declare that the table top is outside the eruv, and everywhere else is inside.

  2. This article is based on false presumptions.

    About “tricks”: An Eruv is not a “trick”. It does not give anyone permission to violate a biblical commandment. An Eruv is an indicator. It is designed to give observant folks a verified indication that the encompassed area is an area where carrying is permissible. No Eruv can turn a prohibited area into a permissible area.

    About “resting” on Sabbath: “Resting” is an inaccurate translation. This article mocks those who “spend a great deal of time and energy figuring out” what is work and what is rest. But no one ever tried to define what is “rest” and we know exactly what the bible constitutes “work”. You can choose not to believe but don’t use ignorance to attack those who choose otherwise. For those who care to understand: The concept of the Sabbath is based on the belief that the human spirit was created in a non corporal spiritual form and that, originally, other spiritual forms that lacked “choice” (a.k.a angels, spelled M.L.A.C.H in singular), provided all of the human spirit’s needs. But, in order to earn it’s place, the human spirit was given a single “choice” to make, a test of free will (“thou shall not eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge”). After the human spirits, female and male, failed this single test of exercising discipline and free will, they where sent from the spiritual realm to the physical realm. As a result, the angels no longer provided for them and as corporal beings they now needed to fend, mend, toil and provide for themselves. But God wants our spirits to remember and experience what it was like when we didn’t need to fend, mend, toil and provide for ourselves. So he ordered us to refrain from the 39 basic forms of fending, mending, toiling and providing. Those 39 forms are incorrectly translated into “work”. In Hebrew it is “M.L.A.C.H.A” (compare to “M.L.A.C.H” or “angel”). For example, carrying a couch up a flight of stairs is permissible and is not a “M.L.A.C.H.A” but writing two letters on a piece of paper is a forbidden M.L.A.C.H.A. “M.L.A.C.H.A” is not “work” and the core of Sabath is not about “rest”. The Sabath is about partially experiencing the spiritual realm that we believe we will fully experience again. For us, Sabath is an exhilarating spiritual experience, not a restful comatose.

    About “eyesore”: The Eruv is a thin string, a faint indicator. The string and the posts, where they are needed, could be made almost invisible. It does not impose religious rules on anyone. People who don’t know to look for it rarely even notice it.

  3. I note a definite tinge of anti Semitism running through this page.

    Those darn Jews are tricky bastards, aren’t they?

  4. I’m just waiting for the Pastafarians to start hanging noodles on the eruvs and then sue when the noodles are taken off.

    EDIT: Auto-correct changed Pastafarians to Rastafarians. Heck, if Rastas want to dry their “religious plants” on the eruvs, I’d be fine too.

  5. Dear Explorer:

    From all amputees everywhere, let us congratulate you on a dick move of Leviathan proportion.



  6. Let’s just see how long it takes the men to bitch because the women don’t want to cook or clean on that day. Bam!

    1. The women indeed do not clean that day, and do only minimal food preparation, using only heat sources that are left on all day or that are pre-programmed to turn on and off. Of course it means they cook extra the day before and clean extra before and after.

  7. Eruv’s are just ridiculous. How people can’t tell that this bit on nonsense is man-made is beyond me.

    1. It is amazing the hoops people will jump through to “comply” with religious law even though they are not. Absurd.

      1. They are complying with the laws. It is not to an outsider to say they aren’t, because the laws are theirs, not yours.

        1. Perhaps an insider is drinking too much of the kool aid (so to speak) to be able to properly criticize and spot absurdities. That is often the case with religion.

          Also, I said they were complying with the law. I just don’t think an omniscient being, who they supposedly believe in, would be duped by this absurdity.

          1. They don’t believe they are duping anyone, they believe they have the authority to interpret the laws in certain ways, as long as they use certain justifications and preferably arrive at consensus. They believe that sometime in the late first century CE they told their god that he was outvoted and should accept their interpretations. They told him he doesn’t own the laws anymore.

  8. I’ve been told that Jewish people see it as “Yahweh gave us these rules, but it’s up to the religious leaders to interpret them in the way that best suits his creations” (not a direct quote, but my understanding). I asked why if they’re reinterpreting them anyway, why they can’t just reinterpret them away entirely as irrelevant; apparently that’s not allowed.

    No, I don’t really get it.

    1. What I learned in Jewish school was actually that these rules were given to the Jews, but that Yahweh actually likes how the Jews rules-lawyer their way around the more inconvenient ones.

      And I was like “Noweh!” and they were like “Yahweh.”

      1. Yeah, I don’t get that. So he had nothing better to do than make intentionally ridiculous rules, just to see how his chosen people could find ways to reinterpret their way out of them (without just saying “Fuck this” and throwing the whole mess in the trash/fire)? That doesn’t seem like a very worship-worthy deity to me.

        1. Have you seen a full collection of the Talmud? Have you read a translation of a single tractate? It is all lawyering about. And this lawyering is what keeps Orthodox Judaism as a semi-coherent culture in existence. It is what Orthodox Judaism is about.

          1. I haven’t. I’m not Jewish, and I won’t even pretend to understand it all, because I don’t. It just seems like a weird way to see religion. Well, weirder.

          2. Judaism underwent a crisis when the second temple was destroyed. It lost the authority of the priesthood. Yohanan Ben-Zackai founded the Jamniya academy and his students had to establish themselves as a new authority that could exist without a temple. So they expanded an existing tradition of interpreting the law, to the point that they interpreted it to say that the authority of the consensus of rabbis of the generation transcended that of divine proclamations. They still had to go through some crises when the occasional brilliant rabbi disagreed with the consensus, but in the end that generation shaped rabbinical Judaism for centuries.

  9. This would be pretty ridiculous, but I also constructed a device a few years back, a Hieronymus Engine, which prevents Yahweh from healing amputees.

    It functions in concert with the Earth’s magnetic field, and although it initially ran on one D-cell battery, it is now fully self-sustaining.

    It also eliminates the need for eruvs.