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

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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