How a Virtual Wall Can Build Community
December 9, 2022
By Marc Brown

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss an item that is likely unfamiliar to a lot of people, but very important to many members in our community.

Approximately eleven years ago, a community eruv was constructed in Amherst.  You may ask what is an eruv?  According to Wikipedia, an eruv is “a ritual halakhic (legal) enclosure made for the purpose of allowing activities which are normally prohibited on Shabbat, specifically: carrying objects from a private domain to a semi-public domain, and transporting objects four cubits (approximately 7 feet) or more within a semi-public domain.”  The enclosure/boundary is accomplished by symbolically connecting private properties and public spaces into a larger “private domain” through the use of walls, telephone poles, and strings.

The laws of an eruv are complicated and based on the Talmud.  Tractate Eruvin discusses the legal expansion of the areas that a person can carry and travel on Shabbat.  In the book of Jeremiah, Jews were “not to bring any burden into the gate of [Jerusalem]”, but carrying in Jerusalem was acceptable due to the city walls.  Consequently, the idea of a “courtyard” covering a wide area was developed. 

Sabbath observers only carry in a private domain.  By use of an eruv, one is turning a public domain (a street) into a private domain through a virtual wall.  This will add flexibility on the Sabbath.  For parents with young children who use strollers to go to the park, visit friends, and attend events (and services) on the Sabbath, an eruv is extremely helpful.

For many years, there was no eruv in Amherst.  On March 30-31, 2012, the Sabbath of my daughter Deborah Brown’s baby naming, the community eruv was installed.  It took many years and meetings (some at our dining room table) with stakeholders from across our community to develop its boundaries.  Over the decade, the eruv has been generally reliable and followed.  However, earlier this year, the eruv was falling down and not providing the necessary private domain that would allow individuals to carry on the Sabbath.

A few months ago, under the leadership of Rabbi Shmuel Shanowitz, community members got together and found a way to bring the eruv back.  Consequently, the Amherst community eruv was “reinstalled” with the assistance of eruv experts who opined on its reliability.  In addition, community members across multiple synagogues are coming together to volunteer and check segments of the eruv on a weekly basis to ensure its effectiveness going forward. 

We live in a time where walls are seen as a source of division.  To me, it is refreshing to see how a wall, albeit significantly virtual, brings us together.

Shabbat shalom!

Marc W. Brown is a partner with Goldberg Segalla LLP law firm and the incoming Vice President of the Buffalo Jewish Federation.

How a Virtual Wall Can Build Community - Jewish thought of the week graphic