It's a Thin Line - The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York and Beyond

New York, 2012, Eruv rope beside Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, Private Collection

From “The Daily Show” to Rabbinic and City Hall Debates, Eruvs Still Generate Controversy 

It divides private and public, sacred and secular, work and Sabbath.  And you might live in one without knowing it.

The eruv is one of the most fascinating, though little understood and sometimes controversial concepts in Jewish life.  Now, for the first time, it’s the subject of an exhibition – It’s a Thin Line: The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York and Beyondat Yeshiva University Museum, near Union Square in Manhattan. 

The eruv is not just a concept.  It’s also a physical creation that powerfully affects the lives of observant Jews.  Without an eruv, parents couldn’t even carry their children on the Sabbath.  It’s a Thin Line traces the history of the eruv and its adaptation into New York’s urban environment, and raises provocative questions.

How far should and do civic authorities go to accommodate religious practices? How does the creation of an eruv impact community, and affect the demographics and character of a neighborhood? And where do you draw the line between public and private?  From a notorious segment on The Daily Show about the proposed Westhampton Beach eruv to city hall debates around the world, eruvs are still a hot-button issue.

As a means for offering separation while integrating into city life, the eruv also provides a potent symbol of Jewish life in America.  With 130 artifacts spanning over five centuries, It’s a Thin Line vividly illustrates how an ancient Biblical precept has been creatively interpreted and applied – especially in and around New York City.  Objects range from some of the first Hebrew books ever printed to century-old images of New York life to contemporary tools and recent eruv artifacts to eruv­-themed works by contemporary artists Elliott Malkin, Ben Schachter, R. Justin Stewart, and Yona Verwer. 

Even people who don’t know about eruvs live within their boundaries.  And as high-profile cases have illustrated, eruvs can still rankle neighbors.  With that in mind, a film produced especially for this exhibition will spotlight different opinions and interpretations of eruvs in the broader New York metropolitan area in the last 30 years, and the eruv’s impact on the community.  

With its main focus on New York City, New Jersey, and the surrounding communities, the exhibition also provides a vivid picture of local urban history through the stories of individual communities, religious figures and debates. An array of unique artifacts in widely different media, dating back to the 15th century, brings the story of the eruv to life.

Among them: Light poles and an aluminum gate from the current Manhattan eruv; a 1986 guide to the Kew Gardens, Queens eruv with foreword by then-borough president Donald Manes; printed objects and photographs of the 3rd Avenue elevated train, one of the eruv boundaries for the first half of the 20th century; a film on the history and surprising technical history of eruvs in the region; and a museum-produced interactive that invites visitors to investigate a host of issues associated with New York-area Jewish communities and eruvs today.

The exhibition will also feature eruv-themed, New York-centered works by contemporary artists, reflecting the recent interest in the ritual outside its religious context. The vibrant artistic life of the eruv will be the focus of three related shows running simultaneously at Yale University and organized by Professor Margaret Olin, called “Shaping Community: Poetics and Politics of the Eruv.” More about Yale’s exhibition at: http://mavcor.yale.edu/exhibition/shaping-community-poetics-and-politics-eruv.

What is an eruv?

An Eruv is a border, usually made out of string or wire stretched on top of or on telephone or light poles, which symbolically encloses a neighborhood or a city.  It allows Jews to accomplish one of the most basic activities on the Sabbath, which Jewish law otherwise prohibits on the Day of Rest: Carrying. An eruv makes it possible for people to carry keys, push a baby carriage or hold a baby, or bring food to someone’s home.

WATCH THE EXHIBITION VIDEO: 

Among the motivations for creating eruvs is the desire to foster enjoyment of the Sabbath for all Jews, while doing so on a firm basis of Jewish law. This film, which is a complement to the exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum, features the views and experience of individuals involved in establishing the second and third Manhattan eruvs as well as the perspectives of people who maintain and make use of eruvs elsewhere in the New York area. 

vimeo.com/yumuseum/eruv

PUBLIC PROGRAMS (at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W 16th St)

Symposium: The Mystery and History of the EruvOctober 28, 10 am - 3 pm

Acclaimed author and Fordham Law Professor Thane Rosenbaum will be among the speakers of a symposium, “The Mystery and History of the Eruv,” which also includes renowned scholars Prof. Charlotte Fonrobert, Prof. Jeffrey Gurock and Prof. Lawrence Schiffman, and artist Elliott Malkin, among others.

In the Mix: Building Community and the Eruv, Mon Feb 4, 6pm tour, 7pm program

The widespread introduction of eruvs in America encouraged a broader and more inclusive participation in Jewish liturgical and social life on the Sabbath.  Join professor Sylvia Barack Fishman, author Blu Greenberg, and Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier for a panel discussion, moderated by Rabbi Adam Mintz, on the dynamic role of the eruv in transforming personal and communal Jewish life in America in the late 20th century.  Co-presented by JOFA: Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

Tickets: $15 General Pulbic; $10 YUM Members, Seniors and Students. For reservations, visit www.smarttix.com or call 212-868-4444

Curator’s Tour, Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 6pm, Free, reservations requested: programs@yum.cjh.org

Learn and Tour: Curator’s Tour and Shiur with Rabbi Shachter

Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 6pm. Free, reservations requested: programs@yum.cjh.org

Artist’s Tour, Thursday, March 28, 2013, 6pm

Join artist Ben Schachter and Yona Verwer for a discussion of their paintings and installation work in Yeshiva University Museum’s eruv-themed exhibition. Free, reservations requested: programs@yum.cjh.org

The Eruv and Free Speech, Spring 2013

The YU Museum will partner with Yeshiva University’s Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Cardozo Law School and the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought to present a panel discussion among top legal scholars using the eruv as a window into church-state issues and the relationship between law and community building. Organized in partnership with Yeshiva University and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. 

Special Tours

A series of in-depth tours will be offered during the run of the exhibition, featuring Zachary Paul Levine, curator of It’s a Thin Line, and Rabbi Adam Mintz, one of the foremost historians of the eruv in America and the exhibition’s academic adviser.

Sample Images

Images of Eruvs from Ecclesiastical Constitution of Contemporary Jews, Particularly Those in Germany, Johann Christoph Georg Bodenschatz, 1717 - 1797, Collection of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Postcard of New York City Double Deck Elevated Railroad Train at Chatham Square, New York, 1909, Collection of Yeshiva University Museum

Tie clip and special belt for carrying keys in places where no eruv exists
Der Tabernackel: Thorough Description of the Tabernacle, with all their Parts, and Sacred Utensils, Conrad Mel, 1666 - 1733, Frankfurt, 1711, Collection of the Leo Baeck Institute
Instant Eruv, Ben Schachter, Nylon string, plastic, printed cardboard, Pittsburgh, 2007
Lower East Side Installation, Yona Verwer, Acrylic on canvas, LCD monitors, and steel cable, New York, 2012
Tikun Eruvin - Map of Manhattan Eruv, Rabbi Joseph Maskowitz, New York, 1959, Mendel Gottesman Library, Yeshiva University
extruded (an eruv project), Timeline and Map of Manhattan Eruvs from 1907 - 2012, R. Justin Stewart, New York, 2012, Nylon upholstery thread, jewelry hardware, brass hooks in masonite
Eruv Pole, Edison-Highland Park, New Jersey, 2012

It's a Thin Line - The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York and Beyond

New York, 2012, Eruv rope beside Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, Private Collection

From “The Daily Show” to Rabbinic and City Hall Debates, Eruvs Still Generate Controversy 

It divides private and public, sacred and secular, work and Sabbath.  And you might live in one without knowing it.

The eruv is one of the most fascinating, though little understood and sometimes controversial concepts in Jewish life.  Now, for the first time, it’s the subject of an exhibition – It’s a Thin Line: The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York and Beyondat Yeshiva University Museum, near Union Square in Manhattan. 

The eruv is not just a concept.  It’s also a physical creation that powerfully affects the lives of observant Jews.  Without an eruv, parents couldn’t even carry their children on the Sabbath.  It’s a Thin Line traces the history of the eruv and its adaptation into New York’s urban environment, and raises provocative questions.

How far should and do civic authorities go to accommodate religious practices? How does the creation of an eruv impact community, and affect the demographics and character of a neighborhood? And where do you draw the line between public and private?  From a notorious segment on The Daily Show about the proposed Westhampton Beach eruv to city hall debates around the world, eruvs are still a hot-button issue.

As a means for offering separation while integrating into city life, the eruv also provides a potent symbol of Jewish life in America.  With 130 artifacts spanning over five centuries, It’s a Thin Line vividly illustrates how an ancient Biblical precept has been creatively interpreted and applied – especially in and around New York City.  Objects range from some of the first Hebrew books ever printed to century-old images of New York life to contemporary tools and recent eruv artifacts to eruv­-themed works by contemporary artists Elliott Malkin, Ben Schachter, R. Justin Stewart, and Yona Verwer. 

Even people who don’t know about eruvs live within their boundaries.  And as high-profile cases have illustrated, eruvs can still rankle neighbors.  With that in mind, a film produced especially for this exhibition will spotlight different opinions and interpretations of eruvs in the broader New York metropolitan area in the last 30 years, and the eruv’s impact on the community.  

With its main focus on New York City, New Jersey, and the surrounding communities, the exhibition also provides a vivid picture of local urban history through the stories of individual communities, religious figures and debates. An array of unique artifacts in widely different media, dating back to the 15th century, brings the story of the eruv to life.

Among them: Light poles and an aluminum gate from the current Manhattan eruv; a 1986 guide to the Kew Gardens, Queens eruv with foreword by then-borough president Donald Manes; printed objects and photographs of the 3rd Avenue elevated train, one of the eruv boundaries for the first half of the 20th century; a film on the history and surprising technical history of eruvs in the region; and a museum-produced interactive that invites visitors to investigate a host of issues associated with New York-area Jewish communities and eruvs today.

The exhibition will also feature eruv-themed, New York-centered works by contemporary artists, reflecting the recent interest in the ritual outside its religious context. The vibrant artistic life of the eruv will be the focus of three related shows running simultaneously at Yale University and organized by Professor Margaret Olin, called “Shaping Community: Poetics and Politics of the Eruv.” More about Yale’s exhibition at: http://mavcor.yale.edu/exhibition/shaping-community-poetics-and-politics-eruv.

What is an eruv?

An Eruv is a border, usually made out of string or wire stretched on top of or on telephone or light poles, which symbolically encloses a neighborhood or a city.  It allows Jews to accomplish one of the most basic activities on the Sabbath, which Jewish law otherwise prohibits on the Day of Rest: Carrying. An eruv makes it possible for people to carry keys, push a baby carriage or hold a baby, or bring food to someone’s home.

WATCH THE EXHIBITION VIDEO: 

Among the motivations for creating eruvs is the desire to foster enjoyment of the Sabbath for all Jews, while doing so on a firm basis of Jewish law. This film, which is a complement to the exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum, features the views and experience of individuals involved in establishing the second and third Manhattan eruvs as well as the perspectives of people who maintain and make use of eruvs elsewhere in the New York area. 

vimeo.com/yumuseum/eruv

PUBLIC PROGRAMS (at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W 16th St)

Symposium: The Mystery and History of the EruvOctober 28, 10 am - 3 pm

Acclaimed author and Fordham Law Professor Thane Rosenbaum will be among the speakers of a symposium, “The Mystery and History of the Eruv,” which also includes renowned scholars Prof. Charlotte Fonrobert, Prof. Jeffrey Gurock and Prof. Lawrence Schiffman, and artist Elliott Malkin, among others.

In the Mix: Building Community and the Eruv, Mon Feb 4, 6pm tour, 7pm program

The widespread introduction of eruvs in America encouraged a broader and more inclusive participation in Jewish liturgical and social life on the Sabbath.  Join professor Sylvia Barack Fishman, author Blu Greenberg, and Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier for a panel discussion, moderated by Rabbi Adam Mintz, on the dynamic role of the eruv in transforming personal and communal Jewish life in America in the late 20th century.  Co-presented by JOFA: Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

Tickets: $15 General Pulbic; $10 YUM Members, Seniors and Students. For reservations, visit www.smarttix.com or call 212-868-4444

Curator’s Tour, Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 6pm, Free, reservations requested: programs@yum.cjh.org

Learn and Tour: Curator’s Tour and Shiur with Rabbi Shachter

Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 6pm. Free, reservations requested: programs@yum.cjh.org

Artist’s Tour, Thursday, March 28, 2013, 6pm

Join artist Ben Schachter and Yona Verwer for a discussion of their paintings and installation work in Yeshiva University Museum’s eruv-themed exhibition. Free, reservations requested: programs@yum.cjh.org

The Eruv and Free Speech, Spring 2013

The YU Museum will partner with Yeshiva University’s Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Cardozo Law School and the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought to present a panel discussion among top legal scholars using the eruv as a window into church-state issues and the relationship between law and community building. Organized in partnership with Yeshiva University and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. 

Special Tours

A series of in-depth tours will be offered during the run of the exhibition, featuring Zachary Paul Levine, curator of It’s a Thin Line, and Rabbi Adam Mintz, one of the foremost historians of the eruv in America and the exhibition’s academic adviser.

Sample Images

Images of Eruvs from Ecclesiastical Constitution of Contemporary Jews, Particularly Those in Germany, Johann Christoph Georg Bodenschatz, 1717 - 1797, Collection of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Postcard of New York City Double Deck Elevated Railroad Train at Chatham Square, New York, 1909, Collection of Yeshiva University Museum

Tie clip and special belt for carrying keys in places where no eruv exists
Der Tabernackel: Thorough Description of the Tabernacle, with all their Parts, and Sacred Utensils, Conrad Mel, 1666 - 1733, Frankfurt, 1711, Collection of the Leo Baeck Institute
Instant Eruv, Ben Schachter, Nylon string, plastic, printed cardboard, Pittsburgh, 2007
Lower East Side Installation, Yona Verwer, Acrylic on canvas, LCD monitors, and steel cable, New York, 2012
Tikun Eruvin - Map of Manhattan Eruv, Rabbi Joseph Maskowitz, New York, 1959, Mendel Gottesman Library, Yeshiva University
extruded (an eruv project), Timeline and Map of Manhattan Eruvs from 1907 - 2012, R. Justin Stewart, New York, 2012, Nylon upholstery thread, jewelry hardware, brass hooks in masonite
Eruv Pole, Edison-Highland Park, New Jersey, 2012

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