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Eruv Art

December 13, 2013

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, December 13, 2013. 

Eruv Art

Last week, I discussed the Eruv – that mysterious “fence” that allows traditional Jews to carry things outside on the Shabbat. For traditional Jews, it’s a practical thing, keeping them connected to Jewish Law... it’s a thing that needs to be checked every week to be sure it’s in order for the Sabbath.  Art is the last thing that comes to mind when dealing with the legal hands-on realities of the Eruv. That’s why when art reflecting this seemingly obscure Talmudic device is suddenly thrust in front of our eyes, the effect is surprising, to say the least.

The most hilarious (if not the only) description of the Eruv in all of literature is in Michael Chabon’s brilliant novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Landsman, the detective, visits Zimbalist the “Boundary Maven” who is responsible for the Eruv in Sitka Alaska:

...it seemed to him that until he walked into Zimbalist the boundary maven’s shop, he hadn’t given enough attention to string. String, twine, rope, cord, tape, filament, lanyard, hawser, and cable; polypropylene, hemp, rubber, rubberized copper, Kevlar, steel, silk, flax, braided velvet. The Boundary Maven has vast stretches of the Talmud by heart. Topography, geography, geodesy, geometry, trigonometry, they’re a reflex... But the Boundary Maven lives and dies by the quality of his string.

And, last year at Yale University, there was actually an art exhibit curated by Margaret Olin in three different locations in New Haven, Connecticut!

In “Miami Beach Eruv (1998), one of the more traditional pieces of art by Mel Alexenberg, the juxtaposition of the gaudy art deco façade and the Rembrandt angel tangled in wire comments on the contrast of cultures, the sacred and the profane, in Miami Florida. Notice the Eruv at the top of the picture suggested by a thin light blue line.

In Sophie Calle’s complex “Eruv of Jerusalem (1996)”, a map of the Jerusalem Eruv on a table is juxtaposed with photographs of set places.

A groundbreaking exhibit, looking at a commonplace in the orthodox world, the Eruv, and drawing from it beauty, meaning, and mystery.

For more information on this exhibit, CLICK HERE

Shabbat Shalom