Eruv Awakening

An imaginary line around north central Phoenix would grant Orthodox Jews more freedom on the Sabbath

The Phoenix eruv would encompass four Orthodox synagogues: Shaarei Tzedek, Agudat Achim, Young Israel of Phoenix and Beth Joseph. Ironically, another synagogue, Chabad of Greater Phoenix, located at the intersection of 21st Street and Glendale Avenue, sits just east of the Squaw Peak Parkway, the eastern extreme of the proposed eruv.

Chabad is included in Phase B of the eruv plan, Goldstein says, adding, "We have to walk before we can run."

The Chabad center is affiliated with Chabad-Lubavitch, a sect of Hassidim. Some Chabad-Lubavitchers have traditionally scoffed at the notion of an eruv, because it is not foolproof, Washington, D.C.'s Rabbi Freundel says. But Chabad Rabbi Zalman Levertov says his congregants would like an eruv, even if not all of them would use it.

Levertov says he will not become involved with the eruv until it includes Chabad.

Other local rabbis are steering clear of the eruv as well. Rabbi Bob Kravitz, a representative of the American Jewish Committee, finds himself in an odd position--since his organization is a stickler about separation of church and state.

Kravitz, who is not Orthodox, says he has no use for an eruv. He wants the government kept out of the process as much as possible.

He says, "If there are folks who are made more religiously comfortable by establishing an eruv, that's their business. It's not the type of situation where any sort of public funds should be used, and it's not the type of creation that should involve the cities in any way."

Goldstein says the cost of erecting the eruv--estimated at $15,000 to $30,000, including liability insurance--would be paid by the Orthodox Jewish community.

Sam Rabinove, national legal director of the American Jewish Committee in New York, found his loyalties strained a decade ago, when the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Long Branch, New Jersey, after the city agreed to allow construction of an eruv. Rabinove, a member of the ACLU, was pleased when--after losing in U.S. District Court--the ACLU did not pursue the case.

While Rabinove opposes government involvement in religion, he supports the concept of the eruv.

He says, "Unlike the Menorah on public property or a creche, the eruv is a utilitarian device."

Louis Rhodes, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the ACLU, says there's a fine line between condemning the eruv because it may offend others, and defending the rights of those who want it.

Rhodes says, "My personal opinion is, well, if other people get a right to do this, and you could grant a business or an individual variance, why isn't this practically the same thing? In fact, if anything, it might be something to step in and say, 'Hey, no, don't step on their religious liberty to do this.'"

But then again, he says, he's not so sure.

In between chores at the family restaurant, David Segal pulls up a chair and joins David Goldstein. Segal is devoted to the local eruv cause; in fact, he heads up the eruv project with Goldstein. Segal wears a golf shirt, long shorts and tennis shoes; like Goldstein, he wears a full beard and a yarmulke.

Goldstein and Segal are a little self-conscious about the stringency of their religion, particularly of Shabbat, but they're also eager to bring nonobservant Jews into the flock.

While some criticize the concept of the eruv as a way of sidestepping Jewish law, Segal and Goldstein look at the eruv as one way to get more people involved in Orthodox Judaism, by allowing people with young children and others to enjoy Shabbat.

Rabbi Freundel agrees. He says, "Rather than being a fudge of the law, it is the brilliance of somebody who can understand the subtleties of the law in order to be able to do something that is a positive step in terms of making people's lives easier and making the Sabbath more meaningful.

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