Q. A local council has voted against the creation of an eruv in the northern Sydney suburb of St Ives. Media reports quoted a few Jews who expressed opposition to the eruv, claiming that it will lead to the creation of a ghetto and bring antisemitism.* Do their arguments have any justification?A. An eruv is not a fence, wall or partition; it does not affect any of the amenities of the neighbourhood. It is a symbolic delineation of an area as private property in terms of Jewish law, enabling orthodox Jews to carry or wheel babies on Shabbat or carry necessary items in the street as they would in their own homes. It can be described by the Jewish saying, “This person has a benefit and this one does not suffer”.
Some Jews have claimed that it will create a ghetto or lead to antisemitism. It will do no such thing. The public will continue to live as they always have, and there will be no fenced-in areas which anyone will see or be affected by. It is not a sort of physical ghetto with high walls, gates and locks, and unless you knew the eruv is there you would probably not notice it as it utilises (often pre-existent) poles, wires and natural boundaries. The only thing that will mark out a Jewish home will, as in the past, be the mezuzah, but this is not new and I am sure the Jewish critics have mezuzot themselves.
I am at a loss to understand why anyone thinks it will create bad feeling between Jews and non-Jews; antisemitism is not created by Jews but by non-Jews, and the actual fact is that when non-Jews see Jews conscientiously observing their religious traditions their respect for us actually increases.
It would be very strange if any Jew felt embarrassed to see fellow Jews able, thanks to the eruv, to carry a tallit or siddur to shule on Shabbat, or to wheel a baby in a pram. If this causes embarrassment then so, presumably, does the existence of synagogues and Jewish schools on the public streets, Jewish graves in cemeteries, Judaica on bookshop shelves, kosher foods in supermarkets, Jewish music on concert platforms and Jewish characters, themes and ideas in every area of human culture.
Most of us prefer to be proud of our Judaism and happy that we are able to practise it. Even those who decide not to follow one or other Jewish practice should be pleased that their fellow Jews do not lack the facilities they need for the observance of the commandments.
* This article first appeared in August 2011.