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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 22 Dec 2017 08:23 PM and ends Sat 23 Dec 2017 09:24 PM
כ"א אב ה' אלפים תשע"ב
Baruch ata Hashem ... asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al mitzvat eruv.
THIS blessing is most popularly known from eruv tavshillin, the ceremony observed prior to a yom tov directly preceding Shabbat. One sets aside some food and recites the blessing; having commenced preparation for Shabbat prior to yom tov, one may continue the process on the Friday of yom tov itself. In this regard, the eruv, which literally means "mixing", refers to the mingling together of the foods cooked prior to yom tov with those now allowed to be cooked on the Friday.
However, there are two other situations where this blessing is recited. Halachah forbids walking more than 2000 amot (about one kilometre) beyond city boundaries (techumin) on Shabbat. One needing to walk up to twice this distance - perhaps not an infrequent circumstance in the days of the shtetl - may designate a halfway point by placing some food there (perhaps in a makeshift shed or tent). Through eruvei techumin, such points then become an extension of the urban place of residence, allowing one to walk a further 2000 amot. This eruv mixes or joins together two spaces as if they were one.
The third situation is eruv chatzerot (the mingling of properties) facilitating carrying on Shabbat.
Here too, "making the eruv" does not refer to the construction of poles and wires that stand in for the walls of a walled city. It refers to the fact that prior to each Pesach, a communal rabbi (or other person) sets aside matzot as a nominal meal to be shared in principle by members of the community. He then recites the blessing followed by a formula declaring that through those matzot, we become one unit allowed to carry from one property to another on Shabbat, as if the whole area was in one ownership.
Of course, among the many prerequisites for such an arrangement is that the area in question be clearly delineated and "walled". In the absence of real city walls, in the modern metropolis the boundary is defined by a continuous series of what is termed "tzurat hapetach" - literally "the form of an opening (or gateway)".
This involves an arrangement of posts with a wire across the top - facilitated by utility poles found in most metropolitan cities. However, as the wire must literally traverse the top of such poles (and not be attached to crossbars as is often the case) additional work is often required to bring the framework in question totally in accordance with halachic requirements. It is the need to so construct that arrangement, to check it each week for changes caused by power company works or accidental pole damage and to carry out repairs when necessary, that places a cost burden on local eruv committees.
Melbourne's first eruv was facilitated by Rabbi Boruch Zaichyk of the Mizrachi community during the 1980s with the encouragement of Hans Bachrach. Controversial because of the mode of its construction, at the initiative of Mizrachi it was replaced following Rabbi Zaichyk's departure by a communally funded eruv. However Mizrachi provided the initial funding and direction until they secured the COSV's partnership during Peter Cohen's final term as President; the partnership was then significantly bolstered under Romy Leibler's Presidency. Mizrachi rabbanim have supervised the eruv from the onset of its establishment ensuring it is compliant with the highest halachic standards as laid down by renowned expert, the late Rabbi Shimon Eider. (Initial rabbinic guidance was provided by Rabbi Feitel Levin; subsequently Rabbi Simcha Cohen was Mizrachi Mara d'Atra.) Also approved by rabbis associated with the Edah Charedit in Jerusalem, today it is supervised locally by Mizrachi's Rabbi Yaacov Sprung and Adass Israel's Rabbi Avrohom Tzvi Beck whose congregation also bears some of the supervisory cost burden. That eruv has now been operative for exactly 15 years, having initially been launched (albeit since substantially extended in scope) on Shabbat parshat Ekev, 1997. However, while the local rabbanim play their part, in accordance with their wishes the Rav Hamachshir is now internationally acclaimed Rav Gavriel Zinner (author of the Nit'ei Gavri'el halachic series) who reaffirmed his approval of the eruv while in Melbourne this week. While in Melbourne he also discussed with local Melbourne Eruv personnel matters relating to a proposed extension towards Malvern.
Sydney's initial eruv was completed in June 2002, also under Rabbi Eider's supervision. A portion was constructed by the Melbourne contractor using the technique with which he was familiar, but it also utilises as boundaries certain cliff faces and fences. In Perth too construction is based on wires and poles.
Years ago, many associated facilitation of carrying on Shabbat with life in Israel. True, there were eruvin in prewar Europe, but until the 1980s they did not really exist across the postwar Western world. Speaking personally, when our children were young, there was no way that the whole family could go out on Shabbat - nor could you carry necessities to and from shul on Yom Kippur (which as will be the case this year, is subject to Shabbat restrictions even on a week day).
Today, Australian Jewry is fortunate that eruvin are a feature of its Orthodox life. Of course, like most things, an eruv too comes at a cost - that is not insubstantial. In the European shtetl, funds were collected from all members of the community to cover the cost of the flour for the matzot, thereby ensuring that all had a share in the arrangement.
In the contemporary era, cost sharing relates to the physical infrastructure and the cost of supervision and repairs; it is absolutely incumbent on all users to ensure they participate in sharing the burden. But whatever the cost the outcome is greater communal unity - indeed a worthwhile communal investment in even more ways than simply facilitating carrying and pushing prams.
Yossi Aron is The AJN's religious affairs editor.