Jon Stewart’s Hilarious Eruv Video (and some commentary)

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Yesterday, Wyatt Cenac of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart did a really funny and slightly sad video on the status of the Westhampton Eruv on Long Island. Apparently, there is some opposition that is non-sensical, bigoted and pathetically transparent.

It’s sad to see that the primary opposition to the eruv is from a yiddish speaking Jew. It’s also sad to see him so thoroughly embarrassed in the clip. I actually feel bad for the guy as much of a jerk he seems in the clip…

At the Pacific Jewish Center, we have faced similar opposition to our proposed eruv. And by similar I mean, coming from Jews and equally self contradictory. It is our hope that we will pick up the eruv project for Santa Monica, Venice and Marina del Rey in the near future.

I hope Westhampton gets their eruv and I hope we get ours soon as well. Some commentary below the clip.


First of all, an eruv is technically not a loophole. I explained in brief here: The Good Wife: Unorthodox, From a Rabbi / Law Student Perspective that an eruv is not a loophole. Here is what it is (and this is good for people who actually don’t know and people who need to explain to people who don’t know):

The prohibition against carrying on Shabbos is from a private domain to a public domain or a second private domain. One IS permitted to carry within their own home. One is permitted to carry within their own enclosed property (eg: a yard surrounded by a fence). One is permitted to carry from inside their home to their enclosed outdoor property as well. The function of the eruv (which unlike the not so funny joke during the clip does not mean loophole, it means mixture) is to mix / connect many domains into one LARGE private domain. All that is required is a SYMBOLIC enclosure that is halachically considered a wall. A wire running from two poles is sufficient to create a symbolic halachic wall.

Thus, when a wire surrounds a large area that has been designated as a single private domain, joining all the private domains therein into ONE domain, obviously carrying is permitted within that one domain. There are some requirements that need to be met for the large domain to include the private domains. If those requirements are met and there is a unification of many domains via a symbolic, halachic wall, one may carry within that domain exactly as they can carry from room to room within one’s own home.

Second of all, like I said, it is sad to see Jews pitted against each other. Though, I can’t assign all blame to the fellow who is against having Orthodox Jewish neighbors. Sometimes Orthodox Jews don’t make the best neighbors. I don’t mean this is in an entirely negative way. It’s normal for Orthodox Jews not to be completely neighborly with their less religious neighbors. They have different standards and different priorities. It can get messy. All I mean to say is that we should be conscious of the opinions of our neighbors and be even more scrupulous to be the best neighbors possible. If we would do that, I am sure we would be less resistance from others to moving to their neighborhoods.

Third of all, we see most clearly how ugly bigotry looks when it affects us personally. It is important to try to avoid these kinds of bigoted remarks and behavior in relation to others. Especially after we see how it feels to be a victim of that bigotry. Please keep that in mind next time you say / hear a blanket, statement that could be construed as racist, bigoted, small minded or hateful.

  • But what about the chicken?

    Proving, once again, that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
    Beginning and ending with an eruv.

  • Wflicker

    If the wall is symbolic, why do we need the physical wall, i.e. the string itself? Why wouldn’t the act of joining the communities – the sharing of the bread in some cases, for instance – not be sufficient to create the symbolic wall?

    • It’s not a symbolic wall. It’s a symbolic wall that is a halachic wall. If it’s not a halachic wall, it can’t create one domain. It’s only what I call symbolic because it can’t be touched or seen.

      • Riri145

        It’s not a symbolic wall, nor is it a halachic wall. It’s a halachic series of gates. The technical term is tzurat hapetach.

        It’s also very clearly a legal fiction, which doesn’t make it illegitimate. But calling it a “loophole” isn’t really so off, and that’s coming from someone who is completely shomer shabbos, (obviously) including hotza’a.

        • A “gate” is a halachic wall.

          • Anonymous

            I love this notion that an eruv is a halachic wall consisting of a series of halachic gates.

            If I understand correctly, all this derives from the interdiction to leave our “dwelling” on shabbat. In the recent Coen Brothers’ film “True Grit,” Jeff Bridges lays a rope around himself when he lies down to go to sleep in the wilderness. No one says why, although the impression is that it is to keep snakes from crawling on him when he sleeps – something that becomes a significant issue at the end of the film. In effect, by doing so he is creating a dwelling. It shows how a rope can be a wall (or a gate). And when Matt Damon says, “Hey, what about me?” it raises the issue of community. They have eaten together, but not joined their walls.

          • No. A gate is a halachic gate.

  • Yerachmiel Lopin

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Daily Show staff actually grasped the halachic legal logic of an eruv and still chose to ridicule it. That is what they do. They specialize in exposing the disjuncture between a system’s internal logic and the commonsense of the rest of us. You laid out the halachic rationale, which depends on legal constructs which are not intuitively obvious. Of course, for an orthodox Jew, the legal construct is real, because the consequences are real. If the eruv breaks, your Sabbath can be seriously altered. But for others the concept contradicts their understanding of the ordinary definition of public and private areas. Why should a non-orthodox Jew find the eruv a meaningful way of saying their main thoroughfare is now part of cojoined private property. For all purposes of secular law, it is public property. The very effort to make the eruv less intrusive to the secular public undermines the claim that it is real. To the unbigoted secular public an eruv is a silly thing that Jews do. Hoping for appreciation of its logic and rationality is hoping for too much. Legal constructs are perceived as real when their consequences are manifest in practical terms. Eruv is a very hard sell.

    All in all, I would say that Stewart’s mocking of the eruv as a loophole meaningfully captures public perceptions of various aspects of rabbinic Judaism. In effect he is pleading for tolerance, not for agreement. Basically he is saying “you can find it absurd but don’t fight it, since it does not hurt you.”

    • BB

      Quote: All in all, I would say that Stewart’s mocking of the eruv as a loophole meaningfully captures public perceptions of various aspects of rabbinic Judaism. In effect he is pleading for tolerance, not for agreement. Basically he is saying “you can find it absurd but don’t fight it, since it does not hurt you.”

      Having seen eruv fights in neighboring towns, I couldn’t understand why those leading the fight against didn’t see the eruvim that way. Maybe they’ll see the clip and understand now. To the non-observant, a loophole. To those who observe, something to enhance our Shabbosim.

    • Susan Barnes

      It is a loophole. To put up a wire and claim it’s all one private area is a legal fiction. I am free to go anywhere in my own private home. I am free to go anywhere in the public domain. But I am not free to go anywhere in a private space that belongs to someone other than me.

      When you put up an eruv around a neighborhod including my house, you are claiming you have just made the neighborhood into one big private space. But it is not one big private space, according to US law or the sensibilities of many of the people living there. Even with the eruv including my house, other people who live within the eruv do not have the right to enter my house without my permission, nor do I have the right to enter their house within the same eruc without their permission.

      Thus, saying it’s one big private space is a fiction.

      By the way, I support both the eruv in New York and the proposed one in LA, because it doesn’t hurt anyone else. I’m just agreeing with the Daily Show that it is, indeed, a loophole.

      • Again, this is incorrect. You are mixing your understanding of english terms and applying them to halacha.

        In halacha a private domain is defined as a an area that is united by a wall and a common area / item. This is required for an eruv to work for a commnity as I mentioned in the post.

        The factors you mention, such as permission to enter are not relevant to the issue of whether it is a halachic wall and whether it joins the domains into one. (To illustrate: If you rent private space in my home, we do not need an eruv to carry from one to the next).

        • Susan Barnes

          If halacha defined a private space in that manner in order to allow the eruv concept to work, it’s still a loophole being exploited by redefining the meaning of a private domain.

          The point is, people aren’t supposed to carry stuff outside their home (or homestead) on Shabbat, and an eruv exists in order to create a technicality to allow people to carry stuff other places.

          • It’s NOT be REDEFINED. The definition precedes the utilization of the definition to enable carrying.

            • E. Fink, you don’t seem to understand what a legal fiction is. Nobody is disputing the definition of a private domain with regards to halacha (except for many Rishonim and modern Jews who don’t hold by tzurot hapetach). Rabbis (not uncontraversially) used the concept of a tzurat hapetach to enable Jews to carry once they were no longer living in enclosed cities. You are, however, right that it wasn’t redefined. That would be a poor legal fiction, which must rely on preexisting concepts in a new, creative way.

              Also note that if you rent private space in your home, it is not clear that you don’t need an ERUV, in the technical and not vernacular sense, in order to carry from one to the next. Apartment buildings that are all inhabited by Jews do need an eruv, according to SA Orach Chaim 370. But that’s just me being nitpicky with your words. Sorry for that.

            • In responding to Susan, I used her own words, “redefined” to disagree.

              Your point is taken, but I use the term legal fiction in the way it is used in American Law, that is, a rule CREATED to avoid a legal issue. Here, no rule has been created. All that is being done, is using the existing rules to enable a prohibited activity. I think that makes sense. You?

              And thank you for the nitpicking clarification. It is useful to the conversation.

              • It seems unlikely that when the rabbis proposed that tying a string over a gate wider than 10 amot, they intended for the modern-day eruv to exist. Indeed, no lesser authority than the Rambam rules that our use of this concept doesn’t work because the open space is greater than the filled-in space in the “wall,” rendering it not a wall (פרוץ מרובה על העומד).

                No rule is created. Rather, preexisting rules are used in ways that nobody intended them to be used.

                • Susan Barnes

                  A loophole allows a law to be circumvented, in a way that wasn’t anticipated when the law was written. So if the law of not carrying was written before the eruv concept was created, and if the law about tying a string over a gate wider than 10 ammot was not intended to allow an evruv, then I’d say an eruv is taking advantage of a loophole in the original law. So the intent is the issue. The fact that it works doesn’t stop it from being a loophole – loopholes work; that’s why they exist.

                  • Susan Barnes

                    Sorry, I should have said that’s why people use them, not that’s why they exist.

              • Sure, the Rabbis didn’t intend for a modern day eruv the size of a city but they did intend for the home within a chatzer to be joined. Is their intent the issue here? Or is the issue whether it works? And whether it is technically a loophole?

                And I am 100% maskim that there are those who shun eruvin in general. That is their prerogative, but aren’t we discussing those who do use eruvin?

                • Eruv chatzerot and tzurat hapetach (“eruv”) are not the same thing.

                  Eruv chatzerot is for people in a yard to be able to carry. The way they do it is with the legal fiction of all eating together. All residents contribute to the meal (we usually use matzo, because it lasts a long time and doesn’t go treyfe on pesach). Then they are allowed to carry from house to house. This is in addition to the requirement of the yard being enclosed.

                  Tzurat hapetach is if you have an enclosed area, but there is an opening of more than ten amot. Then can put two poles upright and one pole across on top of them to close the opening. This was then utilized on a broader scale for cities and non-enclosed villages. The original tzurat hapetach was only intended to close an opening in a wall. Nobody intended for the whole wall to consist of openings. No wall consists of all gates.

                  • I know the difference. I see now what you are saying. You aren’t saying (as I thought) that an eruv is a legal fiction. Rather the utilization of tzuros hapesach as walls is the legal fiction. Sorry for misunderstanding. So to amend my point, it matters not what was intended by the rabbis when they considered a tzuras hapesach a wall. What matters is that it is considered a wall and that wall can technically enclose an entire city making it one big chatzer (like a walled city).

                    • Sorry, it seemed like you were confusing the two in your first paragraph. And it’s useful for anybody reading this to know the difference. And it’s useful for us to not confuse the terms in our discussion.

                      I won’t push it, but I am saying that an eruv is a legal fiction. Tzurat hapetach isn’t a legal fiction, per se, but it’s utilization to enclose a whole city without any real walls is a legal fiction.

                    • Okay. Got it.

        • Anonymous

          “In halacha a private domain is defined as a an area that is united by a wall and a common area / item.”

          The poles and wire ares supposed to represent a wall. They are not actually a wall- no one would argue that poles and wires can be equated with actual walls. That is the legal fiction.

  • azigra

    “What happens in Eiruv stays in Eiruv” is one of the truest maxims ever.

    What happens in Eiruv usually doesn’t get reported to the police or society.

  • BB

    I saw this clip elsewhere and thought it pointed out the absurdity of being against an eruv beautifully.

  • Anonymous

    R’ E Fink – First of all, an eruv is technically not a loophole.

    Of course not! Technically, it’s a loop. 🙂

    Shabbat Shalom Umevorach to everyone.