September 2004 Edition

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College Park eruv set for debut

 

By Chanan Weissman

Mitzpeh Staff Writer

The rumors are true. You can throw out those odd-looking “Shabbos belts” and carry whatever you want on the day of rest.

The much-anticipated eruv is finally going up.

After years of discussion and debate over the complicated and time-consuming process of erecting an eruv, the religiously motivated structure of interconnected telephone wires and poles is expected to be complete by Rosh Hashanah.

“Even when I entered as a freshman four years ago, people had been talking about building an eruv,” said senior government and politics major Harris Cohen. “But not until last year was any progress made.”

Cohen, the leader of the newly-established University of Maryland Eruv Committee, has been working on the eruv project with sophomore computer engineering major Michael Mintz and recent graduate Benji Englehart for close to 18 months hoping to create a more close-knit community for the expanding base of Orthodox Jewish students.

According to traditional Jewish law, carrying objects in a public domain violates the biblical Sabbath. However, if the entire area is enclosed by a wall or gate-like structure, known as an eruv, then that area is considered a private domain, thereby allowing Jews to carry without violating the rabbinic prohibition.

“As complicated as it sounds, it’s one of the saving graces of contemporary Judaism,” said Rabbi Elli Fischer, the coordinator of the Jewish Learning Initiative. “It actually enables Jews to live within an urban setting while allowing them to create their own social enclaves.”

Until recently, the University of Maryland campus fit the rabbinic description of a “semi-public” domain, preventing many religiously observant students from enjoying the Sabbath due to the rabbinic restraints of carrying and transferring objects from place to place.

Instead of merely discussing the possibility of erecting an eruv, as had been the routine tradition of years past, Cohen and his Eruv Committee proactively started laying the groundwork for the $2,000 project.

“There was a lot of work involved in the whole process,” Cohen said. “In addition to familiarizing ourselves with the Halachot (Jewish Laws) of building an eruv, we were busy contacting local officials in order to get their permission.”

Over the summer, Cohen met with representatives of Pepco, the electric company, as well as executives from Prince George’s County, in order to rent the necessary space required to construct an encompassing eruv . The eruv includes the University’s campus, the Knox boxes, the College Park Towers and parts of Hyattsville.

For many students, the construction of the Eruv is a giant step toward a positive future for Jewish life on campus.

Ely Cole, president of Kedma, the Orthodox group on campus, believes that the eruv is a sign of a growing Jewish community. “What we’re doing by constructing this eruv is strengthening and unifying our own community. And so, when other prospective students come to check us out, they will automatically realize that this is a community on the verge of great things.”

 

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© 2004 The Mitzpeh Online