Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Hundredth-Year Anniversary of the First Eruv in New York 1905-2005

A city eruv in New York, despite what some would like us to believe, is not a novel concept but part of a longstanding tradition with roots in our European heritage.

The first record of a discussion regarding eruvin in New York City [Manhattan] was in 1901 when the rabbanim Hagaon Harav Tzvi Yechezkel Michelzon zt”l, one of the main rabbanim of Warsaw, and Hagaon Harav Yosef Levenstein zt”l, Av Bais Din of Serotzk, agreed that halachically it was permissible to establish an eruv there (see Chavalim BaNe’imim, 3:17 and Tirosh VaYitzhar, siman 73).

In 1905, an eruv was established by Hagaon Harav Yehoshua Seigel zt”l, the Chief Rabbi of Kehilas Yisroel and one of the most noteworthy poskim of that era living in New York (Otzar Zichronasi, pp. 118, 352). At the time, Rav Seigel published a kuntres, Eruv V’Hotzaah, in which he established the halachic underpinning for an eruv in New York, guidelines that are still pertinent today. Members of the Polish and Galician communities in New York asked their rabbanim in Europe if it was permissible to utilize this eruv. These Gedolei HaPoskim the Brezaner Rav (Maharsham, 9:18), Stanislaver Rav (Harei B’samim, 5:73), Hagaon Harav Moshe Meisels zt”l, Av Bais Din Premishler (Eruv V’Hotzaah), and Hagaon Harav Moshe Nachum Yerushlimsky zt”l, Av Bais Din Kieltz (Eruv V’Hotzaah) answered with a resounding yes. Rav Seigel’s eruv only encompassed the Lower East Side, utilizing the natural riverbanks [mechitzos hayam] of Manhattan on three sides and on the fourth side, the Third Avenue El as a tzuras hapesach.

As the Jewish community migrated out of the Lower East Side, there was a growing need to enlarge the Manhattan eruv to encompass the whole Manhattan. In 1949, the Amshinover Rebbe zt"l urged Hagaon Harav Rav Tzvi Eisenstadt zt”l to establish an eruv that included the whole Manhattan. Rav Eisenstadt spent days investigating the Manhattan waterfront and concluded that it was bounded by man-made walls [mechitzos b’y’dai adam] and an eruv could be established (Minchas Tzvi, siman 4). There were many meetings and teshuvos written concerning this eruv, the culmination being that most rabbanim allowed an eruv in Manhattan. Along with Rav Eisenstadt, and the Amshinover Rebbe, the list included the Kapishnitzer Rebbe, Boyaner Rebbe, Novominsker Rebbe, Radziner Rebbe, Hagaon Harav Michoel Dov Weissmandel, Hagaon Harav Yonasan Steif, Hagaon Harav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Hagaon Harav Menachem Kasher, and the Shatzer Rebbe, zt”l. By 1960, even Hagaon Harav Eliyahu Henkin zt“l had signed onto the committee to establish an eruv (Divrei Menachem, O.C. vol. 2, p. 10; see also Kisvei Hagriah Henkin, p. 33 where he urges the rabbanim of the Bronx and Brooklyn to erect eruvin). In Iyar of 1962, an eruv was finally established under the supervision of the Shatzer Rebbe zt”l.