Monday, May 15, 2006

The Washington Heights Eruv Controversy

Part of an ongoing commentary on the bias against city eruvin.

The Washington Heights eruv controversy has created a need to set the record straight regarding Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l’s objection to eruvin. [I plan a full post in the future about the underpinnings of the Frankfort 1914 eruv controversy, which no doubt Rav Schwab carried over with him to America.]

One of the primary reasons for establishing an eruv in Manhattan in 1962 was because an eruv helps to minimize chilul Shabbos by those who are unfortunately not religious (Divrei Menachem, O.C. vol. 2, p. 9-10, 13). Rav Schwab agreed that minimizing chilul Shabbos was a noble concern. However, he objected to an eruv because he maintained that the main difference at the time between the few who observed Shabbos and the majority who were lax in shmiras Shabbos was that the observant were careful not to carry. Therefore, Rav Schwab stated it is incumbent on the rabbanim to maintain this separation (Maayan Beis HaSho’eivah, p. 233). Additionally, he objected because the Manhattan eruv did not require any physical rectification (since they were not erecting tzuras hapesachim and only relying on the existing structures such as sea walls). This, Rav Schwab declared, would create a problem since there was no noticeable difference to the enclosed area, Manhattan. He believed that some would therefore claim that the same way rabbanim had found a way to allow carrying on Shabbos, they could find a way around other Shabbos stringencies as well (Maayan Beis HaSho’eivah, p. 233). This is in contrast to today where the majority of the community is fully observant and if an eruv was erected, it would add to their oneg shabbos. Additionally, since a tzuras hapesach has been erected, the other objection does not concern us as well.

More so, Rav Schwab agreed to an eruv in theory and he even posited that hopefully the future generations would be strong in Torah and at that point, with great joy, everyone would take part in erecting eruvin in Manhattan and in all cities (Maayan Beis HaSho’eivah, pp. 232, 234). The Breuer kehilla should realize that Rav Schwab’s hashkafic objections are not eternal and the time has come to move on and support an eruv (Rav Moshe Feinstin zt”l states that rabbanim may enact a takanah only for a short period of time; Igros Moshe, O.C. 4:49).

The fact that the Breuer kehilla is asserting that there are halachic issues that would preclude the establishment of an eruv proves that their concern has strayed from its roots. Rav Schwab’s issue was only hashkafah and not halachah. Why are they hindering the establishment of an eruv for reasons that are not their own. More so, the reason they give not to erect an eruv such as Rav Moshe zt"l's rulings against an eruv in Manhattan, does not prohibit this eruv. A tzuras hapesach encompassing only a small neighborhood has been erected, and Rav Moshe would not require delasos since the tzuras hapesach is erected in a reshus hayachid (see Part 4b: The Permissibility of a Brooklyn Eruv According to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l). [Regarding Manhattan, Rav Moshe had other issues besides for the requirement of delasos. There is no doubt though that his main issue was delasos and therefore it is very questionable if he would have opposed an eruv consisting of tzuras hapesachim (see Part 4c: The Permissibility of a Brooklyn Eruv According to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l; see also Would Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l Allow an Eruv for the Lower East Side of Manhattan?).]