Sunday, November 12, 2006

Eruv Awareness Campaign

This past Erev Shabbos, at 3:00 PM, my wife called the local Eruv hotline and the Eruv was up. At about 3:55, we got a phone call from a neighbor, whose wife had given birth a few days prior, that he needed a place to eat that night. He had been invited to eat at a family living about a mile away - doable in a stroller for a two year-old tot, dubious for her to walk it. Shabbos starts at 4:30. And he says that the Eruv is down.

I called the Eruv hotline, and, sure enough, the Eruv was down. Final. No way the crew can make it on time. This is frightening - you call at 3:00 and it's up, and a few minutes later it's down! How is one supposed to know this?

Quickly, my wife called a few friends, and there were quite a few 'saves' from those phone calls. One family was planning to walk a good two to three miles to a friend for the Shabbos day meal, and she also had stroller-bound li'l ones. I saw another father wheeling his child in a stroller to Shul for Minchah and Maariv, and I had to turn him right around.

The real problems began later. On Friday night, one of the students of a Rebbe who had made an Oneg at his house walked over with a Chumash. The Rebbe had to plead with him to leave the Chumash at his house, despite the fact that the student needed the Chumash to study for his Parshah test. Another student had brought his keychain, to be able to open the door when he arrived back home, when his parents would be out. The Rebbe encouraged the student to walk back immediately so he could still catch his parents.

On Shabbos day, there was virtually no sense that the Eruv was down. One of the local Rabbanim told me that outside people were walking, carrying things like it was a regular Shabbos with the Eruv up. I asked him if he told people not to stop and to turn right around and walk back. He thought that Muttav Yihyu Shogegin was operative, in most cases. (From personal experience with this, from the last time it happened, I think he's right).

Since there is an Eruv virtually every Shabbos, and carrying on Shabbos is such a given, it seems that people get the impression that the whole concept of Hotzaah is viewed as a Chumrah, and the Eruv is just to satisfy the Machmir opinion that you need an Eruv! It really is an Akirah of Shabbos, to an extent. (No Halachic pun intended).

Does the undeniable convenience of having an Eruv justify the mass Chillul Shabbos that occurs once or twice a year when it does come down?

Either way, there has to be a serious education of the public as to the seriousness of Hotzaah when the Eruv is inoperative.

And, instead of the call-in basis of finding out, perhaps Eruv membership dues should include a phone tree going out a few minutes before Shabbos to inform the community as to its status.

How do things work in other communities?

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