Upon driving myself and children home from an idyllic winter break bowling expedition, I noticed something very disturbing about our community Eruv: one of the poles along the Eruv route was severely damaged. I wondered if this impacted the Eruv and safely parked near the scene of the broken pole to investigate. Lo and behold, there was a serious problem with our Eruv. Approximately six feet of the bottom of the Lechi was missing at this important location in the Eruv, and only two and a half hours remained until Shabbat. My mind began to race with calculations as to how to handle the situation. As a first step, I called the administrator of our Eruv in greater Teaneck, New Jersey Rav Micha Shotkin. I know Rav Shotkin is a very busy man who services dozens of Eruvin in the region. I wondered if he would he be able to help me rescue our Eruv. Fortunately, Rav Shotkin “happened” (I view this as Siyata DiShmaya) to be located only fifteen minutes away, on the road near Paramus. He quickly changed course and made his way to Teaneck. Rav Shotkin made the repair rapidly and efficiently, and the Eruv was up and ready for Shabbat. Had I not noticed the damaged pole and gone to investigate, thousands of Jews would have relied on a subpar Eruv that Shabbat.
Let us analyze this situation and glean some vital lessons for Eruv maintenance:
Rabbinic Involvement with Eruv Maintenance
I currently advise more that seventy communities in regard to their Eruvin and have thirty years of experience dealing with community Eruvin. One lesson I have seen repeatedly in community after community is that the quality of a community’s Eruv depends a great deal on the involvement of the local Rabbanim. Communities where the local Rabbi pays little or no attention to the Eruv are almost always in poor quality and often completely disqualified or marginally acceptable Eruvin at best. On the other hand, the Eruvin in communities where the Rabbanim are actively involved, such as Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Sharon, Massachusetts, are maintained at a high level.
Community Rabbanim are often extremely busy tending to an extraordinarily diverse set of communal and individual needs. However, it is vital for the local Rav to oversee the religious needs of the community. For example, Beitzah 16b relates that Avuha DiShmuel made an Eruv Tavshilin for his entire town of Nahardei’a and Rabi Ami and Rabi Asi made an Eruv Tavshilin for their entire town of Teveriah. In more recent times, it is related that both the Chafetz Chaim (Dugma MiDarkei Avi zt”l 63:14) and the Chazon Ish (Pe’eir HaDor 2:136 and 285) inspected their community’s Eruv every week.
In greater Teaneck, our inspector does an excellent job of meticulously inspecting the Eruv each week. It is clear that the problem arose after he completed the inspection on Thursday. In the wake of this incident, I sent a note to all of the Teaneck community Rabbanim to be alert to any unusual phenomenon in regard to the Eruv. Those Rabbanim who participate in our annual walking inspection of the Eruv are best able to notice such suspicious alterations. The walking tour provides the Rabbanim with a “Tevi’at Ayin” (recognition and grasp) of the Eruv which sensitizes them to notice when something is amiss.
Thursday Eruv Inspection
Ideally, a community Eruv should be inspected on Friday (Teshuvot Doveiv Meisharim). However, in practice many Eruvin are inspected on Thursday to allow time for the Eruv to be repaired if necessary. The Teaneck Eruv and most community Eruvin with which I am familiar are sufficiently stable to make us comfortable relying on a Thursday inspection. However, it is worth Rabbanim being alert to problems especially after the inspection is completed. After I completed creating an Eruv in the community in which I resided in 1989, I asked Rav Schachter if I was required to look at the Lechis on the streets I happen to be passing on Friday, after the Eruv was inspected for the Shabbat. Rav Schachter replied that it is not necessary to obsessively repeat the inspection of the Eruv. However, this does not mean we can blithely ignore an obvious problem such as the one that I spotted in the situation we are addressing.
What if the professional is not available? What are the Rav’s options to fix the Eruv?
In such situations, “Sof Ma’aseh B’Machshavah Techilah” is in order. Rabbanim should maintain a stockpile of forty-inch (the rough equivalent of ten Tefachim) Lechis that are ready to be installed on the poles in situations similar to our case. There may not be sufficient time to make such repairs by “laymen” if the Lechis are not prepared in advance.
In such situations the Rav might not have the equipment or ability to safely install the Lechis the entire way to the wire. He also may not be able to insure that the ten Tefachim (40 inch) high Lechis are plumblined beneath the wire. In such a situation, one could temporarily rely on an eyeball estimation that the Lechi is placed precisely beneath the wire. I heard this ruling directly from none other than Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as I described at length in Gray Matter 1:183.
Relying on BeDi’eved Standards
What if we were even unable to make the “layman repair”? The Rabbanim should be aware of standards upon which they can rely in a pinch, or at the very least have a Rav whom they can consult. In our case, the Lechi from the wire was about 10 feet down (but was missing the bottom ten feet of Lechi). In such a situation, Chatam Sofer (Teshuvot number 34 in the Likkutim) permits relying on the principle of “Gud Achit Mechitzta”, “The fence extends down” (Sukkah 4b and Chagigah 19a). The Chatam Sofer faced the challenge of frequent vandalism to the Lechis of his community’s Eruv. He advised in such a situation to rely on the Lechi extending down from the wire a minimum of ten Tefachim. Relying on the principle of “Gud Achit”, the wire could “extend” the Lechi down to the ground.
The Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 79:11) however, vociferously objects to the Chatam Sofer’s ruling. He argues that we may not rely on “Gud Achit” in the creation of a Tzurat HaPetach. He argues that such construction does not meet the Gemara’s requirement that it be made “KeDe’Avdi Inshi”, “as people normally do,” when they create items (Eruvin 94b). Since door frames are not created utilizing the principle of “Gud Achit”, a Tzurat HaPetach may also not be created based on this principle. Common practice follows the ruling of the Chazon Ish. Rav Hershel Schachter told me that he is not comfortable relying upon this ruling of the Chatam Sofer. However, Rav Mordechai Willig believes that B’Shaat HeDechak (in case of pressing need) this ruling may be followed. Indeed, the Chatam Sofer’s ruling seems compelling. Just as Tzurat HaPetach may be created via the mechanism of “Gud Asik” (according at least to the Mishnah Berurah 362:62), so too it may be creating relying upon “Gud Achit.” Had the Lechi in question not been able to be repaired before Shabbat, the Teaneck Rabbanim would have faced a dilemma as to whose ruling (Rav Schachter or Rav Willig) should be followed. Fortunately, we have formal Eruv Va’ad consisting of the local Rabbanim with considerable experience managing a community Eruv.
The question would have been submitted to the Eruv Va’ad for a decision whether to announce the Eruv as functional for that Shabbat. Another reason to be lenient in this case is that the Lechi on the pole in question is intended to correct an approximately ten degree change of direction. It is possible that B’dieved the Eruv would be kosher even if this Eruv would be missing. Is a ten degree change of direction permitted B’dieved? Again, Rav Schachter would not be comfortable relying upon this, whereas Rav Willig would find it acceptable BiSha’at HeDechak. This would have been part of the consideration had the Eruv Va’ad been asked to rule whether to Eruv is up or down for that Shabbat.
Occasionally, Announcing the Eruv is Down
Some Rabbanim might have been inclined to use the opportunity to announce that the Eruv is down. Indeed, the Elizabeth, New Jersey community follows the ruling of their venerated Rav Pinchas Teitz who announced the Eruv down once a year. Rav Teitz echoed Chazal’s concern “Shema Tishtakach Torat Eruv”, “Lest the Torah of Eiruv be forgotten” (Eruvin 59a and Rashi ad. loc. s.v. V’Shel Rabbim). Indeed, in my teaching experience, I have encountered many youngsters who are not aware of the distinction between Shabbat and Yom Tov in regards to the Issur Hotza’ah.
However, Rav Mordechai Willig does not subscribe to this approach. Sadly, in our communities, not everyone can be expected to observe the Issur Hotza’ah in case the Eruv is not functional. Public Chillul Shabbat, Chas V’Shalom, would be most detrimental to the community. In fact, I Rav Willig told me that the camp Rav at Camp Morasha once suggested the Eruv be called down upon encountering a very serious problem. Rav Willig insisted, though, that every effort be made to repair the Eruv in time for Shabbat so as not to need to call the Eruv down. (I am proud to report that my son Binyamin made a major contribution to this effort.)
Due to Siyata DiShmaya along with proper advanced planning and organization, a problem with the Greater Teaneck Eruv was noticed and repaired expeditiously. Baruch Hashem, a situation of thousands of observant Jews relying on a subpar Eruv for a Shabbat was avoided.
Moshe Rabbeinu, upon seeing the unusual sight of a bush on fire that was not consumed, made it his business to investigate. As a result, the process of our Ge’ulah from Mitzrayim was initiated. When you think you see something with the Eruv, say something and do something. Follow Moshe Rabbeinu’s example and investigate. The Rav’s alert reaction will bring Ge’ulah.
Postscript - A Related Incident with the Englewood Eruv
Daniel Lubat, while inspecting the Englewood, New Jersey Eruv on a Thursday evening, noticed utility workers working on poles along the 9W extension near Sage Street. He alerted me that the area required reinspection on Friday. Daniel made the correct assessment since the workers constituted a Rei'uta (disturbance) to the Chezkat Kashrut of the Eruv. I subsequently inspected the area on Friday and lo and behold discovered that an Eruv wire indeed was down.Baruch Hashem Rav Shotkin once again rushed to the scene and made the repair before the onset of Shabbat. Daniel wisely noticed and report the issue. He even followed up with me to insure that nothing fell between the cracks.
“Eiranut Mona’at Ason”, “Being alert avoids a catastrophe,” is an apt slogan posted in many Israeli public places. The same is true regarding community Eruvin. One may not assume that once the Eruv is constructed that it will remain intact indefinitely. Constant vigilance is a sine qua non for maintaining a quality community Eruv.