During the past twenty years, I have been involved with the creation and maintenance of many communal Eruvin. In this essay, I will present proposed protocols for community Eruvin to be maintained at an appropriate Halachic standard, based on my experience in this field. Proper standards can be met by strictly adhering to the outlined protocols. We shall focus our discussion on four groups that are crucial to the success of a community Eruv: the Poseik, the community Rav, the weekly inspectors, and the community.
Creating and maintaining proper Eruvin involves complex Halachic issues. A Poseik of eminent stature must be consulted to issue Halachic rulings regarding a community Eruv. The qualifications of someone to serve as a Poseik for a community Eruv are as follows:
1. He must be an expert in the Gemara, Rishonim and the many Acharonim (especially the Chazon Ish, who is widely regarded as having great authority in this area of Halacha, perhaps even more than the Mishnah Berurah) who discuss the practical details of Eruv design and construction.
2. He must have extensive experience in dealing with community Eruvin, which includes working in the field with utility poles.
3. He must be widely recognized in the Orthodox community as an authority in the field of Eruvin.
The Poseik must set standards and protocols for the community. He must set optimal standards as well as emergency (She’at HaDechak) standards which can be relied upon when a problem arises shortly before the onset of Shabbat. He must establish protocols in determining the standards for both the creation and maintenance of the Eruv. For example, he must establish how often utility wires must be inspected and, if river banks are used, how often they must be checked to insure that they remain at a proper angle and height to serve as part of the Eruv. Rav Gavriel Bechoffer, the author of The Contemporary Eruv, suggested that the Poseik be asked to review the Eruv twice every seven years (similar to a Mezuzah; see Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 291:1).
No change in the Eruv should be made without consulting the Poseik.
The Local Rav
The second key figure in Eruvin is the local Rav. He needs numerous qualifications:
1. He must have extensive training and knowledge of Hilchot Eruvin both in theory and practice. We cannot rely solely upon the fact that a Rav of eminent stature designed and once inspected the Eruv. Eruvin are quite vulnerable to weather, vandalism, and utility company workers shifting poles and wires. Eruvin become disqualified quickly and often, especially very large ones. The community depends on the local Rav to facilitate repair of the Eruv in a proper manner.
2. He must insure that there is an extensive and clear record of every detail of precisely how the Eruv is constructed. Every change in the Eruv’s construction must be duly noted. The Rav must be intimately familiar with every detail of the Eruv and involved in its inspection on a regular basis. Ideally, the Rav should be the one who inspects the Eruv each week, as the Chazon Ish did in Bnei Brak every Friday morning, even in the most inclement weather (Pe’eir HaDor 2:136 and 285). Experience teaches that when community rabbis do not attend to the community Eruv, the kashrut of the Eruv deteriorates.
3. He must understand when it is appropriate to consult the Eruv’s Poseik.
4. The Rav must insure that the Eruv adheres to the highest standards of ethics and safety. I heard directly from Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik that no portion of the Eruv should be constructed without obtaining the necessary permission. Eruvin must be a source of Kiddush Hashem in the community.
5. Alternative routes for the Eruv must be explored in case of recurrent problems in specific portions of the Eruv.
6. He must insure that She’at HaDechak standards do not evolve into the conventional standards for the Eruv. For example, a “Lechi” (a portion of a doorframe necessary in the creation of an Eruv; see my Gray Matter 1 pp. 181-182) that was attached to a utility pole shortly before Shabbat in a less–than-optimal fashion (see ibid. p. 183 for a related conversation I had with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach) should not remain a permanent component of the Eruv.
7. The Rav must insure that the Eruv Chatzeirot (see ibid. 1 pp. 194-196) and Sechirat Reshut (see ibid. pp. 197-199) remain updated and cover the entire area encompassed by the Eruv. Rav Schachter recommends that Sechirat Reshut should not be made for longer than twenty years (see Mishnah Berurah 382:48 and Netivot Shabbat 37:28 and note 20 for a variety of opinions regarding this issue).
8. There is great pressure on a Rav to insure that the Eruv encompass all members of the community. He must insure that expanding the Eruv does not compromise its Halachic standards and integrity and/or become too large to properly supervise.
9. Experience teaches that a community that does not yet employ a Rav should not establish an Eruv. Although there is great motivation to establish an Eruv in order to attract people to the community, Eruvin easily and quickly fall into disrepair without on-site rabbinic supervision.
10. When a community is “in between rabbis” the Eruv should not be relied upon.
Of no less importance are those who inspect the Eruv on a regular basis.
1. Optimally the Eruv inspectors should be Talmidei Chachamim who are well-versed in the theory and practice of Hilchot Eruvin. At minimum, they should be God-fearing Jews who are highly scrupulous in their observance of Jewish Law who will inspect the Eruv meticulously (see Rav Asher Bush’s Teshuvot Shoel BeShlomo number 12, based on Rama Y.D. 127:3).
2. They should never make any changes or repairs to the Eruv without consulting the local Rav.
3. They must have a through knowledge and understanding of every detail of the Eruv so that they will be able to spot a potential problem in the Eruv. Their knowledge of Hilchot Eruvin should be sufficient for them to know when to alert the local Rav to a problem.
4. They must record where the Eruv is most vulnerable and must inform the Rav of recurrent problems in specific locations.
5. They must be alert to specific Halachic issues that arise for time to time, such as tangling of wires in trees during springtime. The appearance of a brand new utility pole often signals that the Eruv has been compromised.
6. They must not (except for unusual circumstances) drive a car and inspect the Eruv simultaneously. They will either not drive properly or not inspect the Eruv properly (or both) if they attempt to do both concomitantly.
7. Candidates for Eruv inspectors should be tested to determine competency in this task.
8. The Rav and Poseik should be consulted as to whether the Eruv can be inspected earlier than Friday in case of great need. (See Teshuvot Doveiv Meisharim 2:28, who insists that Eruvin be inspected on Friday.)
Finally, the community maintaining the Eruv must be alert.
1. It must realize that the maintenance of a community Eruv requires a very significant amount of time, resources and effort on an ongoing basis. The price of a kosher Eruv is eternal vigilance. All too often, communal enthusiasm regarding an Eruv wanes after it is constructed. Ongoing attention insures that the Eruv does not fall into disrepair.
2. As suggested by Rav Hershel Schachter, the community should be aware of the route of the Eruv so that members can alert their Rav and Eruv committee to potential problems, such as utility pole construction.
3. It should consider adopting the practice (initiated by Rav Pinchas Teitz) of the Elizabeth, New Jersey Jewish community to declare the Eruv out of operation once a year in order to educate the community that carrying is forbidden on Shabbat (see Eruvin 59a). Otherwise, a generation is raised not knowing the prohibition to carry on Shabbat. For example, a woman who grew up in a community encircled by an Eruv told me that she never knew that there is a difference between Shabbat and Yom Tov with regard to Hotzaah. In Elizabeth, the Eruv is always declared “down” on the Shabbat that follows Parashat Zachor. We should note that not all Rabbanim subscribe to this practice.
In contemporary Israeli and North American Orthodox communities, it is almost expected that there be an Eruv and that the community Rav properly maintain it. Indeed, Halacha assumes that an Eruv should be established whenever it is possible to do so (see Eruvin 67b-68a, Mordechai Eruvin number 515, Teshuvot HaRosh 21:8, Teshuvot Chatam Sofer Orach Chaim 89 and Teshuvot Har Zvi O.C. 2:24). However, not all community members are sufficiently sensitized to the time and effort necessary to achieve the goal of maintaining a kosher community Eruv. Many if not most Rabbanim are severely overburdened and cannot, in most cases, be expected to maintain the Eruv without abundant and generous communal support, both moral and financial. The community must be willing to devote time to insure the Eruv’s success. On the other hand, community members cannot be expected to successfully maintain an Eruv at an appropriate Halachic level unless the local Rav is involved with the Eruv on an ongoing basis. The synergy of Rav and community will insure that our Eruvin maintain the same high standards as they did at the time of their creation.
A document that presents these protocols in much greater detail has been submitted for review by leading Poskim. Please share any comments and insights by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.