An Eruv in South Hebron

Project20140531_0587-lvlbrnfltAn eruv is a symbolic courtyard used by orthodox Jews.   For one day each week, Shabbat, it turns a group of private dwellings into one shared home for anyone who lives there and wishes to take part.  The transformation allows its inhabitants to carry things (a prayer book, a meal, a child) from their private homes into the public space and throughout the eruv, an activity otherwise forbidden on that day.  For some people, Shabbat would be a somber affair without one.  Others may never even know that this subtle border is there. Here the boundary is designated by a series of poles linked with string to stand for the posts and lintels of interconnecting gateways.

Project20140531_0585 The lines can be difficult to see. An inserted plastic bottle makes the eruv boundary visible.

20120527_0956-flatIn most of Israel, a ribbon designates the eruv line; in the United States a piece of tape usually does the job. You can see one in this blog’s masthead.

Project20140531_0586lvlFltOne Shabbat, volunteers from Ta’ayush enter a farm along the eruv boundary to address an issue that should have been settled by a telephone call between parents.  But not here.

Project20140531_0588-lvl-flt Teenagers from the settlement turned a small stone enclosure on the edge of a Palestinian field into their private clubhouse.  They moved in old furniture, threw trash about, and used it for drinking parties.  The parents back their children against the farmer, and so the case wends its way through the courts.

Project20140531_0589lvlfltMeanwhile the farmer has permission to clean out his enclosure, but does not dare do so without witnesses, who are also helpers.  In past weeks, settlers have come to complain to the volunteers. The land is part of Eretz Israel, they say, and hence theirs.  During the week, settler teens trash the enclosure again, so the clean-up ritual has been repeated several times.

Project20140531_0590lvlfltInevitably, soldiers arrive to check things out.

Project20140531_0594-crpThey are in time to observe the volunteers


who have been given permission to pick some of the farmer’s mulberries.

During the week that follows, settlers demolish the farmer’s enclosure.

An eruv cannot enclose a farm, yet it runs by one and seems to pertain to this subject after all.  Borders are at issue: the borders of the farmer’s land, his right to enclose a small part of it, the borders of the settlement, of the state of Israel. The eruv boundary does not keep settlers in, but Palestinians do not cross it. A settlement wall that would protect a farmer from vandalism remains unfinished, leaving room for the teenagers to make themselves at home on the farm.

Borders are social phenomena. Representatives of an eruv must request permission from non eruv-users whose property is within the eruv, or is used by the eruv as part of its boundary.   In large populations, permission can be granted by any official with authority to enter all homes in the eruv.
In the United States, permission has been granted by homeowners, businesses, churches, and by mayors, chiefs of police and the President.  When it works, the eruv is a model of interfaith relations. When it does not, it is said that the rabbis surely designed the eruv to encourage Jews to live apart from other peoples.  An eruv is a barometer of the social relations that surround it. What does this eruv measure in South Hebron?

All photographs and texts © 2014 Margaret Olin.

4 thoughts on “An Eruv in South Hebron

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