The Richmond District is home to the largest eruv in San Francisco. An eruv is a virtual enclosure created by Jews in order to allow religiously observant members of our community to “carry” on Shabbat. “Carrying,” in this context, simply means moving any object from one “domain” to another. According to halacha (Jewish law), Jews can move a book, for example, from room to room in their “place of the residence,” but that same book could not be carried from the house to shul; doing so would necessitate a crossing of multiple domains (from house to street to shul).
Not surprisingly, strict adherence to this rule creates a lot of tsoris for observant Jews. How can you carry your tallit from home to shul, much less your house keys? As is their wont, rabbis devised a workaround. Because the walls of a home’s courtyard are, halachically-speaking, an extension of a house, Jews could carry the aforementioned book from the house into the courtyard without violating halacha. The rabbis reasoned, then, that the walls of a city — Jerusalem, for example — delineate a larger, symbolic “courtyard” or “place of residence.” Effectively, all of Jerusalem is one home, so carrying a book from your apartment to the shul is totally kosher.
But what about cities like San Francisco — or pretty much any modern municipality — that lack city walls? In those cases, halachically-observant Jews need to create their own walls. For practical reasons, these are most often virtual boundaries traced by telephone wires, existing fences, and adjoining buildings. This virtual perimeter is technically called an eruv chatzerot (“mixed courtyard/domain”) but is generally referred to simply as an eruv; it serves as a symbolic “walled courtyard,” and is therefore an extension of any individual “place of the residence” located within the eruv’s borders. Voila; problem solved! Observant Jews can carry their tallit, keys, pills, a jacket, or their newborn baby on Shabbat so long as they remain within the bounds of the eruv!
A virtual wall needs virtual gates or doorways, of course. These are created by the installation of a lechi, or doorpost, that must be connected to another lechi or suitable object (e.g., a telephone pole) by a wire; this horizontal wire forms the doorway’s lintel, or korah. Although these gates, or tzurot ha’pesach, go unnoticed by most of us, they represent a profound threshold for those in the know; passing through a tzurat ha’pesach, a Jew moves from what might be thought of as trief territory into sacred space. (One of the four entry points into the Richmond eruv is located on the southeast corner of 16th Avenue and Clement Street. Next time you’re on that corner, look up for the korah extending from lechi to lechi.)
Congregation Beth Sholom is situated just two blocks outside of the Richmond District’s existing eruv, which extends east-to-west from 16th to 43rd Avenues and north-to-south from Clement to Fulton Streets. In consultation with the Miami rabbi, an eruv specialist who flies all over North America to help establish new eruvim, Rabbi Zarchi and Rabbi Glazer are working to determine how the current eruv’s reach can be expanded. When Rabbi Zarchi constructed the eruv in 2012, he established eruv borders that were practically achievable, affordable, and didn’t require an onerous city permitting process.
Nevertheless, he has always aspired to create an eruv that includes CBS and Congregation Emanu-El. Although Reform Judaism doesn’t officially mandate observation of halacha, some more traditionally-minded Reform Jews would benefit from Emanu-El’s being inside the eruv. More importantly, the more Jewish communities that are included — the bigger the “Jewberhood,” if you will — the better for klal yisrael, the whole of the Jewish people.
The process is in the early stages yet — we’re just sussing out expansion options — but CBS will keep you posted on any progress. And, going forward, if you spot me on the street gazing up, it’s possible that I won’t be birdwatching or daydreaming, but checking on the condition of our eruv.
More information on the Richmond eruv can be found in this article, which appeared in the August 1, 2013, edition of J-Weekly.
1) Rabbi Glazer, the eruv consultant, and Rabbi Zarchi walk north on 14th Avenue
2) The eruv expert, Rabbi Glazer, and Rabbi Zarchi inspect potential eruv connections
3) Lechi definition from The Talmud, The Steinsaltz Edition: A Reference Guide, 1989
4) The tzurat ha’pesach at 16th Avenue and Clement Street
5) The eruv expert, Rabbi Glazer, Rabbi Zarchi, and Angel Alvarez-Mapp in conversation under the korah of the tzurat ha’pesach at 16th Avenue and Clement Street
5) Rabbi Zarchi, Angel Alvarez-Mapp, and the eruv expert talk logistics on the corner of 16th Avenue and Clement Street