For those of you unfamiliar with this blog or eruvim, they are a tool that some Orthodox Jewish communities use to create domains that extend the boundaries of domestic space into the public sphere. These domains, some believe, allow the observant to circumvent some of the strict prohibitions Jewish religious law attaches to the 25-hour weekly Sabbath.
Among the prohibitions are working, driving, pushing things, and carrying objects. So for example, while away from home during the Sabbath, Orthodox Jews cannot carry house keys, use umbrellas, carry food to a neighbor’s house, use canes and walkers, or push a baby stroller.
Like subdivisions and strip malls, eruvim are important elements in many suburban landscapes. In contrast to other vernacular structures and landscapes, however, eruv boundaries are meant to be unremarkable and transparent, only visible to those who rely on them to adhere to Jewish religious law.
Eruvim are dynamic artifacts created by post-World War II movements of urban Jews to the suburbs. They are symbols of a unique Jewish sacred identity that literally are mapped onto the landscape yet they are not ritual objects. Eruvim are a secular accommodation to the realities of modern life that include residing greater distances from synagogues and dispersed family and friends.
There are seven eruvim in Montgomery County, Maryland — eight, if you count an eruv that jumps the state line from Washington, D.C., to the south. I spent a few weeks last year documenting them as I prepared to move to Atlanta.
Once in Atlanta, I found at least five eruvim in Fulton and DeKalb counties. Over the next few months I hope to explore Atlanta’s eruvim to better understand them as architectural and engineering features and their place in suburban (and urban) cultural landscapes.
The Virginia-Highland Eruv encloses about 2.25 square miles in the trendy Virginia-Highland neighborhood east of downtown Atlanta. Completed in 2004, this was the first stop in my survey of Atlanta’s eruvim.
View Virginia Highland Eruv in a larger map
There are three Jewish congregations inside the Virginia-Highland Eruv: the Orthodox Anshi S’fard, the Conservative Shearith Israel synagogue, and the ultra-Orthodox Chabad Intown. Anshi S’fard’s rabbi, Chaim Lindenblatt, built the eruv and he maintains it. I interviewed Rabbi Lindenblatt for the Patch piece and I went out to the eruv boundaries near the intersection of the well-traveled Ponce de Leon Avenue and Briarcliff Road corridors to get some photos of the lechis and landscape.
After shooting several hundred photos of Montgomery County’s eruvim and reading a pile of books and articles on the structures I thought I knew what I was looking for. I was wrong. I wandered up and down Briarcliff Road for about 30 minutes looking closely at telephone and power poles for evidence of the eruv.
Admitting defeat, I whipped out the cellphone and called Rabbi Lindenblatt. He pointed me towards a specific power pole and told me where to look on the pole. I was accustomed to seeing lechis made from wood and plastic. The Virginia-Highland eruv uses lechis fashioned from a malleable metal alloy wire. It was the most unobtrusive — other than the unmodified poles that pass directly beneath the power lines — lechi I had encountered (for more on what lechis are, see my 2010 post on eruv architecture).
Stay tuned for more entries as I explore Atlanta’s eruvim. In the meantime, you can read about the Virginia-Highland Eruv in my Patch piece: The Virginia-Highland Eruv.
© 2011 David S. Rotenstein