Orthodox desire lines

Suburbia is inherently automobile oriented.  It is a cultural landscape dominated by strip malls, subdivisions, and clogged transportation corridors that demands deference to cars. The people who moved to the suburbs brought with them cultural traditions that included a wide array of religious beliefs. As ranch houses and more immodest dwellings sprouted in residential neighborhoods after the Second World War, churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship were built for the people who lived in them.

Suburban intersection, Dunwood, Ga., near an Orthodox synagogue.

Suburban intersection, Dunwoody, Ga., near an Orthodox synagogue.

Orthodox Jews, like their Reform, Conservative, and non-Jewish neighbors, rely on cars to survive in suburbia. Trips to the grocery store, to work, to school, to summer baseball games, and to the mall all require getting in a car to make the trip. Unlike their neighbors, however, Orthodox Jews must hang up their car keys for the weekly Sabbath and for other high holy days because of religious laws prohibiting certain activities that include work, carrying objects, pushing and pulling things, and operating vehicles. Continue reading

A really thin line

What would a long tourist weekend in Manhattan be without a few museums and walking tours? It’s hard to not mix work and play and after the first day spent in the New York Public Library’s manuscripts room, day two began with a trip to the Yeshiva University Museum to see the “It’s a Thin Lineeruv exhibit.


Continue reading

Stretching string, creating community: the suburban eruv

As the 2012 Vernacular Architecture Forum conference dates near, emails from the session chairs are getting more frequent. I will be giving this paper June 9 in a session titled, “Re-Thinking Tradition and the Vernacular Landscape.” In the meantime, here is my abstract.

Continue reading

Snapshots of life inside Montgomery County’s eruvim

It’s been a fact of life in Washington for so long that people don’t notice — Rabbi Barry Freundel, Kesher Israel Synagogue, Washington, D.C.

Life inside an eruv, for Jews and non-Jews, is like life anywhere else. The boundary created by the eruv and the domain inside are meant to be unobtrusive and their builders strive for invisibility. I live inside an eruv and until I began than research, I was unaware of its existence or its limits. The same is true for many of my neighbors and friends and colleagues who live elsewhere in Montgomery County, Maryland. Continue reading

Building MoCo eruvim: Architecture and material culture (updated)

This is the second post in the series, Courtyards of Convenience: Montgomery County’s Eruvim


The Capital Beltway carries I-495 through Washington, D.C.’s Maryland and Virginia suburbs. The iconic 64-mile highway completed in 1964 is a symbolic barrier between Washington and the rest of the nation. The dichotomy, inside versus outside the Beltway, has permeated popular culture.

National Capital Beltway showing portions adjacent to Montgomery County eruvim. Adapted from Bing Maps. Click on the image to see a full-size version.

A four-mile segment of the Beltway in Montgomery County, Maryland, acts as another symbolic boundary. Areas within this segment have been incorporated into the perimeters of two Orthodox Jewish eruvim that wrap around parts of Silver Spring and Wheaton creating symbolically enclosed spaces that allow Jews to move within them on the Sabbath. Continue reading

MoCo eruvim just before Sabbath

This week I am documenting Montgomery County’s eruvim. While out shooting video and photos along the Capital Beltway I encountered one of the eruv inspectors who makes weekly checks to ensure that the eruv is intact for the week’s Sabbath. This video captures some of the chance encounter. Continue reading

Mapping MoCo’s Jewish Courtyards: The Eruvim (updated)

This is the first post in a series: Courtyards of Convenience: Montgomery County’s Eruvim

Blues guitarist Buddy Guy frequently tells interviewers that when you stretch a string, you are stretching a life. When Orthodox Jews stretch a string to build an eruv, they are creating a community. Eruv is a Hebrew word and in English it means “to mingle.” An eruv is symbolic space created by Orthodox Jews to enable them to carry and push things on the Sabbath as they move around their neighborhoods and travel to and from synagogue. Rabbinic law, Halakhah, prohibits Jews from working on the Sabbath. This includes carrying such items as house keys; pushing baby carriages and strollers; driving; playing ball; walking dogs on leashes; and, using medical devices like canes and walkers. and, carrying rain gear. Continue reading