That got my attention. How can there be something that’s 18 miles long that goes unnoticed by people in such a densely populated city? I had to learn more.
It turns out that an eruv (which is the singular for eruvin) is a symbolic, ritual enclosure that one encounters in some Orthodox Jewish communities. These enclosures once consisted of walls or fences. Now they’re usually a wire or string between posts to create imaginary walls. In essence, they religiously enclose an area.
If you are inside this enclosure, there are things that you can do on Shabbat that are usually prohibited. This includes carrying things, which is considered work on the Sabbath. Imagine how difficult it would be to avoid carrying groceries or house keys or medication or children in public places one day a week. Imagine if you couldn’t use strollers or walkers or canes if you needed them.
So an eruv converts public places into private holy spaces. A Rabbi is tasked with inspecting these eruv every Thursday to make sure there are no gaps. It turns out that over 200 eruvin currently exist in the United States.
The Manhattan eruv, the largest, most expensive one in the world, costs 100,000 dollars a year to maintain. But it is worth it to the devout if it allows them increased functionality without fear of breaking Jewish law.
If you’re interested in seeing if there’s an eruv in your city, check out the list here. You can also see these eruvin on Google Maps. There are several in my city of Seattle.
I plan to look up more often to see if I can spot one. They frequently utilize utility poles, but the wires have to go across the top of a post (which sometimes requires a post to be attached to a pole) to be considered legitimate. It’s fascinating to think these eruvin have been hiding in plain sight all along.
By the way, I am not Jewish, so please accept my apologies for any inaccuracies in this post. It is not my intention to offend or mislead anyone. I just happen to find this subject interesting.