The fourth of the Ten Commandments is the commandment to observe the Sabbath. ‘Six days shall you labour and accomplish all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work..… (Exodus 20:10,11).
But what constitutes the work from which one is commanded to rest? The answer to this question is deduced from another part of the book of Exodus. The second half of the book from Chapter 25 onwards is dominated by the command to build a Sanctuary in the wilderness where the nascent Jewish nation were travelling. The Sanctuary, a pre-cursor to the the Temple in Jerusalem that came many hundreds of years later, is symbolic of man’s efforts to make our material and earthly world with all of its human endeavours a place where God’s presence can be manifestly felt. As such it represents the ultimate purpose of all human effort. Despite the the importance of this task, the Bible is quite explicit that the work involved in creating the Sanctuary does not override the Biblical command to desist from work on the Sabbath. From those activities that are involved in constructing the Sanctuary we can therefore deduce the activities that constitute labour on the Sabbath.
The Oral Tradition of Judaism (Jews believe that a body of oral interpretation of the written text of the Bible was communicated to Moses who passed it on to succeeding generation – it is now enshrined in written form known as the Talmud) defined thirty nine separate forms of labour involved in the construction of the Sanctuary and these are the thirty nine main categories of forbidden work on the Sabbath. Their common denominator is that they are of a creative nature. The concept of the Sabbath is therefore that of a twenty-four hour period in which human beings refrain from the creative activities that define our weekday world – activities by which we assert our dominance over the world – and hand it back, so to speak, to the Creator in recognition of His Ownership of the universe.
One of the thirty nine forms of labour is carrying. Wooden boards that formed the walls of the Sanctuary were carried from the wagons in which they were transported into the public space where the Sanctuary was erected. The labour of carrying is defined as carrying an object from a private, enclosed space (wagons) into a public, open space. While it is not immediately apparent why carrying should constitute a ‘creative’ activity the underlying principle in refraining from carrying on the Sabbath is to remind the Sabbath observer as they move from a private to public space or vice-versa that the world is one single domain that belongs to God. Not being allowed to carry between the private and public domains re-enforces this awareness.
In the Sabbath definition of private and public spaces private means any enclosed space under private ownership. Public means a place where a very large number of people congregate at any one time. In reality most of the spaces in our modern cities such as suburban roads fall into neither category. The early Jewish legal authorities ruled however that these intermediate spaces should be treated as public spaces – thereby prohibiting the carrying of articles from say a private home into the street outside – unless some sign were made to designate the outside space as an extension of the private space. Hence they developed the concept of the eruv which through the use of natural boundaries and string (signifying a symbolic wall) enclose an area and designate it as a virtual private space so that Sabbath observant Jews can carry and push wheelchairs or buggies between their private homes and the area enclosed by the eruv as if it were a contiguous private space in accordance with the Sabbath definition. While permission must be sought from the owners of land to erect the poles bearing the string, no change of ownership, actual or virtual, is implied.
Through the introduction of the Eruv, the Sabbath limitations on social and religious interaction that arise in our modern urban contexts where families no longer live in close proximity to each other or the synagogue are eased – particularly for the elderly and families with young children – while at the same time the awareness of the underlying meaning of the prohibition of carrying for those who are Sabbath observant is preserved.
It should be noted that ‘eruv’ (the word means ‘joining’) is a generic term: there are a number of different types of eruv required by Jewish law for specific Sabbath circumstances. The eruv which has become a feature planning applications in cities around the world and latterly in London should not be confused with the other definitions.
The laws of Eruv are detailed and complex. An entire tractate of the Talmud is devoted the subject and the laws are subsequently codified by Maimonides and Joseph Caro in their respective halachic compendiums.
For the current Eruv status please see our website footer.
Once please G-d, planning is approved and the eruv is built this will show when the eruv is ‘up’ and complete or ‘down’. As we currently have no eruv, the status is ‘down’ 🙁