Tuesday, September 23, 2014 Elul 28, 5774

Brotherly Love - It's Not Just a Slogan

November 17, 2005
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Is there anything not to like about an eruv? On the face of it, certainly not. But in many places, these symbolic barriers that allow observant Jews to carry items outside their homes on the Sabbath are the subjects of fierce communal battles.

In some communities, the idea of an eruv pits Jew vs. Jew, as some secular Jews express fears that the demographics of their neighborhoods will change if life is made easier for the Orthodox. In other locales, it is the cause of strife between various Orthodox or Chasidic factions, some of whom do not accept the idea of an eruv in the first place.

And, of course, there is always the possibility that some non-Jews will find the minimal alteration of the landscape - a thin wire stretched between telephone poles that usually are already encumbered - as a threat to their way of life as well.

In short, eruvs have a way of bringing out the worst in people.

But the good news this week is that the passage of legislation by the Philadelphia City Council permitting a Center City eruv - and its signing by Mayor John Street - has apparently not provoked any such negative reaction.

Does this mean that Philadelphia is actually worthy of its nickname the "City of Brotherly Love"? Perhaps.

Part of the credit for the lack of controversy about a measure that was passed by the normally contentious council by a unanimous vote is due to the stealthy tactics chosen by the Center City Eruv Corporation, which promoted the bill. Seeking to fly beneath the radar of the media, it managed to navigate the complicated city bureaucracy and tangled politics of City Hall without drawing any attention to the issue. And the result is that hardly a whisper of dissent was heard about the project.

But we hope the silence about the eruv is also due to an acceptance - on the part of both Philadelphians in general and the Jewish community in particular - of the value of diversity.

In truth, permitting the establishment of an eruv inconveniences no one, and helps make life easier for observant Jews. More to the point, the eruv is a tangible expression of the city's willingness to welcome an important segment of the Jewish community. And that bodes well not only for the economy of a city that wants and needs more families, but also for a Center City Jewish community that up to this point has lacked the infrastructure (including readily available kosher food and dining, as well as a day school) to support a significant population.

Even though it has caused strife elsewhere, the notion that an influx of Jews who will benefit from an eruv will harm other Jews is absurd. Such growth will benefit the entire community - and should encourage everyone - since it will reinforce the notion that the city is a desirable place for families of all stripes.

Though the Orthodox have traditionally been a minority of the local Jewish population, only those who have internalized the hatred of anti-Semites would greet the arrival of a fellow Jew as something that would diminish any quality of life.

So while it is certainly a good thing that the Center City eruv was pushed through without a battle, we'd like to think there is something more at play in the absence of opposition.

If the City of Philadelphia and the Jewish community of the city can greet the prospect of a stronger observant population with equanimity, perhaps there is a deeper moral to be drawn from the episode that speaks to the health of our local civic culture. If that is so, then Philadelphians have even more reason to celebrate an accomplishment.

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