Here’s a religious ritual you may not be familiar with. Under Jewish law, on the Sabbath (Friday night to Saturday night), you’re not supposed to carry any of your possessions between private domains (like your home) and public domains (like outside your home). But what if you want to take your baby to synagogue? What if you want to carry your keys from inside your home to outside where your car is parked? You can’t do it. Jewish law forbids it.
But Orthodox Jews figured out a loophole. All they had to do was turn a “public” domain into a “private” one and the problem would be solved, and they accomplished this by creating an eruv (AY-roov).
An eruv is essentially a gated community built using poles and string. You put up the poles all around a city, connect them with a string, and you’ve created a brand new giant domain. Orthodox Jews can roam and carry items freely within that space, even on the Sabbath!
(We can have a separate debate over whether or not God sees through that little trick…)
But here’s the problem: In some communities, Orthodox Jews are building the eruv on public property. In some cases, they’re even tying the string directly on the government-owned utility poles. We have laws against that sort of thing and church/state separation proponents are finally speaking out against the eruvs:
“It’s not in the spirit of the deed that [the park] become a religious sanctuary,” [Mary Baker] says. She’s careful to point out that she has nothing against the Jewish faith. “I’m not in favor of crosses or crescents or Ten Commandments either. We need some faith-free zones in our lives.“
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is also weighing in against a particular eruv in Miami Beach, Florida:
[FFRF] has written a letter to the city demanding not only that the eruv in Pinetree Park be dismantled, but that all other public eruvs on the island be taken down.
“The religious significance of eruvin is unambiguous and indisputable,” FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel wrote yesterday. “They are objects which are significant only to some Jews as a means to obey religious laws that have no bearing on non-adherents. They have no meaning except as a visual, public communication of a purely religious concept for religious believers of a single faith. The City cannot allow such permanent religious displays to be erected on public land.”
It seems like a very simple principle: No religious group has the right to just randomly put up its symbols on government property. Just as we fight against Ten Commandments monuments at city halls, we should be fighting against these eruvs which have been erected on government property. It’s completely irrelevant that they might go unnoticed. The law applies to all groups, including Orthodox Jews, and the government has no right to give exemptions to one group but not others.