Mel Alexenberg's artworks "Miami Beach Eruv" and "Sodom Eruv" were part of "The Poetics of the Eruv" exhibition at the Yale University Art Museums in 2011.  His text "Eruv and Conceptual and Kinetic Art" appear in the exhibtion catalog and Images: Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture, Vol. 5, 2011. 

 

Miami Beach Eruv, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 101 cm.  Painting of generic Art Deco building with Hebrew caption over doorway eruv takin tikun ha’olam (a unbroken eruv mending the world).  See cord running between poles above the building.

 

Photographs of the eruv surronding Miami Beach as cords linking poles attached to palm trees and buildings passing over the causeways linking the islnd of Miami Beach to the mainland.  

 

“An Eruv is an enclosure around a home or community. It enables the carrying of objects out of doors for Jews on the Jewish Sabbath that would otherwise be forbidden by Torah law (Halakha). Without an eruv, Torah-observant Jews would be unable to carry keys or tissues in their pockets or push baby carriages on the Jewish Sabbath thus making it difficult for many to leave home.”

“In modern times, when housing is not typically organized into walled courtyards, rabbinic interpretation has permitted this requirement to be met by creating a continuous wall or fence, real or symbolic, surrounding the area to be aggregated. The fence is required to have certain properties and consist of structural elements such as walls or doorframes. When the fence is symbolic, the structural elements are often symbolic ‘doorframes’ made of wire, with two vertical wires (often connected to utility poles) and one horizontal wire on top connecting them (often using utility wires). The use of symbolic elements permits an eruv to make use of utility poles and the like to enclose an entire neighborhood of a modern city within the legal aggregation. In contemporary Jewish discourse, "an eruv" frequently refers to this symbolic "fence" that creates and denotes the boundaries of a symbolic "walled courtyard" in which a halakhicly (religiously) valid property aggregation can take place, rather than to the aggregation or legal status of the properties.”  (From Wikipedia)

 

In his wisdom, King Solomon created the concept of eruv as an easement that makes life more pleasant on the Sabbath. An eruv permits a Jew to observe the law with comfort by expanding the boundaries of one’s place.  If the yard around a house is fenced in, it is considered to be an extension of the house.  Therefore, people are permitted to carry between the house and its private yard on the Sabbath day.  If two neighbors surround both their houses with a single fence then they can carry into their joint yard and into each other’s houses.  King Solomon proposed continuing the same process until all houses in a village are surrounded by a single extensive fence that transforms the space within it from public space to a one large private space belonging to the entire community.  Minimum fencing is series of poles connected on the top by a string in a post and lintel form known as tzurat hapetah, “the form of the opening.” It is instructive that the open-ended thought patterns of Jewish consciousness are reflected in the structure of the eruv, a fence built of open forms.

Today, most villages, towns, and cities in Israel have constructed an eruv as have hundreds of communities in the Diaspora.  Entering the word ‘eruv’ in the Yahoo search engine yields 691,000 websites (13 May 2010) including:  Greater Boston Eruv, New Haven Eruv, Los Angeles Community Eruv, East Denver Eruv, Chicago Eruv, Baltimore Eruv, Univerity of Maryland Eruv, Cornell University Eruv, NW London Eruv, Sydney Eruv, Eruvin of South Africa, and the Teaneck Eruv in New Jersey. I served on the committee that created the Teaneck Eruv when I lived there in the 1970’s.  As an art professor at Columbia University across the George Washington Bridge, I enjoyed the process of creating the Teaneck eruv as an environmental artwork of monumental proportions with communal, spiritual, geographical, political, and aesthetic dimensions.  

Two decades later, I photographed the Miami Beach Eruv to illustrate my presentation on “The Future of Art” at the National Art Education Association convention in Miami Beach.  I explained that the Miami Beach Eruv is the largest environmental sculpture in America that can be perceived as both a kinetic and a conceptual artwork.  The Miami Beach Eruv is a fence that runs for twenty miles around all of Miami Beach.  It carries a spiritual message while meandering through the gross material world, passing between the colorfully painted Art Deco buildings on Ocean Drive and the beautiful topless models sunning themselves on the beach.  It is mainly made of poles connected by a string attached to the top of each pole in “the form of the opening.”  The poles are attached to palm trees and to the sides of buildings and some are free standing like telephone poles.  Traffic even passes under its string lintel hovering from pole to pole over the causeways to the mainland of North America.  On Fridays, Police Captain Rabbi Weberman can be seen riding on the beach in a dune buggy checking the eruv to assure that it is unbroken, his beard and tzitzit (ritual fringes) blowing in the breeze.

To observant Jews who are carrying, it gains the properties of a stone wall from sunset on Friday until stars appear in the sky on Saturday night.  Although the eruv is visually transparent, it becomes conceptually opaque, impassable by a Jew carrying a book in his hand.  However, it serves no halakhic purpose during the other six days of the week.  It is as if it disappears.  It is a kinetic artwork that changes it significance in seven day cycles.  Indeed, it remains invisible all week to those who are not looking for it.  None of my audience at the NAEA convention, even those living in Miami, had ever noticed the strings running from pole to pole.  Although the eruv actually exists in space and defines it, its significance is in time.  Like the Sabbath itself, the eruv is architecture in time.

In his poetic book, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel emphasizes the sanctification of time in Jewish consciousness:

"Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms in time, as architecture in time…. The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space.  Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.  It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from results of creation to mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world."

(Based on the section on ‘Honoring Human Diversity’ in Mel Alexenberg’s book The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness)

 

RABBIS PATROL STRING THAT LETS ORTHODOX ROAM

by Dan Froomkin, The Miami Herald, 26 April 1989

     Twenty feet up, just west of the shore in South Miami Beach, a long piece of nylon string wends its
way through the palm trees and street lights.
      In a related occurrence, 58-year-old Rabbi Pinchas Weberman tools down a 75-block stretch of beach
once a week in a three- wheeled dune buggy, his gray beard and prayer shawl billowing in the wind.
      It's all part of having an Eruv on Miami Beach.
      The Eruv is a "barrier" made of seawall, dune fences, string, telephone lines and the backs of
condominiums. It encircles almost all of Miami Beach, Surfside, Bal Harbour and Bay Harbor Islands.
      Weberman checks on it every week because, when it's intact, the Eruv allows Orthodox Jews to get
around a scriptural ban on carrying objects -- including such things as keys, wallets and babies -- outside
their homes on the Sabbath.
      Weberman acknowledges that riding a dune buggy to make sure there are no breaks in a nylon string
doesn't at first seem scripturally related. Or particularly logical.
      But the rabbi has a simple explanation. "Any set of laws," he said, "gives you technicalities that are
beyond practicality."
      It all stems from Exodus, Chapter 16, Verse 29: "Abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out
of his place of the seventh day."
      As interpreted by Jewish scholars over the centuries, that phrase extends the ban on doing work on the
Sabbath to specifically forbid the transportation of any objects between the public and private domain.
      An Eruv defines and encloses a space, making it "private" -- essentially like one large home. So
carrying keys or a wallet or pushing a stroller outside the house but within an Eruv becomes Talmudically
acceptable.
      The first Eruv was created in Jerusalem by King David 3,000 years ago, Weberman said. A little more
recently -- about 1,600 years ago -- scholarly rabbis set down Eruv rules, in the Book of Eruvin, a 114-
page volume of the Talmud, or Jewish law.
      There are Eruvs all over Israel, New York City and South Florida, including one in Hollywood, one in
Boca Raton and two in North Miami Beach.
      Until the Miami Beach Eruv was erected five years ago, Orthodox families had to stay home with their
babies on the Sabbath. They couldn't carry their prayer shawls. Pot luck dinners were out of the question.
      According to the Talmud, Eruvs are made of "walls" and "doorways." Fences and buildings are
considered "walls" if they begin at ground level and rise at least 40 inches. The strings or phone wires
define "doorways."
      When Weberman spots a break in the dune fence -- a frequent occurrence -- he connects the two parts
with string, making a little "doorway" until the fence can be fixed.
      Weberman considers his Eruv duties a lot of fun -- particularly the buggy ride. "I feel it's a nice,
invigorating, healthy ride," he said.
      The rabbi picks up a good amount of speed on some stretches, but is no risk-taker. "I'm very careful. I
know the terrain here."
      And because he knows the terrain so well, Weberman, who is also a Miami Beach Police chaplain,
carries a small handgun strapped to his ankle, visible under his black pants. "You never know what's
going on here," he said.
      Two other rabbis help Weberman check other parts of the Eruv, including the string running between
the light poles in South Beach. Seawalls along Biscayne Bay are the western border, and are checked only
every few months, by rabbis in motorboats.
      Further making use of modern technology, Weberman has established an Eruv hot-line which he tapes
when all the inspections are complete. Dial 866-ERUV on a Friday afternoon and Weberman's voice will
announce the status of the Eruv.
          Weberman estimates that as many as 10,000 Orthodox Jews take advantage of the Eruv, which
spans from South Pointe to Haulover Cut, from the beach to the bay.
      Weberman is often stopped on his route by people who wonder what he and his string are all about.
"Some people think it has to do with the birds, or it has to do with flying kites."
      "It's something we don't see too often in New Jersey," said Paul Lustiger, a tourist crossing the beach
during a recent Weberman fly-through. "A rabbi can have fun, too, I guess."
      WHAT IS AN ERUV?
        An Eruv (pronounced A-roov) defines and encloses a space, making it 'private' -- essentially like one
large home. The Orthodox interpret Jewish law to forbid the transportation of any objects between the
public and private domain during the Sabbath. So carrying keys or a wallet or pushing a stroller outside
the house on the Sabbath becomes acceptable within an Eruv.