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It’s a Thin Line: The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York and Beyond


Manhattan Three Times (2007 – 2011), acrylic & thread on paper by Ben Schachter
Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

Manhattan Three Times (2007 – 2011), acrylic & thread on paper by Ben Schachter Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

Tightrope (2012) Acrylic on canvas, LCD Monitors by Yona Verwer
Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

Strikingly in one display case the exhibition documents three mid-20th century arguments against any Manhattan Eruv: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (who, while he opposes, does not condemn rabbis who would permit), Rabbi Shimon Schwab, and Rabbi Theodore Adams. This strict halachic position is still upheld on the Lower East Side. Courageously one artist, Yona Verwer, protests. Her “Tightrope” (2012) prominently raises another aspect of the overall concern for the broader Jewish community. The lack of an eruv “excludes women, children and sick people from fully participating in Jewish life and synagogue community.” Her installation depicts 16 panels with images of downtown communities affected by the lack of an eruv. Her artwork includes not only images from these synagogues but also community voices captured on 3 video monitors that express the pain and frustration caused by rabbinic refusal to establish an eruv on the Lower East Side. This is a powerful protest artwork on the part of observant Jews that dovetails directly into earlier rabbinic concern over Sabbath desecration by the non-observant. It demands that the eruv, introduced for the benefit of the observant, must also be understood and be created for those of our community who are in need; i.e. the vulnerable and the non-observant.

The institution of the eruv is an act of chesed, i.e. an act of love and concern. And as such, is radical and immediate. In that spirit this exhibition adds an important voice to the ongoing eruv dialogue in Manhattan, Brooklyn and beyond.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


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