January 28, 2010

Orthodox Jewish Community Builds Ehruv on Campus

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Observant Jews in the Cornell community can finally enjoy extended freedom during the Sabbath, thanks to the official establishment of the Rabbi Morris Goldfarb Memorial Ehruv.

An ehruv — a physical structure enclosing a larger area into a single domain — enables Jews to carry items such as food, books, medicines and coats without violating the Sabbath. According to Aaron Sarna ’11, president of the Center for Jewish Living, it is forbidden in the Jewish tradition to physically carry anything between a public and private domain during the Sabbath, which begins every Friday at sundown and ends after sundown every Saturday.

The religious ruling that necessitates the use of the ehruv is a rabbinical interpretation of a Biblical verse, according to Rabbi Jason Leib, Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus director, O.U. and rabbinic supervisor of the ehruv.

Dean Robinson, grad and leader of the Cornell Ehruv Committee, estimated that more than 70 Jewish community members benefit from the ehruv.

Sarna explained the positive impact the ehruv has had on the Jewish community. “[The ehruv] means that I can carry my books if I want to go study in the library,” he said. “I can go have a football game on the Arts Quad or bring water with me if I want to go on a walk in The Plantations. [The ehruv] makes things more mobile and simplifies things.”

Before the construction of the ehruv, Robinson said, “I could’ve worn a coat, but I couldn’t have taken it off.”

Leib, father of three young children, said, “My life has benefitted tremendously. [The ehruv] means that we can push a stroller.”

“It makes [the Sabbath] more festive,” he added.

The new ehruv is essentially a long boundary consisting of pre-existing utility poles connected by wires, Sarna explained. The Cornell ehruv website states that the ehruv encloses the entire Cornell campus, the majority of Collegetown and significant portions of downtown Ithaca and Cayuga Heights.

To construct the ehruv, Leib said that the Ithaca community contracted a utility company to put the requisite ehruv moldings on existing utility poles. The Cornell Ehruv Committee sought civil permission for the ehruv which was ultimately granted by the sheriff of Tompkins County.

Local rabbinical supervision for the ehruv is provided by Rabbi Leib as well as by the Rav HaMachshir Rabbi Barry Freundel. Sarna said that Freundel inspected the construction and granted his approval in December.

Last week Leib performed the ceremony establishing the Rabbi Morris Goldfarb Memorial Ehruv as an ehruv and, “not a bunch of wires and poles,” Sarna said. Last weekend was the first Sabbath that the ehruv was usable.

“Going forward,” Sarna explained, “[the ehruv] still has to be checked every week to make sure that the structure is intact.”

Robinson said that the Cornell Ehruv Committee is currently in the process of organizing a rotation of students to drive around the entire 8.5-mile route every week to make sure that nothing has been knocked down. This process requires several hours every week.

However, these efforts are well worth it for many in the Ithaca Jewish community. “The whole point [of the ehruv] is that it makes observance of the Sabbath more pleasant and easier,” Robinson said. “I’m looking forward to making use of it.”

According to the Cornell Ehruv website, the ehruv project was made possible through donations from Robert and Sarah Steinberg ’78, the Welsbach Electric Corp. and others.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when the Jewish Sabbath ends each week. It ends after sundown on Saturday.

Original Author: Elizabeth Krevsky