Rift Has Roots in Eruv Dispute

Though it is far from being the most contentious issue between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, the eruv has become a flashpoint in its own right.

The eruv, which usually consists of a network of poles and strings, defines an area within which religious Jews are allowed to carry items outside their homes on Shabbat. From the standpoint of Jewish law, it essentially makes this area "private" rather than "public." If there is no eruv, or if one of the strings is found to be torn on Shabbat, it effectively means a complete curfew for all religious Jews until Shabbat ends at nightfall: The prohibition on carrying items outdoors on Shabbat includes everything from keys to a baby who cannot walk on his own.

Nearly every village, town and city in Israel has an eruv that is set up and maintained by the local religious council. Jerusalem has one, too. But in recent years, a new eruv system has begun to sprout around various city neighborhoods, at the initiative of the ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit sect and a nonprofit organization called "Eruv Hamehudar." The new eruvs are being set up because the two organizations claim the old ones are not being maintained, and are anyway not stringently kosher enough.

But when the private organizations began stringing up wires in Kiryat Yovel, they ran into opposition from secular residents already mired in a culture war with the ultra-Orthodox who had moved into the neighborhood (some of whom, it should be noted, oppose the new eruv). Some of these residents, frustrated with what they said was a slack response by the municipality, began to sabotage the strings around the neighborhood every Saturday.

Last May, Mayor Nir Barkat said negotiations between all sides had resulted in an agreement to set up a new eruv in the neighborhood, but that it would be set up by the city's religious council.

But in the tense atmosphere of Kiryat Yovel, this compromise did not last long: Recently, the weekly vandalizing of the eruv has resumed.