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«The history and halakhah of the eruvin in Brooklyn are both com- plicated and controversial. Jews began to move to Brooklyn in sig- nificant numbers ...»

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A Chapter in American Orthodoxy:

The Eruvin in Brooklyn


The history and halakhah of the eruvin in Brooklyn are both com-

plicated and controversial. Jews began to move to Brooklyn in sig-

nificant numbers after the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in

1883, many moving from the overcrowded Lower East Side and

looking for open space and more affordable housing. With the

building of the subways in the first decade of the twentieth century and the completion of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, Williams- burg became the first Jewish community in Brooklyn with syna- gogues and other Jewish institutions and shops opening in the neighborhood. By 1927, 35 percent of Brooklyn’s population was Jewish and Samuel Abelow, an early historian of Jewish Brooklyn, wrote that “The growth of the Jewish community was one of the remarkable social phenomena in history.”1 Yet, as the Orthodox community continued to expand throughout Brooklyn in the mid- dle decades of the century, there was no recorded attempt to create an eruv enclosing either the entire borough or communities within it.2 The first mention of the possibility of an eruv in Brooklyn was included in one of the earliest discussions regarding the creation of 1 Samuel P. Abelow, History of Brooklyn Jewry (Brooklyn, NY, 1937) 13.

2 For the history of the Jews of Brooklyn, see Abelow, History of Brooklyn Jewry, Jews of Brooklyn, edited by Ilana Abramovitch and Sean Galvin (Waltham, MA, 2002), 1–17 and the references in Deborah Dash Moore, At Home in America: Second Generation New York Jews (NY, 1981).

Adam Mintz is a 2012-13 Fellow at The Tikvah Center for Law and Jewish Civilization and has taught Jewish History at Queens College and CCNY. He is the Founding Rabbi of Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim in Manhattan.

22 : Ḥakirah, the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought the Manhattan eruv. On December 14, 1948, Rabbi Tzvi Eisenstadt wrote a work outlining the halakhic issues concerning the creation of an eruv that would surround Manhattan. He concluded this work as follows: “I have written all of this as a suggestion that should be addressed by the rabbinic authorities of the city. And, even if they find a problem with these conclusions according to one opposing view, they should consider whether it is preferable to permit carrying on the Sabbath according to most rabbinic authori- ties or to leave the situation as it is without any eruv at all.”3 In April, 1949, Rabbi Michael Weissmandel, the head of the Ni- tra Yeshiva in Mt. Kisco, New York, responded to Rabbi Eisenstadt. In the letter, dated erev Pesach, 1949, he wrote a lengthy responsum about the possibility of creating an eruv around Brook- lyn. He argued that such an eruv could be created. In addition, he encouraged Rabbi Eisenstadt to include Rabbi Yonatan Steif, “a rabbi in Brooklyn whose authority is respected by the masses,” to lead the initiative of creating the eruv in Brooklyn.4 It is noteworthy that, although Rabbi Eisenstadt had asked for Rabbi Weissmandel’s opinion regarding the eruv in Manhattan, Rabbi Weissmandel responded regarding the eruv in Brooklyn, where Rabbi Weissmandel lived at the time.

In another letter Rabbi Weismandel wrote to Rabbi Eisenstadt on May 20, 1949, he explained that it would be more logical to first establish an eruv in Brooklyn and then create one in Manhattan. A Brooklyn eruv, he argued, involves the erecting of some tzurot hapetah. Consequently, even uninformed people would assume that some activity was needed to establish the eruv. On the other hand, he said, the proposed Manhattan eruv did not involve any physical activity since the river walls created acceptable eruv boundaries.

Consequently, uninformed people might conclude than an eruv can 3 Rabbi Menahem Tzvi Eisenstadt, Kuntres Haza’ah Le-Tikkun Eruvin Be-Ir Manhattan New York, in Menahem Tzvi Eisenstadt, Sefer Minhat Tzvi (New York, 2003), 28–38.

4 Weissmandel, Torat Hemed (Mt. Kisco, NY, 1958), no. 1, esp. 156-157.

The Eruvin in Brooklyn : 23 be established without any physical alterations to the city’s boundaries.5

In a letter dated May 25, 1950, Rabbi Steif addresses the possibility of an eruv in Brooklyn. He writes:

According to all this, one can enclose the areas in both Manhattan and Brooklyn that do not have 600,000 people passing through with an eruv … Especially, the area of Williamsburg that does not have an area of 600,000 passing through and the city (sic) of Brooklyn that can be enclosed neighborhood by neighborhood.6 In his elaboration of this letter entitled Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin, Rabbi Steif writes that “It is simple to create an eruv enclosing Williamsburg with tzurat ha-petah just like an eruv was created around the large cities in Europe.”7 There is no record of any attempt to create an eruv in Williamsburg or any other section of Brooklyn at that time, and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote a letter to Rabbi Eisenstadt in 1952 claiming that Rabbi Weissmandel’s argument justifying a eruv in Brooklyn was halakhically incorrect.8 5 See Rabbi Weissmandel’s letter Yeshiva University MS 1300 1/9 reprinted in Sefer Hai Anokhi Le-Olam (Brooklyn 2003), 148 and Divrei Menahem, II: 10. See Hai Anokhi Le-Olam, 149-51 for Rabbi Weissmandel’s handdrawn maps of Williamsburg. It is interesting that Rabbi Weissmnadel imagined the utilization of mostly existing eruv boundaries, even though, when the eruv was finally completed in 1981, the boundaries consisted mainly of erected poles and wires. This may reflect the improvement in the relationship between the Jewish community and the local governmental authorities between 1949 and 1981, allowing the Jewish community to request assistance from the local electric company.

6 The undated responsum to Rabbi Eisenstadt can be found in Sefer She’elot U-Teshuvot Ve-Hiddushei Mahari Steif (Brooklyn, NY, 1968), no. 68, and a more complete version of the letter can be found in Minhat Tzvi, 39–43.

The original letter is found in Yeshiva University Archives MS. 1300 1/12. Rabbi Steif wrote additional material on the Manhattan eruv that

was published in “Kuntres Tikkun Eruvin,” Ohr Yisroel 8:4 (Sivan, 5763):

6–9 and Ohr Yisroel 9:1 (Tishrei: 5764): 6–15.

7 Steif, Ohr Yisroel 8:4 (Sivan, 5763): 7.

8 Iggerot Mosheh, O.H. I:138.

24 : Ḥakirah, the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought In 1972, Rabbi Asher Anshel Krausz, the Ratzferter Rebbe, began a campaign to create an eruv in Williamsburg. Rabbi Krausz collected supporting letters from several of the local Hasidic rabbis in Williamsburg, including Rabbi Joseph Greenwald of Pupa, one of the leading rabbinic authorities in Williamsburg. In a letter dated October 10, 1972, Rabbi Greenwald wrote, “Therefore, be strengthened and benefit the entire community with the establishment of this eruv… May God support you to successfully complete this project.”9 In the summer of 1976, Rabbi Krausz was able to lease the area from the local governmental authorities, and he hired the local electric company to begin to install the necessary wires and poles. Due to his inability to raise the required funds, however, the eruv was not completed until the winter of 1982. At the time of the completion of the eruv, Rabbi Krausz received additional letters of support, including a letter from Rabbi Menashe Klein of Ungvar, one of the leading halakhic authorities on the laws of eruvin at the time. Rabbi Klein praised Rabbi Krausz for “restoring the tradition that dates to the period of King Solomon to establish eruvin in every community.”10 There was, however, strong opposition within the Williamsburg Orthodox community to the creation of this eruv. This opposition was based on the claim that Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe and premier halakhic and religious authority in Williamsburg, was opposed to the creation of an eruv in that community. This claim is problematic since the Satmar Rebbe never publicly wrote or stated that he was opposed to the Williamsburg eruv. In 2002, the opponents of the Williamsburg eruv published a volume entitled Yalkut Mikhtavim containing anecdotes and letters from associates of the Satmar Rebbe attempting to prove his opposition to the eruv.11 A volume entitled Hai Anokhi Le-Olam (no date) was 9 Al Mitzvat Eruv (Brooklyn, 2000), 162.

10 Ibid., 182. For a record of all the letters supporting the eruv, see Al Mitzvat Eruv, 155-92.

11 There were attempts to create an eruv in Williamsburg in 1958 and 1966 that were never realized. See Sefer Yalkut Mikhtavim (Brooklyn, 2002).

These stories were included in this volume in order to demonstrate the The Eruvin in Brooklyn : 25 published by the supporters of the eruv attempting to disprove all of the evidence provided in Yalkut Mikhtavim. The main claim of the eruv supporters was based on the lack of public opposition by the Satmar Rebbe to the establishment of the Williamsburg eruv.

Had he opposed the eruv, they argued, he would have expressed his opinion publicly as was his manner in many other disputes. The dispute did not subside with the completion of the Williamsburg eruv, and the opponents of the eruv tore down the eruv wires and poles almost immediately upon its completion.12 The next phase in the history of Brooklyn eruvin centers on the eruv in Flatbush. In 1978, a number of rabbis, including Rabbis Solomon Sharfman and Max Schreier, approached Rabbi Feinstein, asking him whether an eruv could be created utilizing poles and wires to enclose Flatbush. Rabbi Feinstein answered in two responsa addressed to Rabbi Israel Poleyoff representing the other

Flatbush rabbis. Rabbi Feinstein writes:

When the two prominent rabbis, Rabbi Sharfman and Rabbi Schreier, came before me regarding the eruv in Flatbush, I did not want to get involved (le-hitarev) because there are many different opinions … However, since the rumor has been spread that I am the rabbi who permitted the creation of this eruv, I must express my own opinion.13 Rabbi Feinstein continues and explains that he believes, due to several halakhic issues, that an eruv cannot be created in Brooklyn.

Rabbi Feinstein’s initial reluctance to get embroiled in the Flatbush eruv controversy is interesting, since he had been so involved in the Manhattan eruv controversy in the 1950s and 1960s.

The creation of a Flatbush eruv received the support of Rabbi Menashe Klein, who wrote a responsum dated December 13, 1978, in which he validates the building of an eruv even in a large city such as Brooklyn. He concludes his responsum as follows: “It is the opposition of Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum to the creation of an eruv in Williamsburg. There is no other verification for these stories.

12 For background of this controversy, see http://eruvonline.blogspot.com /2006/06/part-1-truth-about-satmar-rebbe-and.html.

13 Iggerot Mosheh, O.H., IV: 87.

26 : Ḥakirah, the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought tradition to create eruvin even in cities that have a population that exceeds 600,000, and we cannot contradict the facts.”14 The eruv was built in Flatbush under the auspices of these rabbis and with the halakhic support of Rabbi Klein.

The opposition to the creation of a Flatbush eruv started almost immediately. In December, 1978, an announcement was posted throughout Brooklyn.

A strict warning against the establishment of Eruvin in New York Given that in the recent past some people in Flatbush have begun to debate regarding an eruv in Flatbush, we publicize this daas Torah that this is something that has already been prohibited by great rabbis in America in our generation and previous ones, both in New York and in other large cities throughout America. On 18 Sivvan 5762 the Agudath Ha-Rabbanim gathered the leading rabbis at the request of Rabbi Aharon Kotler and they signed a prohibition against establishing an eruv in New York and they wrote, “It is prohibited to carry in Manhattan even after the improvements that were made or that certain rabbis will make, and anyone who relies on this Manhattan eruv will be considered a mehalel Shabbat.” This procRabbi Menashe Klein, “Om Ani Homah,” Sha’arei Halakhot (Brooklyn, 1980): 61. Rabbi Klein published Om Ani Homah in three different versions, each one adding material to the previous issue. It was reprinted in Om Ani Homah (Tammuz, 1981) and Om Ani Homah (Jerusalem, 1999).

The Eruvin in Brooklyn : 27 lamation was agreed upon and signed by Rabbi Aharon Kotler, Rabbi Chaim Bick, Rabbi Yoseph Eliyahu Henkin, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr and several other esteemed rabbis. In addition, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein publicized a halakhic decision in his great work Iggerot Moshe and in letters on this issue prohibiting the creation of an eruv in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Therefore, we have come to proclaim to the public that it is prohibited to establish an eruv in any of the neighborhoods in New York and Brooklyn. In addition, if an eruv is already established it is still prohibited for both adults and children to carry.

This Proclamation itself became a matter of dispute between the two opposing groups. First, in the 1962 proclamation against the establishment of the Manhattan eruv (see below), Rabbi Henkin’s signature does not appear. Although Rabbi Henkin had certain reservations about that eruv, he did not oppose its creation.15

–  –  –

15 See Adam Mintz, Halakhah in America: The History of City Eruvin, 1894–1962 (NYU, 2011 Dissertation), 341–405. http://www.

rabbimintz.com /wp-content/uploads/Mintz-Dissertation-Final.pdf.

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