Orleans Parish eruv erected for first Shabbat
By ALAN SMASON, Special to the CCJN
What has long been a dream of many observant Jews living in the Carrollton, Marlyville, Broadmoor, Uptown and Garden District neighborhoods has become a reality.
An eruv, an enclosure that extends the private domain of Jewish households into public areas, has been constructed and has been approved by city officials and certified as kosher for its first Shabbat. An eruv essentially establishes specific boundaries that spiritually serve to mimic a walled city.
The erection of an eruv allows observant Jews to be able to carry common objects like keys and medication on Shabbat by extending the private areas allowed in homes, even permitting mundane acts such as pushing baby strollers outside. Such acts are allowed within observant homes on Shabbat, but not in public without the presence of an eruv.
While the eruv encompasses a wide swath of Uptown Orleans Parish bounded by walls and power lines, it will not extend across the I-10 and the elevated Pontchartrain Expressway into the more densely populated areas of the Vieux Carré, the Downtown Development District, the Warehouse District, Gentilly, Lakeview and Lakeshore.
To view a Google map of the entire eruv, click here.
Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin of Congregation Anshe Sfard was the force behind the effort to construct the eruv in New Orleans along with his brother Rabbi Mendel Rivkin of the Uptown Chabad House and an acknowledged rabbinic authority steeped in eruv construction, Rabbi Sholom Shuchat. The effort to construct an eruv in New Orleans began under the Anshe Sfard rabbinate of Rabbi David Polsky, which was never realized during his term there.
“This was really a continuation of Rabbi Polsky’s eruv. He started the idea,” Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin acknowledged in a phone interview with the CCJN. The original plan, which sought to cross the I-10 and the Pontchartrain Expressway, would have incorporated the French Quarter and Downtown District, the areas most frequented by visitors to the city.
“The original idea the he had wasn’t going to work, that is, the modifications of it,” the rabbi explained.
While it is possible to raise children in an area without an eruv, he continued, having one is a factor that young Jewish families may consider when choosing a place to live. This eruv is expected to make Anshe Sfard and the University area in and around Tulane University a lot more attractive to observant couples, he suggested.
The process began in earnest about two years ago when both Rabbi Yochanan and Mendel Rivkin consulted with Rabbi Shuchat, who was visiting the city. That was when it was decided the original Polsky plan was too ambitious and too problematic. The original route was scrapped and a new, smaller route was selected.
Levees can be used to establish the boundaries of an eruv, but the levee must run into a wall in order to connect to it and that is not always the case, the rabbi elaborated.
An eruv originally constructed under the leadership of Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Uri Topolosky and Rabbi Yossie Nemes of the Chabad Center of Metairie has been up for more than a decade and utilizes a system of existing high transmission wires and natural levees to enclose the area from Veterans Memorial Boulevard to Causeway Boulevard across the levee system at Lake Pontchartrain and beyond to Clearview Parkway.
In the New Orleans eruv a wall that exists along the area controlled by the Port of New Orleans forms a major portion of its southern border. While the wall is opened during many times of the year to accommodate traffic, religious authorities noted that it is closed at least once a year for hurricanes or Mardi Gras and so, by rabbinic standing, is considered “closed” for the purposes of establishing an eruv.
When contacted by the CCJN, Rabbi Polsky, who now lives with his family in an area just outside of Detroit, was ecstatic. “I am really happy for the New Orleans Jewish community that Rabbi Rivkin was able to finish the job. I wish a tremendous Ya’asher Koach to Rabbi Rivkin,” he wrote back in an email.
“The eruv will be a tremendous help to all traditionally observant families living in and visiting New Orleans,” he added.
Rabbi Rivkin explained in some detail that the original plan to establish an eruv with the levee structure along the Mississippi River to the Industrial Canal proved to be problematic not because of the height of the levee, but due to the slope of the levee. “The halacha requires a specific slope… of 2.4 to 1,” he continued. “Over a run of six feet, you have to fall over 30 inches and the levee is not quite that steep. The levee is about 3 to 1.”
Rabbi Rivkin and his committee did not put up any new wire and chose to use existing walls. But the biggest challenge, he confessed, was that many of the existing utility poles do not stand up straight. If the poles lean, it can be problematic, especially if attaching a wire from the top to the bottom as required in many cases.
By using existing power lines from Entergy, the committee was able to circumvent having to string their own wire above the utility poles. Entergy officials were consulted about what the committee had in mind.
“Entergy gave us permission, but they obviously are not going to tell us if they are going to move something,” the rabbi noted. “It’s our responsibility to just check it.” The eruv occasionally utilizes existing cable runs as well.
The eruv begins its run at the back of the Audubon Zoo and runs to Cascade Stables before jumping across the street to Exposition Boulevard along Magazine Street and then to Calhoun Street. It moves from there to Tchoupitoulas Street up to State Street just in front of Children’s Hospital along the river wall. The rabbi hopes that a future run of wire might also include the campus of Children’s Hospital.
The Tchoupitoulas Street walled corridor along the river continues to Market Street to Felicity Street and then jumps over to Freret Street. It moves from Freret to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and past the Gert Town area to Olive Stret and past the Xavier University campus and onto Airline Drive. From Airline Drive the eruv continues along transmission wires across the Earhart Expressway to Monticello Street at the border with Jefferson Parish. It extends along Willow to Monroe and to Leake Avenue and the levee along the Mississippi River.
The entire length of the circumference of the eruv is approximately 15 miles and will be inspected prior to Shabbat by the five or six committee members including Ari Krishner, whom the rabbi singled out for his work on making it a reality. Each member will be assigned a portion of its run and will be responsible for a weekly inspection that will lead to an announcement stipulating the eruv is kosher prior to the onset of Shabbat..
Following consultation with the offices of City Councilmen Joe Giurusso, III and Jay Banks, Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin informed the CCJN for the first tiem on Thursday afternoon “the eruv is up.”
The CCJN hopes to implement a notification system on its home page with alerts to the status of both the New Orleans and Metairie eruvs moving forward.