Shaping Community: Poetics and Politics of the Eruv

Event time: 
Monday, October 8, 2012 - 8:00am to Friday, December 14, 2012 - 1:00pm
Event description: 


Shaping Community: Poetics and Politics of the Eruv

Three exhibitions exploring a Jewish spatial practice

curated by Margaret Olin in three parts at the ISM Gallery of Sacred Arts, the Allan and Leah Rabinowitz Gallery (Slifka Center), and the 32 Edgewood Gallery.


Talmudic law interprets the biblical imperative to “do no work” on the Sabbath as forbidding the carrying of objects from a private space into a public space on that day.   Because, however, the injunction against carrying would seem to contravene the biblical command that the Sabbath be “a joy,” the rabbinical corpus also instituted the eruv, a partnership that operates during the Sabbath to transform a neighborhood into a community with a shared dwelling place, within whose borders an orthodox Jew may carry a prayer book to the synagogue, push a stroller or wheelchair, and where children may play outdoors.
The eruv boundary is marked, so subtly as to be nearly invisible, by redefining urban fixtures such as utility wires with the addition of common pieces of hardware or fishing line. Yet the institution of an eruv demands the cooperation of surrounding communities and is often the center of acrimonious disputes and litigation.  The concept of the eruv raises issues about public and private space, borders and limitations that speak, in multifold and fascinating ways, to wider concerns about multiethnic communities, immigration, and human rights.
The exhibition  – displaying works of Mel Alexenberg, Avner Bar-Hama, Daniel Bauer, Sophie Calle, Alan Cohen, Elliot Malkin, Shirin Neshat, Margaret Olin, Ellen Rothenberg, Ben Schachter, and Suzanne Silver – has three components. This Token Partnership: The Materiality of a Jewish Spatial Practice, at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, investigates the semiotics and the materiality of the eruv as a beautiful example of urban bricolage. In Israel: Gated Community, at the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, ethereal photographs of Jerusalem eruv lines introduce a provocative juxtaposition of works that use the eruv to visualize contrasting positions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  Finally, Internal Borders, at the Yale School of Art, explores the internalization of external borders in Jerusalem and Iran, and expands the exhibition’s theme beyond Jewish or Israeli concerns.
A series of events, including lectures, films, and concerts, examines the implications of the eruv in the world beyond its permeable borders.   
~Margaret Olin, August 2012

This Token Partnership

The materiality of a Jewish Spatial Practice



WED - FRI 12 - 6 PM

SAT - SUN 12 - 4 PM

Note: exhibition will be closed for the Thanksgiving holiday recess, Nov. 17 through 25, reopening Monday, Nov. 26.


free admission

This Token Partnership focuses on the materiality and the language of the eruv: the play between the eruv’s visibility and invisibility, its intricate semiotics and its status as symbolic architecture. Artists focus on the material eruv-fittings, the measurements of eruv territory, and the mixtures of food that symbolize the partnership.

Margaret Olin’s photo-textual documentation, installed in the hallway gallery of the ISM, consists of photographs of and quotations about eruvin in New Haven and elsewhere. Close up pictures show eruv fittings, and more distant views show these fittings as they disappear into the urban
environment and the ways in which communities interact, do not interact, and fail to notice the signs of the eruv.

As the photographs dramatize the intervention of religious boundaries in the mundane world, so Mel Alexenberg’s painting The Miami Beach Eruv(1998) suggests the interweaving of the spiritual into the “gross material” world.The eruv is an appropriate vehicle for Alexenberg, whose series “Angels in Brooklyn,” placing digitalized variations on Rembrandt’s angels in the streets of Brooklyn, located the divine in locations known for their ugliness. Indeed, a cyberangel like those in his Brooklyn works appears in
Miami as well, hovering by the eruv wire.

Ben Schachter’s paintings of eruv maps are emulations of emulations. Just as the eruv emulates architecture through a summary drawing in space by means of fishing lines and wires, so he emulates that drawing through his own fiber art, delicate taut threads sewn into canvas that represent eruv lines stiffly wending their way through space from pole to pole, represented by stitches and adapting themselves to manmade or geographical oddities in the cityscape. They speak to the eruv drawing’s sensitivity to the urban landscape that it traverses and unifies, forming
an urban collage.

Using architectural details of the ISM Gallery of Sacred Arts itself, Ellen Rothenberg’s installation engages the intellectual problems confronted by the rabbis and the consequences of their solutions for the community shaped by the eruv. One looks through words from Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah on the window to a courtyard of the Yale Divinity School, suggesting both the permeability of the eruv border and the painstaking care taken by Talmudic Rabbis to explore all eventualities which face or may someday face the eruv builders and the Jewish communities they represent. Many of these prescriptions necessitate a deep involvement with the very definitions of words that seem to need no definition, such as “wall” or “door.” Others stipulate, in a rich vocabulary of measurement, the exact quantities of
food, dimensions of eruv parts, and spatial measurements that determine the capacity of the eruv. The measurements inscribe the room from the hearth, considered the foundation of domestic space, to the container for bread, to the table where the meal that designates and seals the “token partnership” of the eruv is consumed.

Suzanne Silver’s Kafka in Space (Parsing the Eruv) emerges from an interest in the eruv as a semiotic code, but it also brings out the dystopic notion of the eruv suggested in Kafka’s aphorism on which the piece is based: “The true path leads across a rope that is not suspended on high, but close to the ground. It seems more intended to make people stumble than to be walked upon.” When read with Kafka’s comment on the Warsaw eruv quoted in our introduction, it suggests a society made up of unwieldy rules that are, for lack of a better word, Kafkaesque. A later spoof on the eruv by Michael Chabon escalates the sniffles of the reputed eruv user into an out-and-out cold, by imagining an entire office filled with odds and ends of string, wire and other eruv components and a full-time “wire maven” so that inhabitants could carry a “couple of Alka-Seltzers.” Silver’s eruv materials, parsed on the floor, suggest these legalistic thought processes, while a circular lit sign above that says, simply and directly, “Eruv,” in English and Hebrew, is not kosher because it uses electricity.

New media artist Elliott Malkin’s installation Modern Orthodox proposes a future eruv that dispenses with string. A laser beam focuses on a video camera that transmits an image to a video monitor. If the distinctive pattern is visible on the monitor, the eruv is up. The checker could use it to monitor the eruv without walking the route, a journey that can take hours. Since lasers demand the use of electricity, the rabbinical authorities would probably not approve his eruv, but it signals the use of modern technology now permeating eruv practices, where the most common way to determine whether an eruv will be “up” on Shabbat is to consult the eruv’s website. The “Shabbat Fund,” in Israel has proposed to use unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to check the official eruvin in Israel. A video description of the project can be found here.


Israel: Gated Community





MON - FRI 10 - 5

SAT - SUN 12 - 4

Note: exhibition will be closed for the Thanksgiving holiday recess, Nov. 17 through 25, reopening Monday, Nov. 26.

Free admission.

This exhibition at the Slifka Center is made possible through the vision and leadership of Barbara Slifka, the Hauptman Arts and Media Endowment, and the Rothko Fund of Slifka Center.

The exhibition at the Allan and Leah Rabinowitz Gallery focuses on contrasting uses of the eruv as a metaphor in Israel. Unabashed, public,

the subtle yet unmistakable presence of the ubiquitous Israeli eruvin attracts artists with contrasting interests. While some focus on the beauty of the slender lines, others see how the agonistic character of public life in Israel/Palestine bleeds into the thin wire of the eruv, threatening those

inside of or outside its boundaries.

For decades, Alan Cohen has explored “improbable boundaries,” natural and negotiated. These include, among many others, the boundaries between different nations in the cemeteries of World War I in France, the remains of the Berlin Wall, and the equator. These contrasting boundaries

share historical or natural significance along with subtle visible signs. The eruv is as improbable as any of them. It does not separate groups from one another so much as facilitate the actions of only one group. In Cohen’s series of photographs of eruv lines in the Me’a She’arim neighborhood

of Jerusalem, the eruv lines and their thin, curling flags give off a delicate, almost ethereal aura that seems to fulfill a spiritual mission. There is no trace of the dissention that surely must have pushed this neighborhood, like its near neighbor, the Bukharan Quarter, to institute its own eruv within the city-wide official eruv of Jerusalem.

The delicate eruv wire can become intimidating in Daniel Bauer’s photographs, seeming to comment and compete visually with other boundary markers, military watch towers, construction, and newly planted trees. The eruv wire that in America moves invisibly through the city, in Palestine quietly dominates the changing landscape of the occupied

territories, and surrounds settlements protectively.

As it encircles the new, trim houses of an Israeli settlement, the fragile eruv line suggests something close to the effect of barbed wire.

Avner Bar-Hama’s sympathy lies with those on the settlers’ side of the eruv, its boundaries representing the fragility of the Jewish state. His photograph from Gaza, Eruv Tahumin: Gush Katif, shows, through the eruv, the grief for an abandoned settlement. In the triptych Mutual-Responsibility

of the Country (2006) the words of Deuteronomy, 11:12, are emblazoned on the map of Israel surrounded by eruv poles: “It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the

beginning of the year to its end.” But these words are in the process of being effaced, crumbling along with the dream of Greater Israel. The eruv poles, he writes, function not as a (transparent) border but “as a wall that isolates the people of Israel from the rest of the nations.” Rather than enabling Jews to live among others, in Israel the eruv forces them to

dwell apart. Although it appears to be an open border, in reality the gate is closed.


presented by Yale Institute of Sacred Music with support from the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale and Yale School of Art.