Yona Verwer - Eruv Art Installation



On view at the Y.U. Museum in New York till October 13, 2013 at the exhibit “It’s a Thin Line: The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York & Beyond”.

Curated by Zachary Paul Levine.

Yeshiva University Museum

15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011.

Tel: 212-294-8330.

Detail of “Tightrope”.

L to R: Mezeritch Shul, Stanton Street Shul, Bialystoker Synagogue, Orensanz Foundation.

What is an eruv?

An Eruv is a border, usually made out of string or wire stretched on top of or on telephone or light poles, which symbolically encloses a neighborhood or a city.  It allows Jews to accomplish one of the most basic activities on the Sabbath, which Jewish law otherwise prohibits on the Day of Rest: Carrying. An eruv makes it possible for people to carry keys, push a baby carriage or hold a baby, or bring food to someone’s home.

About Verwer’s art work in the exhibit

Tightrope explores the impact that the lack of an eruv on the Lower East Side has on families with young children and the infirm. It draws attention to the fact that, for many, not having an eruv significantly detracts from the attractiveness of living in the neighborhood.  

Having spent many a Shabbat on the Lower East Side, Verwer is aware that the physical boundary of the eruv has become a spiritual boundary, as well. It excludes women from fully participating in Jewish life and creates a male-dominated synagogue community.

This installation shows details of Lower East Side synagogue interiors, which cannot regularly be seen by many in the community, because there is no eruv. The images are a metaphor for what the women miss out on: a spiritual connection.

Video monitors inside the structure show quotes by LES residents addressing this issue. Cynthia Beth Rubin generously lent the monitors and converted the interviews into mp4s.

Scroll down below the photos for more info on the art work, the Lower East Side eruv, and the exhibit.

The exhibit also features contemporary art by Ben Schachter, Elliott Malkin and R. Justin Stewart, as well as many historical documents and artifacts.

Press received:

Jewish Week - The Eruv: Staying Within Bounds, by Gloria Kestenbaum

Jewish Press - It’s a Thin Line - The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York and Beyond, by Richard McBee

Top Row L to R:

Awarath Jeshurun, Stanton Street Shul, Mezeritch Shul, Stanton Street Shul.

Bottom Row:

Eldridge Street Synagogue, Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, Community Synagogue/Sixth Street Shul.

Top Row L to R: Bialystoker Synagogue, Orensanz Foundation

Bottom Row: Chassam Sopher, Kedosha Janina.

Top Row L to R: Town & Village Synagogue, Bialystoker Synagogue, Awarath Jeshurun, Stanton Street Shul.

Bottom Row: Orensanz Foundation, Stanton Street Shul, Eldridge Street Synagogue, MTJ.

LCD monitors inside the structure show quotes by LES residents answering questions such as “What impact has having no eruv had on your life?” and “Have you considered moving to another neighborhood?”.

Top: Stanton Street Shul - Detail of Astrology Mural

Bottom: Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem - Detail of Yahrzeit Plaque.


The Tightrope installation was created about, for and with the Jewish community on the Lower East Side.

Many thanks to:

Rabbi Yuter of the Stanton Street Shul provided invaluable information on this complicated topic.

David Friedman & Rebecca Friedman’s assistance from concept to execution was crucial.

Image sources for the synagogue panels courtesy of Elissa Sampson and Richard McBee.

Thanks to the many Lower East Siders who agreed to be interviewed on the eruv issue.

Beyond the Lower East Side community:

Tech support and monitors were provided by Cynthia Beth Rubin. Y.U. Museum curator Zachary Paul Levine contributed to fine-tuning the concept. Y.U. Museum educator Ilana Benson was instrumental in getting the project started. Annelies Clemente assisted with the execution.

Synagogues featured in Tightrope:

Awarath Jeshurun: Window

Bialystoker Synagogue: Zodiac mural Elul, zodiac mural Sivan

Chassam Sopher: Torah mantle

Community Synagogue / Sixth Street Shul: Window

Eldridge Street Synagogue: Kiki Smith’s window

Kehila Kedosha Janina: Torah mantle

Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem: Yahrzeit plaques

Mezeritch Shul: Window

Orensanz Foundation: Two windows

Stanton Street Shul: Zodiac mural Elul, zodiac mural Sivan, window

Town & Village Synagogue: Torah mantle

About the Lower East Side eruv

Quoting Rabbi Joshua Yuter of the Stanton Street Shul:

“The issue of eruv on the Lower East Side is particularly contentious. R. Moshe Feinstein, a preeminent decisor of Jewish Law, used to live on the Lower East Side and his son and many students of his still do so. R. Feinstein was particularly strict in prohibiting the construction on any eruv in Manhattan for reasons too complicated to discuss here, and it is allegedly out of allegiance to R. Feinstein’s position on eruv which has precluded its construction to this day.

However, R. Moshe Feinstein has another fascinating responsa regarding the opposition of eruvin in Manhattan, though in conversation it is rarely quoted by his most ardent followers. In response to the question if one ought to protest constructing eruvin in Manhattan, R. Feinstein states that while he personally cannot endorse it, one should not oppose it either since the positions allowing its construction are still legitimate. By all accounts this ought to be considered a very reasonable, respectful position and were it stated 30 years later might even be classified as “pluralistic.”

Here is the responsa in the original with my translation, for which I assume responsibility for errors.

Iggrot Moshe O.C. 4:89
Q. Should we protest those who are lenient regarding erecting an Eruv in Manhattan? (Dec. 16th 1960).

A. Regarding the issue of Manhattan, I have already explained in at length in Iggrot Moshe O.C. 1:139 all the sides for leniency and stringency, and the conclusion in my opinion is that Manhattan is not comparable to other places where the practice was to be lenient, and therefore it is not in our hands to be permissive in opposition to those who forbid. And also there is a great proof that they did not make an Eruv in Jerusalem to be permitted, and therefore I have not seen anything to change my mind on this. However, I have already said that it is not in our hands to protest those who are lenient such that when they build [an eruv] it is done under the permissibility of those opinions, those too are great rabbis and who can protest them when they are following their opinions which state that [an eruv] can be erected, and those individuals are worthy of making such a halakhic decision re’uyim lehora’ah. However, I myself cannot support this [putting up an eruv based on those who disagree with me] for even if it was erected for those who are already carrying inappropriately and in putting up an eruv would permit their carrying according to certain authorities, in any event following this logic would negatively impact those kosher/appropriate people who want to do what is proper and not carry in Manhattan, for they would be carrying against the law according to the many sources I have explained. However, those rabbis who reason that one may erect [an eruv] are permitted to do as they reason as I have mentioned earlier. Read Rabbi Yuter’s blog post here.

In addition, halachah (Jewish law) is in agreement with the authority that maintains the less restrictive ruling in respect of eruv:

              "The halachah is always in agreement with Beth Hillel, but he who wishes to act in agreementwith the ruling of Beth Shammai may do so, and he who wishes to act according to the view of Beth Hillel may do so; [he, however, who adopts] the more lenient rulings of Beth Shammai and the more lenient rulings of Beth Hillel is a wicked man, [while of the man who adopts] the restrictions of Beth Shammai and the restrictions of Beth Hillel Scripture said:

But the fool walketh in darkness. A man should rather act either in agreement with Beth Shammai both in their lenient and their restrictive rulings or in agreement with Beth Hillel in both their lenient and their restrictive rulings".

                R. Jacob b. Idi stated in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi: The halachah is in agreement with R. Johanan b. Nuri. Said R. Zera to R. Jacob b. Idi: ‘Did you hear it explicitly or did you understand it by implication?’

— ‘I’, the other replied: ‘have heard it explicitly’

— What was that general statement?

— [The one in] which R. Joshua b. Levi has laid down: The halachah is in agreement with the authority that maintains the less restrictive ruling in respect of the laws of ‘erub. What need then was there for the two statements?

— R. Zera replied: Both were required. For if we had been informed only that ‘the halachah is in agreement with R. Johanan b. Nuri’, it might have been assumed [that this applies in all cases] whether the halachah leads to a relaxation or to a restriction; hence we were informed that ‘the halachah is in agreement with the authority that maintains the less restrictive ruling in respect of the laws of ‘erub.’ Then let him state, ‘The halachah is in agreement with the authority that maintains the less restrictive ruling in respect of ‘erub’; for what purpose was it necessary to state also that ‘the halachah is in agreement with R. Johanan b. Nuri’?

— It was required because it might have been presumed that the statement applied only to an individual authority who differs from another individual authority or to several authorities who differ from several other authorities, but not to an individual authority who differed from several authorities. 

The vibrant artistic life of the eruv is the focus of three related shows running simultaneously at Yale University and organized by Professor Margaret Olin, called “Shaping Community: Poetics and Politics of the Eruv.” More about Yale’s exhibition here.

PUBLIC PROGRAMS (at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W 16th St, NYC)


March 28, 2013

Artists Ben Schachter and Yona Verwer will conduct a tour of the exhibit and discuss their art.

Free. Reservations required at programs@yum.cjh.org

In the Mix: Building Community and the Eruv

February 4, 2013, 6:00 pm. Exhibition Tour, 7:00 pm

The widespread introduction of eruvs in America encouraged a broader and more inclusive participation in Jewish liturgical and social life on the Sabbath. Join professor Sylvia Barack Fishman, author Blu Greenberg, and Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier for a panel discussion, moderated by Rabbi Adam Mintz, on the dynamic role of the eruv in transforming personal and communal Jewish life in America in the late 20th century. Co-presented with JOFA: Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

Tickets: $15 General Public; call 212-868-4444

CURATOR’S TOUR: February 13, 2013, 6:00 pm

Free. Reservations required at programs@yum.cjh.org


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