City adds 2nd 'eruv' religious zone

November 06, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,

Most city residents haven't noticed the thin lines added to telephone poles in North Baltimore, creating a nearly invisible perimeter around the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

But for the Orthodox Jews who live within those neighborhoods, the wires create a symbolic wall, or eruv, which allows them to carry loads on the Sabbath within its borders.

"It is the type of thing that anyone who doesn't need it won't notice," said Rabbi Binyamin Marwick of the Orthodox Union. "For those who need it, it will make a world of difference."

The city's Board of Estimates agreed yesterday to lease about a five-mile perimeter to the Eruv of Baltimore Inc. for $1 for the next 20 years. The wire perimeter encloses several neighborhoods, including Charles Village, Guilford, Remington, Keswick and parts of Hampden.

It is the second such enclosure to be created in Baltimore. The first is in Park Heights and was established by then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer in 1978.

"It is a way for the city to reaffirm the commitment to the Jewish community in Baltimore," said Mayor Sheila Dixon, who accepted a silver dollar for two decades of rent from Marwick at a City Hall ceremony. She immediately handed it over to her finance director, Edward J. Gallagher.

Orthodox Jews believe that they should not carry any loads - books, baby carriages, picnic baskets or anything else - during their Sabbath, from sundown Friday through Saturday night. But those restrictions are relaxed within the eruv, which is viewed as an expansion of the home.

Marwick said he hopes the eruv will draw a larger Jewish community to the Hopkins area because it signals an established and mature religious group. It symbolizes "one unified group living together and working together to achieve common goals," he said.

The symbolic fence is already up and will be in effect tomorrow, he said. The Orthodox Union raised $15,000 for construction costs.

The perimeter will be inspected weekly to be sure it is intact, and people can call a hot line or visit the Hopkins Hillel Web site ( to find out if it is intact. Occasionally, downed power lines because of scheduled maintenance or a storm can create a breach.

Jewish law requires that a governing body create the eruv, Marwick said, which is part of why the city's Board of Estimates needed to vote on the matter. Also, more practically, he said, the group needed permission from the city and power company to use telephone poles.

"The cooperation and mutual respect necessary to make an eruv a reality demonstrates how an eruv can indeed unite an even broader community," Marwick said.

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