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Baltimore Sets Special Sabbath Boundary

Posted on May 13, 2019
Baltimore Sets Special Sabbath Boundary

Less than a week after the tragic Sabbath-day shooting at a Jewish synagogue in Poway, California, one U.S. city has taken steps to enhance Sabbathkeeping.

On May 1, Baltimore’s acting mayor, Bernard C. “Jack” Young, designated an area of the city’s downtown as an “eruv, a special area where some of the rules followed by observant Jews on the Sabbath are altered,” according to the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

This gets a little technical, but it’s worth your attention: Orthodox Jews, people who are very literal in their observance of the 613 commandments and regulations found in the Torah, the five Books of Moses that comprise the heart of the Hebrew Bible (or, for Christians, the Old Testament), are highly particular about Sabbath observance. As they understand it, “work” not only includes doing regular business on the seventh day of the week, but also things such as carrying keys or pushing a baby carriage.

The designation of an area as an eruv allows the Orthodox to perform these mundane tasks without violating Jewish law. That’s because the eruv (a Hebrew word meaning “mixing”) extends the boundaries of the home into public areas. The boundaries are set either by a string or wire that’s usually tied to street lampposts or telephone poles, which is why city approval is generally needed. On Fridays before the Sabbath, a rabbi will often drive around the eruv boundary to make sure the designation is intact.

Eruvs Are Everywhere

You can find an eruv, or several, in many large cities, such as Los Angeles and even in vacation resorts such as in Park City, Utah. As the Forward, an online Jewish publication, once put it: “It’s a fence, but it doesn’t exist six days out of the week. It’s a symbolic extension of the home, but not an extension of private property. It’s an ingenious legal loophole, but it’s been Jewish law for 1,500 years.”

A principal argument for the establishment of an eruv is that it makes life easier for the orthodox. Rabbi Etan Mintz of the B’nai Israel in Baltimore had been working on the designation for five years, the Sun reported. He said, “The new zone will make Baltimore more appealing to observant Jewish residents and visitors—including patients and their families at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.”

Mintz told the paper, “We’re really, really excited for this to come to fruition. We’re tremendously grateful to the city and Mayor Young for making this a place for all people.”

To non-Orthodox Jewish people, the level of observance signified by an eruv and the rules on what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath might seem extreme. Why not carry your house keys—or even an infant? Is that really “work,” or is it merely part of everyday life? (You could argue that the Israelites in the desert didn’t have house keys, but surely they had infants!)

Those Christians who observe the Bible Sabbath—the same seventh-day Sabbath observed by Jews, orthodox and otherwise—generally aren’t as exacting. We strive to have things prepared before the Sabbath day, yes, but we’ll use a cane if needed, put our keys in a pocket or purse, and carry an infant when necessary, without giving these tasks a second thought.

This isn’t to scold or ridicule those orthodox Jews who are conscientious in their observance. Their devotion to their traditions and their understanding of the Bible’s demands, as well as to the Sabbath, is highly laudable in an age of 24/7 activity.

A Greater Understanding of Sabbath

But Christians are subject to a different understanding of the Sabbath. In the second chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we read of Jesus’ disciples plucking spare heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath day. Religious leaders denounced this as unlawful, to which Jesus responded that David’s soldiers ate the “showbread” from the house of God, which was reserved for the priests.

Then, Jesus declared, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This does not mean, of course, that we can do anything we like on the Sabbath day. But it also shows there is no command against doing good on the Sabbath, which is why those who work in healthcare fields can serve others on the seventh day of the week, since illness doesn’t take the day off.

Yet observing the Sabbath is still important: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God,” we read in Hebrews 4:9, and that rest day should be observed.

But how do you do this in a place where there’s no sunset or sunrise, such as the North Pole, or even in space? Once possible answer stresses that God will accept our best possible observance, such as keeping the Sabbath when (and as) it would be kept on earth.

There’s even more to keeping the Sabbath than wondering about what to do in space, of course. This presentation answers the question of whether or not the Sabbath is a holiday or a holy day. It’s clear, it’s fascinating, and it will help you understand what Sabbathkeeping is all about—and what’s not involved.

The construction of an eruv, or boundary, is helpful for Orthodox Jews, allowing them to not only observe the Sabbath’s rules as they understand them but also to live a more normal life. For Christian believers who want to keep the Sabbath holy and wholly, setting a boundary around our hearts that one day of the week might well be in order!

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