Last week the weather was better than expected, and the Dutch Mule Corps, the Dutch Jewish motorcycle club -after some discussion of course- went for a ride. And what a ride it was! If you’re interested you can check out the first, second and third leg of our trip and immediately you will see we followed the course of most of the Amsterdam Eruv. How appropriate!
The Amsterdam eruv is large, and this is due to the fact that The Netherlands have a lot of water, which creates a natural eruv boundary. But not everywhere the eruv follows a natural border, and notably the crossing of the Amstel river and the A10 circular motorway poses a number of difficulties: the issues with train, car and bicycle crossings have been solved in three distinct ways. We received a lecture on the topic by the keeper of the eruv; Rabbi Shmuel Katz.
It was fascinating to hear and see some of the tough topics we discussed over the last months in practice. We saw the lechi and the techum and now know there is a pack of matza that is owned by the Jewish community.
I also read into the -defunct- eruv of my home town of The Hague. A fascinating story; it was the topic of various rabbinical debates; The Hague is not a walled city, but had quite some stone bridges and the first Jewish inhabitants paid the municipality to exchange some of them to drawbridges. A system of poles with chains completed the eruv, encompassing the area where the all but disappeared Portuguese community lived, the Germanic community, but for some reason not the area where the Polish and Lithuanian community dwelled, who lived closer to the sea.
It would be an overstatement to say I enjoyed all parts of Masechet Eruvin. But the more I learn about the topic, the more I have the sense that there is a deeper, esoteric meaning hidden between the lines of these chapters.
To create an eruv is a conscious act that creates a virtual domain in which certain acts that without it are not allowed, are allowed. Not only the creation of the eruv needs to be conscious: also the border itself needs to be known, so that entering and leaving this virtual domain also becomes a conscious act.
With all the nitty gritty rules, the questionable mathematics, the out-of-this-world examples the Gemara creates collectiveness, shared responsibility and joint ownership.
The Amsterdam eruv, like other eruvim, was questioned, challenged and debated. The discussions, and there are other examples, led to animosity and rifts. Tragically.
But like in the Gemara, the debate itself is what defines us, where we live, what we own, and what we can carry on shabbat, and even who we are: a people that can live with virtuality.