- Article: AFineLine.pdf After reading the article, submit a 250 word response on the Discussion Board explaining the controversies and conflicts over eruvin.
A Fine Line: Is Religious Real Estate
By Stefanos Chen For Daniel Kraus, an Orthodox Jewish renter in Midtown Manhattan, a downed utility pole could
put the kibosh on all his weekend plans ? but not for the reasons you might think.
Kraus (pictured at left with his
family) was caught in "a flutter of
email" last Friday, when it was
discovered that a pole marking part
of his community's ritual boundary,
known as an eruv, was damaged.
The purpose of an eruv -- a series of
nearly invisible wires strung high
above street level on utility poles
and lampposts -- is to create a
symbolic home in which observant
Jews are allowed to perform some
tasks that are otherwise prohibited
on Shabbat, the time between sundown Friday and Saturday evening. Chief among these
privileges: carrying items (like walking canes and keys) and moving objects (like baby strollers
As a director of the Manhattan Jewish Experience, a community of young Jewish professionals
in Gramercy/Murray Hill, and the father of two small children, the prospect of the eruv
(pronounced ay-roov) being damaged was more than a little inconvenient, he says with some
"We were hosting 50 people for lunch in our loft space," Kraus recalls. "How am I going to get
the kids from the house into the loft?"
It took a phone call to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Kraus says, but his congregation
was able in the 11th hour to get the repairs in time for Shabbat. As should be amply clear, he
says, "it has a very practical use every week." A Fine Line Yet for something so vital to the
Orthodox Jewish community, eruvin remain largely unknown to other groups, including some
"Aesthetically, it's just a tiny little string that you don't see unless you're at eye level, 15 to 20
feet up," says Julie Friedman, a Realtor who covers the Gramercy/Murray Hill area. She leased
Kraus his apartment in 2007.
While an eruv may be composed of no more than fishing wire and lampposts (pictured right), the
intrinsic value that the enclosure adds to a property is immense for Orthodox Jews. "Consider it a
commodity" for the observant, she says.
But as for adding any monetary value to real estate, New York appraiser Alice Palmisano isn't so
"It's a little esoteric for the general population," Palmisano says. In her 27 years working in real
estate, she has never heard of an eruv. And as with all niche amenities, she adds, "It would only
contribute value to those who value it."
More to the point, a Realtor could be penalized for advertising the religious enclosure under the
Fair Housing Act, she points out. Marketing such a feature could be construed as discriminating
against non-Jewish groups. Is an Eruv Legal?
While common in cosmopolitan cities like New York, eruvin exist nearly everywhere that
observant Jewish communities call home. A quick perusal of a publicly updated directory shows
eruv-enclosed communities in cities as varied as Las Vegas, Cincinnati and Memphis. (See the
full list here.) Many renters and homeowners might be surprised to discover that their own
property is located within these sanctified spaces -- and only the most eagle-eyed among them
might spot the wire boundaries.
But it's not their appearance that has some groups up in arms. In Tenafly, N.J., where an eruv
was erected more than a decade ago, the controversy has splintered into quarrels over First
Amendment rights and religious imagery in public. From there, assertions of prejudice were not
far behind. A 2002 lawsuit claims that some residents were concerned that the eruv would
"attract more Orthodox Jews to the area."
"It makes no sense [to argue about it]," says Rabbi Menachem Genack, who belongs to a
synagogue in nearby Englewood, N.J., which has a long history of eruvin. "Why is it disruptive?
Can you see it? No."
Ultimately the courts upheld the synagogue's right to erect an eruv, but other controversies
continue to break out in other communities. Notably, "The Daily Show" spoofed a recent eruv
dispute in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., for similar issues of perceived prejudice. (See their sendup of the dispute below.)
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook The Bottom Line
While controversies over eruvin erupt for several complicated reasons, the bottom line for real
estate professionals -- and, in turn, home shoppers -- is that considerations must be made for all
clients, regardless of creed, race or a laundry list of other protected classes under the Fair
Even Friedman, who serves a large number of Orthodox Jewish home shoppers, says that she
does not broach the topic unless the client makes the first move.
Agents would do well to be even more stringent, says Palmisano, who is also a licensed broker.
The rules can be so strict, in fact, that she says agents can get in trouble for even mentioning the
terms "bachelor pad" or "family home," as those could be called out as an exclusion to other
The reality, though, from Friedman's perspective, is that the inclusion of an eruv is in the same
category of convenience as proximity to a train station. It's just a matter of providing a service
for one group of shoppers, without committing a disservice to others. "And if they ask if there are Jews who live in the building," she adds, "we just smile and say 'this
is New York City' -- everything is reflected here."
EDITOR'S NOTE: In response to some commenters' questions on the maintenance costs of
eruvin, it is the responsibility of the particular Jewish community -- not taxpayers -- to finance
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