Why The Rebbe Did Not Support The Manhattan Eruv

by Rabbi Nochum Zajac

In a never published letter to Manhattan rabbonim, the Rebbe explains under what conditions he supports constructing an eruv in a city and when it is a stumbling block.

The letter, released by Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro of NMP (Nissan Mindel Publications) from the archives of his father-in-law, Rabbi Nissan Mindel secretary of the Rebbe, was written during Chol HaMoed Pesach 5724/1964. This English letter is special in that it is long and detailed, much more so than the other letters about eruv and the handwritten responses written later.

A similar letter of the Rebbe is printed in The Letter & the Spirit Volume 3 (page 413-414). However, this letter, which is addressed to a different person, contains new material that was previously unknown.

Interestingly, as it is apparent from the letter, this was written as a response to a group of New York Rabbonim who requested to meet with the Rebbe regarding the eruv. In lieu of a meeting, the Rebbe sent this letter to one of the rabbis. As mentioned above, a similar text was sent to another NY rabbi , and it may have been sent to others as well.

Of note is the fact that the Rebbe’s response was prepared during Chol HaMoed (notwithstanding the fact that the Rebbe’s correspondence was generally suspended at this time), highlighting how urgent it was to the Rebbe that they be familiar with his stance on this matter.

In the letter, the Rebbe clarifies his position that even where it is permitted to establish an eruv to save non-religious people from sin, one should not knowingly use the eruv. As the Rebbe writes: “The purpose of the eiruv would be not to enable a Jew to carry his tallis to shul on Shabbos, but only to relieve those who already transgress the Shabbos by carrying things, from doing so b’issur.”

Finally, wherever an eruv is built, it must be strictly kosher, and not rely on leniencies. In the Rebbe’s words: “A Rov, or Rabbinical authority, should always act only in strict adherence to the Shulchan Aruch in every detail.”

Special thanks is given to Rabbi Shapiro for releasing this letter at this stage, even as it has been prepared for future publication in an upcoming volume of The Letter & the Spirit.

Shalom U’Brachah:

My brother-in-law, RSG [Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary], informed me yesterday of your desire to discuss with me, in the presence of your colleagues, the question of an eiruv for Manhattan. Although, because of the sanctity of Chol Hamoed, my correspondence is generally suspended during these intermediate days, I hasten to convey to you my views on this matter.

As you will surely recall, the matter was raised a few years ago, when I expressed my position, which has not changed. However, since I do not know if you are fully informed of it, I will reiterate the main points of my viewpoint relative to this matter.

First of all, as a matter of principle, my opinion is that where according to the din an eiruv can be instituted, it should be so instituted. This is based on the opinion of many posekim, including that of Admur Hazaken in his Shulchan Aruch.

Secondly, special consideration has to be given to the state of affairs and attitudes in respect of the observance of the mitzvot in the present day and age, which has a particular bearing on the problem under discussion. I have in mind the precaution which such an eiruv calls for under the best of circumstances, and certainly here and now, against the possibility of the eiruv becoming pasul. 

In the old days, when there was a close contact between the Jewish community (“the man in the street”) and the Beit Din or Rav, the invalidation of the eiruv, and the consequent resumption of the pre-eiruv state of the prohibition against carrying on Shabbat, could be communicated fairly easily to the “man in the street” and no harm was done. Nowadays, unfortunately the position is different. 

While the institution of the eiruv would quickly become common knowledge, not only through various media of communication, but also by word of mouth, the rescinding of it in case of its invalidation, would only reach those who are in contact with the Rabbinical authorities, or who attend the synagogue regularly; whereas many would remain in ignorance of the changed situation. Moreover, many of those who might get into the habit of carrying on Shabbat on the strength of an eiruv, might not so readily discontinue to do so even if they became aware of the breakdown in the eiruv; and this contingency is particularly to be considered in relation to the Jewish youth in this country.

In view of the above, it is an absolute necessity, in my opinion, that the eiruv, if one is feasible at all according to din, should be carried out in the utmost secrecy. This means that the purpose of the eiruv would be not to enable a Jew to carry his talit to shul on Shabbat, but only to relieve those who already transgress the Shabbat by carrying things, from doing so b’Issur (under prohibition).

Thirdly, and this too is an essential point in my position: the opinion expressed in the first conditional paragraph, namely, that where an eiruv is permissible according to the din it should be instituted, is based, of course, on the general principle indicated above. However, it expresses no opinion regarding any particular place, such as Manhattan in this case, as to whether or not it indeed qualifies for an eiruv according to the din. This is a matter to be decided by the Rabbinical authorities who have thoroughly investigated the pertinent details in full accord with the Hilchot Eiruvin.

Fourthly, assuming that it be agreed that the eiruv should be instituted without publicity, as above, the question may be asked whether it would be warranted to follow the more lenient view of some “posekim regarding the qualifications of the place, in order to remove the transgression of those who carry in any case (inasmuch as the eiruv would not be intended to induce Shabbat observer to carry on Shabbat). 

However, this would not be right, in my opinion, for two important reasons: a) a Rov, or Rabbinical authority, should always act only in strict adherence to the Shulchan Aruch in every detail; and b) it is inevitable that the existence of an eiruv would not become known to limited circles, with the result that some individuals would be tempted to accept it on its face value, especially in this country  where there is a strong tendency to find hetterim and make religious observance more “convenient.” Hence, it is my considered opinion that not only should the eiruv be done in the utmost secrecy, but that it should be done only if the place strictly qualifies for it in accordance with the din.

May I take this opportunity to extend to you and yours my prayerful wishes for a continued kosher and happy Pesach.

With blessing,

By reason of Chol HaMoed, this letter is left unsigned.

2 Comments

  • ch resident

    this is the “known” mindel letter, that was already addressed by the rabbonim. its dishonest to attempt to portray this as a new letter, as the only new part is that they asked the question via the rashag, every other word is exactly the same, and was written on chol hamoed.
    and the rebbe clearly writes that he has in mind the precautions of “such an eruv”

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