By Israel Schochet
Prior to my father, Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet A”H, becoming the rabbi at Cong. Beth Joseph Lubavitch in Toronto, he was the rabbi at the Kielcer Cong. for over 35 years. This shul was located about a 30-minute walk from our home.
We walked there every Shabbos, no matter rain or shine. Regardless of how brutal the Toronto winter weather got, being that we did not use the eruv, we did not wear gloves. I would stick my hand into my father’s pocket, holding his hand in there, in an attempt to keep my fingers from becoming numb.
I only recall one instance where the wind chill factor was so low, that my father allowed me to wear gloves, explaining that since it was so cold, there was no concern of removing the glove to shakes hands with someone and accidently carrying it thereby.
The lesson stuck with me, and to this day, though I live in an area where there in an eruv, I do not use it.
I have watched with slightly morbid fascination as the Crown Heights eruv debate has raged on. I have read all the articles and, embarrassingly so, all the comments. I will not attempt to delve into the halachic issues on the eruv. These are long and complicated and should be left to the halachic experts. In fact, until this debate ensued, I never really delved too deeply into the halachic opinions regarding eruvin at all.
The Torah learning and the l’hagdil Torah u’lehadiro that has ensued is surely a silver lining. As an aside, for a thorough and comprehensively in-depth look into eruvin and its sources, please read Rabbi Krasnianski’s teshura. Whether you agree with all the conclusions or not, it is a fascinating and informative read.
Having said that, there seem to be some prevalent arguments that keep being raised, that I think should be addressed. Some of these answers have been addressed briefly in article comments, but are lost in the flurry of ad hominum attacks and vitriol that seem to accompany anonymous postings. The prudent thing to do is to list the main ones in a comprehensive manner so that they are easier to read and discuss.
1. Was the Rebbe really against a Crown Heights eruv?
Reply: I think it goes without question that the Rebbe was opposed to there being an eruv in any large city, let alone Crown Heights. There are letters of the Rebbe to Melbourne (already published numerous times) as well as the Rebbe’s letters regarding the Manhattan eruv.
This is beside the myriad of personal witness testimony, by Rabbis Chitrik, Groner etc. No one can intellectually and honestly say that the Rebbe did not express his opinion in writing and orally, against the notion of a large city eruv, let alone Crown Heights.
To doubt Rabbi Groner calls into question every answer anyone might have received from him in the name of the Rebbe. While some may be okay with this, I for one cannot reconcile the two in my head. Nor am I willing to call into question every answer I or my family ever received from Rabbi Groner in the name of the Rebbe.
2. Even assuming the Rebbe was against an eruv, surely that was back then. Times have changed and no one can say what the Rebbe’s opinion would be today.
Reply: Actually, the reverse is true. We have a concept called ‘bori veshema bori odif’ (a certainty and a doubt, the certainty is stronger). We know for a certainty what the Rebbe expressed about public eruvin in letters and in person. The MAYBE is would the Rebbe have changed his mind today. The onus of proof is on the person that wants to change the status quo. Not the other way around. Being that there is no way to know for certain what the Rebbe would have said today and if he would have ‘changed’ his mind, the ‘bori’ is the argument that stands until another certainty can rebut it.
But here is the real issue: Have times really changed? What changed and why does that create a need to change the status quo? To be sure, the notion of changing halachic opinion or creating halachic loop-holes to adapt it to the current culture and climate is exactly how the haskala, conservative and reform movements started. Not exactly what we should be emulating.
But again, I ask the question: what changed? Years ago, I went to kollel in Crown Heights for two years, had a baby there, as did many of my friends. No one seemed lost or forlorn on Shabbos. Those that lived in apartment buildings would have Shabbos meals with friends and family that lived in their building. Those established families that had houses would invite people that could come over for meals.
For thousands of years, frum Jews enjoyed Shabbos with their family and friends in cities that did not have an eruv. No spikes in depression, no need for suicide watches on Shabbos. Everyone survived and was happy. I have never seen so many people insistent on spending their one-day-a-week off with their mothers-in-law! Truly Moshiach-times!
3. The Rebbe was opposed to an eruv in Melbourne and they have an eruv there, which most of Lubavitch uses. Why can’t we do the same in Crown Heights? Those that want to use it, will use it, and those that don’t, won’t.
Reply: We need to differentiate between cities that are made up of many communities, none more proportionately predominant than the other, versus Crown Heights that is primarily and predominantly Lubavitch. Other cities have various Rabbinic counsels and batei dinim, while Crown Heights has only the one.
In Melbourne (as well as other cities like Los Angeles), Chabad is only one of many opinions. The Chabad Rabbis are all against the use of an eruv, in every one of those cities. However, being that the other communities are free to follow their Rabbinic leadership and said Rabbinic leadership in entitled to put up an eruv, the city eruv gets put up in spite of Lubavitch, not because of it.
However, once an eruv is put up and many frum Jews, your neighbors and friends, are openly carrying on Shabbos (permissibly so, since they are following their Rabbinic authorities) the temptation is too great. That is why many Lubavitchers in Melbourne and Los Angeles and Toronto, where there is an eruv, will use it on Shabbos.
Now, if Crown Heights was like the Crown Heights of old, filled with an array of different Chassidic sects and Rabbinic courts, and those other Rabbinic courts decided to build an eruv, that would be a different story. However, that is not the case. Crown Heights is a community that is primarily and predominantly Lubavitch. It has only one bais din and is a controllable environment. Therefore, while the Rebbe’s directives could not be enforced in other cities such as Melbourne, they most certainly can be enforced in Crown Heights.
4. The eruv is underway and is being done under the auspices of world renowned eruv experts. Their opinion is accepted everywhere and should be accepted in Crown Heights as well.
Reply: The whole notion of getting an outside eruv expert to come make an eruv in a location where there is only one sitting bais din, smacks of forum shopping, something that is HIGHLY inappropriate in halacha. The Crown Heights restaurants we eat in are under the Crown Heights Bais Din. The questions we have about mikvah and teharas hamishpacha are asked of the Crown Heights Bais Din.
Yet, when it comes to the serious matter of hilchos Shabbos, you forum shop, looking for a Rabbi that will fit your personal needs? Your personal needs are supposed to adapt to Torah, not the other way around! The fact that you have to look elsewhere to find a Rabbinic authority that will bend to your will, should be a huge red flag on any religious undertaking.
It should be noted, that threats to tear down the eruv are counterproductive, and smack of the ‘yadaim yedei Esav’ the Rebbe so vehemently opposed. It will not bring anyone closer to yiddishkeit, the number one litmus test of how we can tell if it’s the yetzer tov talking or just the yetzer hara in a silk kapotoh. Nothing should be done, in either direction, without the complete and open ruling of the only local Bais Din.
I will conclude with the words from Gemoro Sotah (12b) that we recently learned:
“The custom of the world is, if a king of flesh and blood makes a decree, if the entire world does not observe it, at least his children and the member of his household do. Yet you, you want to violate the decree of your own father!?”
May it be Hashem’s will that we be openly reunited with our Rebbe so we can avoid the second-guessing of his words, with the coming of Moshiach, speedily, Amen!