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Snow fences and a foot bridge became key topics of discussion Tuesday evening as Evanston residents met to discuss plans to expand an eruv — a symbolic enclosure that makes it religiously permissible for Orthodox Jews to carry objects outside their home on the Sabbath.


Robert Matanky.

Robert Matanky, and organizer of the project, said the boundary of the eruv needs to be defined by actual walls — which could be a fence or a steep embankment. Where those barriers are crossed, there needs to be a symbolic doorway that closes the gap.

So, he said, at the bridge over the North Shore Channel on the Canal Shores Golf Course, the eruv would need posts, perhaps 20-feet high, attached to either side of the bridge railing, with a wire connecting the top of the posts to represent a lintel over the door.


A resident critiques the design for the gate at the golf course bridge.

Some residents questioned the design for that aspect of the project — suggesting that the trees at the site formed a natural canopy — and worrying that kids would end up suspending gym shoes from the wire.

Matanky said someone from the Jewish community would check the eruv every week and would address graffiti issues and similar problems.

He also said the backers of the project were open to other design solutions. “This is Evanston. We’re sensitive to the design concerns,” he said.

He added that he’s worked on more than 20 eruv projects in the United States. “Nobody’s proposed an eruv that has given more thought about the environment or been more conscious of aesthetics than here.”

Matanky said eruvs already exist around many major university campuses — including at Harvard, MIT, New York University and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He said Northwestern University is supporting the project and working with organizers on the design elements around the university campus.


Plans for forming the eruv along Lee Street beach.

Along the lakefront the boundary for the eruv would be formed with a mix of wires strung atop light poles and posts, reinforced snow fencing and repaired chain link fences.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, raised questions about the snow fence solution, saying some sections of the snow fence get moved periodically. And Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the fence “is used for sand control.”

“I don’t think any of us ever thought of it as a permanent fence,” Fiske added.

The project will require right of way permits and other approvals from the city.

The existing eruv in south Evanston, created about 25 years ago, forms the northernmost portion of the West Rogers Park eruv in Chicago. It includes the area bounded by the Metra and CTA Yellow Line tracks and the North Shore Channel.

The planned eruv expansion would extend the boundaries to run from the North Shore Channel almost to the north city limits and then along the lakefront to Calvary Cemetery.

Fiske said the eruv will also be up for discussion at a 1st Ward meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, at the Evanston Public Library.

Related story

Meeting planned to discuss eruv expansion (2/18/18)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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12 Comments

  1. What happened to the separation of Church and state?

    Whatever happened to the separation of Church and state?

    The aesthetic value of these eruvs – wires crisscrossing utility poles, bridges and fences – are greatly lacking. They’re an eyesore as most wires on poles and fences are. Looks like they are proposing putting a posts on the beautiful bridge at the Canal Shores so they can run the wires (usually fishing line). Why should we have to look at fishing line on bridges and fences while we stroll through the Canal Shores? And what guarantees would we have that the Jewish community would check the eruvs every week?

    How does the public benefit from eruvs? That should be a key question for elected officials

    Skokie charges a $1 one time fee for the eruvs there. I say if our elected government officials allow the evuvs then it should charge way more on a monthly basis. It could be another revenue source for Evanston’s affordable housing fund!

    1. Checking Every Week
      Al – to answer your question about the guarantee of weekly inspections, it’s actually required by Jewish law that this be done, so that you know whether or not it’s okay to carry on each Shabbat (Friday evening until Saturday evening of each week). Skokie in fact has a hotline (847-679-3788) that you call each Friday morning before Shabbat to hear the results of this inspection, and ensure that the eruv is in tact and undamaged. I presume the rabbis in Evanston would set up something similar.

      In terms of an eyesore – I think this concern comes from a lack of understanding more than anything else. Not an insult at all – there’s no reason for a non-Jew to know about these things. But I would challenge you to take a look at a map of the Skokie eruv, and then take a drive around its perimeter to see if you notice anything out of the ordinary at all. I’d be happy to bet you a fresh loaf of challah that you don’t.

  2. Symbolic Enclosure

    There is no valid legal objection to this project based upon 1st Amendment grounds.  The words “separation of church and state” do not appear anywhere in the First Amendment, or in the U.S. Constitution at all.  “Separation of church and state” is a legal theme used since the 1960’s, largely by those who wish to reduce the role of organized religion, religious education, and religion in general.  We as a society have borne the fruit of the sale of this concept, for better or worse.  The legal theme is simplistic.  We don’t have to remove books about particular religions from the Evanston Public Library.  This city, once known as “The City Of Churches”, can and should make reasonable accommodations here.  Parenthetically; while I am not Jewish, the “public benefit” of the eruv idea strikes me as obvious and indeed, wonderful.  

    1. First Amendment

      Hi Frankie,

      It’s true that the words you quote don’t appear. They were coined by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 as a way to summarize the impact of the two religion clauses that are in the First Amendment. Here’s the full text.

      “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

      The question of how to strike an appropriate balance between non-establishment and free exercise is what has driven debate about the meaning of the religion clauses of the First Amendment ever since.

      — Bill

  3. Reject the eruv expansion
    I have no concerns about the aesthetics of the eruv; I understand that it is often made from fishing line, which is nearly invisible. My great concern is about issues concerning the separation of church and state.

    If a Christian group wanted to erect crosses (even very small ones) around Evanston, my guess is that the City would deny them permission. Similarly, if a Muslim group wanted to place permanent prayer rugs around the the city for the convenience of their members, the City would likely reject this proposal.

    If my understanding is correct–and I am certainly open to correction–eruvs are not required by underlying Jewish law. My understanding is that Jewish law states that a Jew must refrain from “work”–which includes activities like pushing strollers and carrying prayer books–on the Sabbath, except at his or her home. By enclosing an area which may encompass many city blocks with an eruv, the concept of “home” is expanded to include whatever area is enclosed by the eruv, even if it is many square blocks. This adaptation enables Orthodox Jews to push strollers, carry prayer books, and engage in other activities which would be considered normally be “work” on the Sabbath.

    I don’t believe this representation of one particular religion should be placed around large areas in Evanston even if it does not disrupt Evanston’s aesthetics.

    1. So then …

      No Christmas Tree … Menorah … or Kwanzaa candles in Fountain Square? How about those Christmas decorations on the street lights?

      — Bill

      1. Eruv

        Bill,

        There is a significant difference between an eruv and the Christmas tree, menorah, and Kwanzaa candle in Fountain Square, as well as Christmas decorations on street lights. Christmas trees, menorahs, candles and lights are REMINDERS or SYMBOLS of religious holidays.

        An eruv uses City property to ENABLE a certain religious practice. India permits cows to roam freely on the streets because cows are sacred in Hinduism. Although the U.S. certainly has a significant Hindu population, cows are not permitted to roam freely on American streets.

        If Hindus in America want to demonstrate their commitment to honoring the cow as a sacred religious symbol, they find an alternate way of doing so. Obviously, this is not a perfect analogy, but I believe my point is clear.

      2. I hope you’re just playing
        I hope you’re just playing Devil’s advocate. Christmas trees, bows, and fairy lights seem about as religious as shamrocks, jack o lanterns, plastic eggs full of candy, and Valentine’s day hearts. Sure, there’s religion in their origins somewhere, but pretty far removed from the retail celebrations that they are now. Culture and religion are related, but not the same.

        However, if it causes a fuss, I wouldn’t object to having no decorations for the sake of aesthetic fairness. Let the Christians keep their worship strings of LEDs off the streets!

  4. Eruv=ugly
    I lived in Rogers Park for six years, and you can definitely see the wires. I have reservations about this modern practice in Orthodox religious observance wherein one chooses to live by a set of strictures only as long as it’s convenient. Kind of defeats the purpose, as I see it. I’m Jewish, and don’t object to the religious practices, but I do object to wires strung in green space, communal areas like beaches and public parks or the golf course. In an urban environment, one more wire isn’t a big deal, but when one chooses to live near large parks, a beautiful lakefront, and open space, and then wants those areas visibly altered to accommodate one’s own religious rules, perhaps some second thoughts are in order. Sorry, I know I’ll offend, but that’s how I see it.

    1. wires, etc.
      I agree with you. People choose where they want to live. It reminds me of people who live out by airports, then complain about the noise. And why can’t people visualize these boundaries? Wires around beaches and parks would look hideous……have they even been vandalized?
      If I had orthodox people living on my street, I sure wouldn’t want wires around the properties and walkways, etc……BTW…I’m Jewish, so don’t anyone say I’m prejudiced.

  5. Over 20 Evanston Sites Would Be Modified by Propsed Eruv
    Please go to https://www.cityofevanston.org/home/showdocument?id=36372 and look at the 26-page eruv proposal. You will see that it involves over 20 separate public sites in Evanston. Approving this eruv project would involved installing the following throughout Evanston: aerial cable, black chain link fences, 20′ black poles, wrought iron fences, metal tubes, and 40′ wooden poles.

    I had previously incorrectly thought an eruv involved simply hanging fishing line from existing utility poles. I am certain that I do not want a plethora of new cables, fences, poles, and tubes on over 20 pieces of Evanston public property. This proposal sould be rejected.

  6. As someone of a historically
    As someone of a historically-persecuted minority faith, I genuinely never thought that I would oppose another faith’s effort to practice their religion. Unfortunately, in my view, it is completely unacceptable to put up unsightly wiring to appease the near non-existent Orthodox Jewish community in Evanston. I don’t understand why I should have to be surrounded by something pertinent to their faith. To add insult to injury, in this theology the belief is that this wire designates an entire area their ‘home.’ The rabbis in the Orthodox movement need to go back to the drawing board and come up with something less superstitious.

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