It feels like ancient history now, but in 2007 I wrote about an ugly public fight over the erection of an eruv in the wealthy Los Angeles suburb of Oak Park:
"Is it me or am I the only one that finds this strange?'' Carlos Bernal of Oak Park wrote in an e-mail to local officials. "Why don't we install a crucifix at every stoplight? Or the picture of Muhammad at every pedestrian crossing?
"I'm not a religious guy and certainly don't have anything against the Jewish faith ... but this rubs me the wrong way.''
Jews were equally critical of the glistening wires that zigzagged across residential streets -- a threat to property values and unsuspecting birds.
"It is not some biblical thing that says, `Hang some fishing line.' It's an arbitrary man-made work-a-round,'' said Susan Flores, a Reform Jew who, like most, does not keep Sabbath.
"While you are making stuff up, why don't you make up something that is a little less obtrusive.''
The Conejo Valley eruv encompassed parts of three cities, but the Oak Park portion hadn't been permitted. Once this was discovered, it was torn down and the rest of the eruv followed. The driving force, though, was that many residents in a town with underground utilities thought the monofilament wires were ugly and hurt both property values and birds.
That's not the issue now brewing in Miami Beach, where the Freedom From Religion Foundation has demanded the eruv be dismantled. The New Times Miami reports:
"The religious significance of eruvin is unambiguous and indisputable," FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel wrote yesterday. "They are objects which are significant only to some Jews as a means to obey religious laws that have no bearing on non-adherents. They have no meaning except as a visual, public communication of a purely religious concept for religious believers of a single faith. The City cannot allow such permanent religious displays to be erected on public land."
That's an abjectly oversimplified statement of the law, and my understanding is that past legal challenges to eruvin have failed because permitting such construction does not qualify as an impermissable government endorsement of religion. Some scholarly discussion here.
Eruvin have been a constant target for complaints—on legal, practical, and aesthetic grounds. (This headline highlights that: "Another eruv fight.") And yet they remain in many cities big and small. Nothing in Miami Beach plainly suggests materially different circumstances.
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