“We look upon the eruv as a violation of our right to live in a spiritual environment of our own choice,” city resident Walton McMillan commented July 6 on the Palo Alto Weekly’s Web site, where debates have raged. “The eruv forces upon us the necessity to live in a community devoted to the worship of a god foreign to our understanding and devotion. We should not be required to live in a spiritual community which has habitually turned its back on the sacred and sublime for thousands of years.”
McMillan told the Forward he had thought that eruv opponents had “killed it eight years ago”; he was irked to discover otherwise.
Debates about the installation of eruv in are nothing new in American communities, raising church-state questions everywhere they pop up. The situation in Palo Alto is illuminating because it’s taking place in one of America’s most famous university communities, with all the secular and sometimes anti-religious sentiments that come with it.
Some of these comments are outright scary and clearly show how a dispute such as this can play right into the festering anti-Semitic or anti-Orthodox feelings some might already be harboring. But other comments show how misunderstood the concept of an Eruv really is. A "Jewish space"? I have never heard any halachic discussion of how an Eruv proclaims the area it surrounds "Jewish" – it’s usually just a matter of "enclosing" a public space, often by suspending invisible wires from already existing utility poles, thus creating a technical designation that allows Observant Jews to carry items outside on Shabbat.