Mountains suspended by a hair : Eruv, a symbolical act by which the legal fiction of community is established
In 1991 a group of orthodox Jews applied to the London Borough of Barnet for permission to erect small groups of structures resembling telephone poles, connected - at a height of about twenty feet - by fine nylon filament, at thirty nine locations in the borough. Overall, the number of such structures was to be about eighty. Given that such structures closely resemble common 'street furniture', it was argued by those supporting the proposal that these items would be virtually unseen among the tens of thousands of lamp posts, telephone poles, and the like already in the area. Yet, far from remaining a routine matter for Barnet's Planning Officers, the application became an issue of heated public controversy, engaging the attention of the national and international media. The nature of that opposition is the major focus of this thesis. The religious driving force which lay behind the application relates to the laws of the Jewish shabbat. In order to overcome specific restrictions arising from those laws, Jewish sages long ago devised legal 'solutions'. Among these solutions is one which requires the creation of the physical structures which were the subject of the planning application. In everyday usage the legal solution is referred to by the Hebrew word eruv. It might be argued that this faintly absurd controversy represented in symbolic form the basic dilemma of Jewish life in liberal societies in the late twentieth century. This thesis analyses the eruv conflict in terms of space and place, modernity and post-modernity, and contemporary identities and concludes that the eruv proposal was greeted with hostility because it was seen as a disordering of space which threatened identities within a context of the operation of 'banal nationalism'.