Y.U. Museum's Eruv Exhibit Extended Through October 13

Jewish Art Salon members Ben Schachter and Yona Verwer have works in the show
Ben Schachter - Boston Eruv
Exhibition Offers Groundbreaking Look at Eruvs, Which Still Spark Controversy from “The Daily Show” to City Halls 
Yeshiva University Museum, 15 W. 16th Street, NYC, 212-294-8330 
Responding to wide acclaim for its groundbreaking exhibition, Yeshiva University Museum has extended It’s a Thin Line:  The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York and Beyond until October 13.

Yona Verwer - Tightrope
The eruv, one of the most fascinating concepts in Jewish life, is a border usually made out of string or wire stretched on top of or on telephone or light poles, which symbolically encloses a neighborhood or a city.  With its main focus on New York City, New Jersey, and the surrounding communities, “It’s a Thin Line” provides a vivid picture of local urban history through the stories of individual communities, religious figures and debates, and contemporary art.

MyJewishLearning called the exhibition “fascinating” and “wonderful”, and media including The Jewish Week, Hadassah, Lilith, The Jewish Press, Tablet have praised its unprecedented look at the eruv’s past, present, and future. An array of unique artifacts in widely different media, dating back to the 15th century, brings the story of the eruv to life and demonstrate its striking intersection with technology, art and modernity, among other phenomena.

The exhibition also features eruv-themed, New York-centered works by contemporary artists, reflecting the recent interest in the ritual outside its strictly religious function and context: R. Justin Stewart’s three-dimensional timeline made of thousands of strings tracing the evolution of Manhattan’s eruvs; Elliott Malkin’s laser eruv; Yona Verwer’s provocative installation investigating living without an eruv; and Ben Schachter’s multi-media paintings exploring the ‘geographies’ created by eruvs.

Among the works on view: early print editions of the Talmud and an array of rare hand-written manuscripts; eruv artifacts and paraphernalia, including original urban light poles and an aluminum gate from the current Manhattan eruv; a 1986 guide to the Kew Gardens, Queens eruv with a foreword by then-borough president Donald Manes; photographs of the 3rd Avenue elevated train, one of the eruv boundaries for the first half of the 20th century; a museum-produced film on the charged history and surprising technical workings of eruvs in the region; and a museum-produced interactive that invites visitors to investigate a host of legal, political, and social issues associated with New York-area Jewish communities and eruvs today.

“The exhibition illuminates a key example of the dynamic process of rabbinic interpretation over time and its creative application in the public sphere,” said Dr. Jacob Wisse, director of Yeshiva University Museum. “The response to this exhibition has been thrilling for us, and the dialogue it’s generating about the eruv has been fascinating to follow, reflecting the timeliness of and broad interest in these issues.”

The eruv is one of the most fascinating, though little understood and sometimes controversial concepts in Jewish life.  It divides private and public, sacred and secular, work and Sabbath.  But the eruv is not just a concept.  It’s also a physical creation that powerfully affects the lives of observant Jews.  Without an eruv, parents couldn’t carry their children on the Sabbath.  It’s a Thin Line traces the history of the eruv and its adaptation into New York’s urban environment, and raises provocative questions.

How far should and do civic authorities go to accommodate religious practices? How does the creation of an eruv impact community, and affect the demographics and character of a neighborhood? And where do you draw the line between public and private?  From a notorious segment on The Daily Show about the proposed Westhampton Beach eruv to city hall debates around the world, eruvs are a hot-button issue.

As a means for offering separation while integrating into city life, the eruv also provides a potent symbol of Jewish life in America.  With 130 artifacts spanning over five centuries, It’s a Thin Line vividly illustrates how an ancient rabbinic precept has been creatively interpreted and applied – especially in and around New York City.  Objects range from some of the first Hebrew books ever printed to century-old images of New York life to contemporary tools and recent eruv artifacts to eruv­-themed works by contemporary artists. 

Even people who don’t know about eruvs live within their boundaries (you might very well be inside one right now!).  And as high-profile cases have illustrated, eruvs can still rankle neighbors.  With that in mind, a film produced especially for this exhibition spotlights different opinions and interpretations of eruvs in the broader New York metropolitan area over the last 30 years, and the eruv’s impact on the community. 

Yeshiva University Museum’s Zachary Paul Levine is curator of It’s a Thin Line, and Rabbi Adam Mintz, one of the foremost historians of the eruv in America, is the exhibition’s curatorial adviser.

What is an eruv?
An eruv is a border, usually made out of string or wire stretched on top of or on telephone or light poles, which symbolically encloses a neighborhood or a city.  It allows Jews to accomplish one of the most basic activities on the Sabbath, which Jewish law otherwise prohibits on the Day of Rest: carrying. An eruv makes it possible for people to carry keys, push a baby carriage or hold a baby, or bring food to someone’s home.

Yeshiva University Museum is dedicated to the presentation and interpretation of the artistic and cultural achievements of Jewish life. The Museum, founded in 1973, is distinguished by its wide-ranging and intellectually rigorous exhibitions and, as the cultural arm of Yeshiva University, by its strong educational mission. As a partner in the thriving Center for Jewish History and a participant in New York’s lively downtown cultural scene, Yeshiva University Museum makes a distinctive and important contribution to Jewish life and to the world of culture and the arts. The Museum’s rich and diverse collections preserve Jewish artifacts, art, texts and material culture for posterity, making objects accessible through exhibitions, educational programs, and research and conservational initiatives.

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