Diaspora Cartography: On the Rabbinic Background of Contemporary Ritual Eruv Practice

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Abstract

This essay takes as its starting point the observation that the earliest manifestation of the regulations concerning the eruv (hatzerot) can be found in the Mishnah (late second or early third century C.E.). A careful reading of the early rabbinic texts demonstrates that the eruv shapes a community’s relationship to the local space it inhabits in significant ways that are predicated neither on ownership nor on control over that space. Rather, that relationship is based on a set of negotiations with those who share the space, in rabbinic times predominantly neighbors, and later also jurisdictions. Further, as a tool of drawing symbolic Jewish maps, the rabbinic eruv enhances the concept of multidimensionality of space, as one map—a rabbinic map—of signification is superimposed on space without control over it. As such, the eruv is quintessentially the product of a diaspora imagination, not merely in a historical sense of a post-70 C.E. reality, but in the political sense of inhabiting a space that is shared with and even controlled by others.

  • 5

    See also Avtar BrahCartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities (London and New York: Routledge1996), who similarly uses the language of “diasporic imagination” in her attempt to conceptualize the complexities of transnational identity formations (193).

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  • 7

    See for instance Lawrence H. SchiffmanThe Halakhah at Qumran (Leiden: E.J. Brill1975), 113–15 in a brief reference to early rabbinic law, as contrast to the stricter legal standards adopted at Qumran.

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  • 36

    Thus also briefly Vincent and Warf“Eruvim,” who suggest: “As an imagined space that unites both ideology and material practice, eruvim thus ritually unify their residents, enhancing their solidarity and sense of community through the symbolic demarcation and enclosure of space as a collective home,” 47.

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