Bechhofer, Robert A. (2018) Contextualizing “The Contemporary Eruv”. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The construction of eruvin – symbolic boundaries demarcating communal space that enable traditionally observant Jews to carry in public domains on the Sabbath – poses a unique problem at the intersection of religious and secular life. The application of the ancient doctrines of eruv to modern urban spaces has proven to be controversial in rabbinic circles, and in many respects the attendant Jewish law questions remain unsettled. At the same time, controversy over the construction of eruvin in modern metropolitan areas has metastasized to impact a much broader field of inquiry that includes law, politics, sociology, architecture, and aesthetics.

My research in this area – which began with the publication of my book, The Contemporary Eruv: Eruvin in Modern Metropolitan Areas, and continues in this commentary and my recent essay, The Non-Territoriality of an Eruv: Ritual Bearings in Jewish Urban Life – touches on all these areas of inquiry. This commentary provides a broad overview of my work on eruvin and offers insights into the significance of my original research, the impact my work has had on the broader scholarly community, and possible lines of further inquiry for future work.

Part 2 provides a glossary that defines the many Hebrew and technical-legal rabbinic terms used throughout this commentary. Next, Part 3 of this commentary offers a broad overview of my past and ongoing research into eruvin and touches briefly on the central question that drives much of my work. Part 4 discusses the central research questions that both animate my broader body of work and frame my more specific work on the study of eruvin in modern metropolitan spaces. Building on these research concerns, Part 5 of this commentary provides a general overview of the central concepts, doctrines, and issues in the construction of eruvin, tracing the topic from its biblical origins through early rabbinic legislation that set the stage for ongoing concerns. Part 6 explains the methodology of my research into eruvin, and lays out its three-pronged approach: addressing past rabbinic scholarship, actual hands-on experience with the urban spaces in which contemporary eruvin are built, and reconceptualizing traditional doctrines so as to apply them to modern contexts. In Part 7, I offer a literature review that focuses principally on the impact that The Contemporary Eruv has had on a variety of fields of inquiry, including law, urban studies, architecture, religious studies, public policy, and art. Part 8 includes abstracts of my other published works offered as further support for the merits of my scholarship. Finally, Part 9 of this commentary provides a tentative look forward at areas for future research, including a brief discussion of some of the ethical concerns raised by the construction of eruvin in modern metropolitan areas. Part 10 includes a list of sources referenced in this commentary.

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