Two months ago, Riptide reported that residents of Miami Beach were angry that an eruv -- an orthodox Jewish enclosure -- had appeared in Pinetree Park. The sticks and string were an eyesore and an affront to the separation of church and state, one local complained, but the City of Miami Beach backed the eruv.
Now a national atheist organization has gotten involved. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has written a letter to the city demanding not only that the eruv in Pinetree Park be dismantled, but that all other public eruvs on the island be taken down.
"The religious significance of eruvin is unambiguous and indisputable," FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel wrote yesterday. "They are objects which are significant only to some Jews as a means to obey religious laws that have no bearing on non-adherents. They have no meaning except as a visual, public communication of a purely religious concept for religious believers of a single faith. The City cannot allow such permanent religious displays to be erected on public land."
This debate is nothing new.
During the Sabbath -- which begins at sundown Friday and lasts until nightfall Saturday -- Orthodox Jews are prohibited by scripture from engaging in a number of otherwise routine activities. One rule prevents the "carrying" of any object outside the home, whether keys or kids.
An eruv is a symbolic structure that blurs the boundary between private and public areas, allowing Orthodox Jews to leave their houses and push their children around in strollers on the Sabbath.
An eruv was erected around Miami Beach back in 1985. For much of the island, the seawall is considered enough of a structure to serve as an eruv. However, where there are breaks in the seawall, such as at a recently built kayak ramp in Pinetree Park, an elaborate network of ceremonial sticks and string must be maintained by local rabbis.
In 1999, orthodox Jewish residents of Tenafly, New Jersey, sued the city for the right to put up an eruv. A federal appeal court ultimately sided with the orthodox Jews but didn't address the underlying question of whether eruvs should be allowed on public land.
The issue has flared from time to time. In 2002, New Times covered the ACLU's complaints about the eruv around Miami Beach.
Now it's FFRF's turn to fire away.
"Allowing Orthodox Jews to permanently demarcate large areas of public property as a private Jewish household that is 'property' of the Orthodox Jewish community forces those of other faiths and no faith to live within an Orthodox Jewish religious enclosure," Seidel says in the letter.
An eruv that had been taken down by an angry local and thrown in the trash
Photo by Michael E. Miller
Interestingly, Seidel suggests that Miami Beach's non-orthodox residents have been drafted into a religion, community, or even "family" without their knowledge or consent.
"Allowing an eruv to be established and maintained publicly designates the enclosed area, in this case the entirety of Miami Beach, as affiliated with Orthodox Judaism. It imposes Orthodox Judaism on members of the public by surrounding their community with the physical indicia of a religion that they do not practice," he writes. "The eruv's observers also must, according to the group that maintains it, 'consider those who reside [in the eruv] as one family' in order to allow the otherwise prohibited activities. This is another imposed designation on those who happen to live in the eruv.
"The Miami Beach eruv extends Orthodox Jewish community property rights to the government-owned land and land owned by other private citizens, at least according to their faith. The government has no business allowing its property to be designated as private property at the behest of a few religious individuals.
"We ask you to cease permitting eruvin immediately and remove all unauthorized physical structures from public land."
Ultimately, FFRF's letter to the city is unlikely to change anything. As an attorney for the Miami Beach Eruv Council said back in 2002, the city has plenty of economic reasons to allow the eruv but only a few complaints.
"Call the Fontainebleau hotel and find out how much they make over the Passover holiday," Abraham Galbut told New Times. "They're booked solid. [Orthodox Jews] from New York like to come here because they can practice their religion and walk around on a Saturday afternoon."
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"The city grants licenses to people who sell ice cream on the beach. I can't put up a string that does no harm to anyone?"