New Orthodox Jewish Eruv in Pinetree Park Raises Constitutional Questions

Mary Baker knows Pinetree Park like the back of her hand. Every morning, she walks her dogs beneath its eponymous pines. And every evening, she returns. As the setting sun glints off Indian Creek to the east, butterflies flit around the community garden. On an island infamous for sin, the park is a rare outpost of peace.

Last summer, however, Baker was walking along the water when she spotted two men erecting a pair of 15-foot-tall, pale plastic poles and connecting them with a long, thin white string. When Mary asked what the men were doing, they ignored her. She threatened to call the city. "We are the city," replied a man with a bushy beard and a black hat.

Soon, more poles appeared. They, too, were strung together, like a giant spider web slowly surrounding the park. Baker was baffled.

"It's an eruv," one of Baker's Orthodox Jewish friends finally explained.

See also: Strings Attached: Orthodox Jews in Miami Beach consider it a harmless symbol, but others believe it violates the U.S. Constitution

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.

Unbeknownst to most people, the entire island of Miami Beach is surrounded by an eruv. Most of the time, the seawall is enough. In Pinetree Park, however, the city recently installed a kayak ramp that broke the eruv.

When Rabbi Pinchas Weberman learned of the lapse in the eruv, he dispatched the two men to erect the poles and string. Weberman, who has a white beard and a gravelly voice with which he dispenses as many jokes as parables, says extending the eruv into the park isn't a big deal.

"It doesn't hurt anybody," he says. "It's hardly visible unless somebody is looking for it. And the dogs certainly aren't bothered by it."

But Baker, who asked New Times to change her name for fear of retaliation over speaking out, says the poles and string are not only ugly but also unconstitutional.

"It's not in the spirit of the deed that [the park] become a religious sanctuary," she says. She's careful to point out that she has nothing against the Jewish faith. "I'm not in favor of crosses or crescents or Ten Commandments either. We need some faith-free zones in our lives."

Weberman cites a 2002 New Jersey court case to support the eruv's constitutionality.

"Wherever you go, we have malcontents," he says. "Sometimes they are anti-Semites. Sometimes they are Jewish anti-Semites who see an eruv and feel guilty about not being more observant."

But Baker says the Pinetree eruv is more disruptive than strings high up on street poles -- as was the issue in New Jersey.

In fact, it's not clear whether Weberman is allowed to extend the eruv into the park. "He has a permit for the beach," says Miami Beach spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez. "I don't believe anyone has pulled a permit for the park."

Baker is not alone in bemoaning the eruv in the park. Someone else -- she doesn't know who -- has been cutting the string and removing the poles. Baker doesn't blame them.

"When storms come, the strings hang so low you can almost be garroted," she says. "It used to be so pleasant here, but now it's not pleasant at all."

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