It’s All About Location When It Comes to Eruvin

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Eruvin, ritual enclosures that allow people within it to carry on Shabbat, can raise both property values and eyebrows.

The relationship between an eruv and observance can be illustrated by Andres Catalan, an Orthodox resident of Philadelphia who is one of the primary people behind the push to move the boundaries of the Center City eruv southward.

He started working on the plans about six months ago after he and his family decided to stop renting and purchased a home outside the eruv, a ritual enclosure that allows people within it to carry on Shabbat.

Since the move, he and his wife, Yah-el Har-el, have hired a non-Jewish person on Shabbat, in part to push the stroller for their infant son, Uriel.

The difference in home prices between Graduate Hospital, where they had been living, and just a few blocks south in Point Breeze was more than $100,000.

One question that arises is whether tensions between newcomers and longtime residents over gentrification in the south Philadelphia neighborhood would be exacerbated if more observant Jews move south in search of cheaper real estate.

Ori Feibush, a real estate developer, has been one of the biggest investors in Point Breeze in recent years and is now running for City Council in the district. Groups such as Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze have criticized Feibush, who is Jewish, because of how they say his development displaces longtime residents. Mayor Michael Nutter recently was quoted saying at a campaign rally for incumbent Kenyatta Johnson, “We’re not going to allow some little jerk with a big checkbook [to] come in and buy this election.”

When asked about the eruv issue, Feibush, who was not initially familiar with the concept — as many Jews aren’t — said, “I support any effort which provides inclusivity for individuals of many different faiths, and if this is an effort that will allow a community to practice their religion in a larger area, I think that’s great.”

Johnson couldn’t be reached for comment.  

Catalan, a professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, said he does not know other Mekor HaBracha members who have moved south of Washington in search of cheaper real estate but he does not think that expanding the eruv will be a significant factor in gentrifying the neighborhood or “a source of friction” with longtime residents.

“We should be concerned for everyone in our neighborhood,” said Catalan.

But Mekor HaBracha Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch, who also works as an options trader in New York, said there can be a correlation between an eruv and boosting property values. A real estate agent told the Boston Globe in 2014 that there could be a 10 percent difference in property values between homes inside an eruv verus those outside the boundaries.

Hirsch said he sees a trend of more people moving into Center City and commuting to New York, and he expects that to help his congregation grow. Furthermore, expanding the eruv “could definitely” draw observant Jews into South Philadelphia, though he expects the Center City Jewish community to grow first.

“People are going to move south of Washington and the reason is because of real estate prices,” said Hirsch. “If there is no eruv there, observant Jews aren’t going to feel that’s a viable place to live.”

Orthodox Jews have battled with groups — Jewish and non-Jewish alike — in other parts of the county over building or expanding eruvin. In 2011, members of the Orthodox community in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., filed suit against local governing bodies that they said were preventing them from building an eruv and, over a period of several years, faced off against groups like Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv.

Last summer, a federal judge ruled that the Village of Westhampton Beach could not use a sign ordinance to prevent the community from building an eruv, and it has since gone up.

In Philadelphia, expanding the eruv, which is maintained by Rabbi Rephoel Szmerla, over the next few months south to Porter Street would encompass two additional congregations in southeast Philadelphia: Y.P.C Shari Eli, which is Conservative, and the Orthodox Congregation Shivtei Yeshuron Ezras Israel, also known as The Little Shul. It already includes the Orthodox synagogues Bnai Abraham and Mikveh Israel. The planners also hope to expand it north toward Temple University and west to connect it to the University City eruv, which Szmerla also maintains.

As for the connection between eruvin and property values, Szmerla, who does repairs on eruvin throughout the city, said, “I would imagine that depends on the type of town and community you’re talking about.

“In Center City, where the percentage of people who care about the eruv is a very small fraction of the general population, I doubt that the eruv will have an impact on property value.”

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