Dishonest boundaries: gerrymandering and Eruv

Every now and then the issue of gerrymandering comes up in U.S. politics. By all accounts, this practice of drawing district boundaries in politically favorable ways is dishonest, and it stultifies what should be a vibrant, flexible political system. (Luckily,  voters in some states have grown sick of it, and have done something about it.)

This reminded me of another boundary-related practice that I first heard about when reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. It’s called Eruv.

You see, Orthodox Jews have a rather odd law that forbids them from taking everyday objects (like keys) out of their homes on the Sabbath. To circumvent this problem, they thread a long piece of string around their neighborhood, pole to pole, fence to fence, in order to mark out an enclosure (an “eruv”)  that can be considered “inside the home” for the purposes of carrying everyday objects.

Putting aside the arbitrary nature of the law, consider the practice of Eruv construction: it falls, as far as I can tell, in the same category as gerrymandering. It’s a way of gaming the system to get what you want.

What is especially odd in the case of Eruv is the assumption Jews apparently have that God will fail to notice – or care about – their shenanigans. (It’s a little like Pascal’s wager which, for some reason, assumes that cunning calculations about our future can be made without God’s knowledge or disapproval.)

Humans believe, and do, the oddest things.


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