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Why There’s a Secret Tiny Wire Above Manhattan
It’s 18-miles long yet no one knows about it
I’ve lived in and outside of New York City for 20 years. I had my first kiss in the city, my first beer, and many eidetic memories I’ll never forget.
All that time, however, I never knew an 18-mile translucent wire hung above my head and encircled the entire Manhattan island. In fact, if you squint really really hard, you won’t find it. But if you know the right places to look, you probably still won’t find it.
It’s called an Eruv (pronounced “ay-roov”) and it’s that secretive.
In fact, this tiny weird wire costs $100,000 a year to maintain and strangely enough, without it, thousands of Jews wouldn’t be able to live in the New York City.
Jewish People Vs. Manhattan
In order to understand the importance of the Eruv, you need to know a little bit about Jewish law. Friday night into Saturday is considered the Sabbath by Jewish people. The Sabbath is a day of rest and means observant Jewish people can not do “Melachah” which means work.
This rule is listed in the Jewish code of law, called the Talmud, but stems all the way back from when Moses received the Ten Commandments:
“Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested.”— Exodus 31:12–17
Breaking the rule doesn’t lead to death anymore, but it can get you kicked out of your synagogue. Furthermore, following these rules is what makes the Jewish community so tight-knit in the first place.
When I was working as a reporter I’d never seen anything like the comradery of Jewish communities in New Jersey. Once when a fire broke out in a densely populated Jewish area, the whole town converged to support the family whose house burnt down and gave firefighters snacks and water bottles.
It was awesome stuff to watch. But this leads us back to that wire hanging above Manhattan, which is directly related to the Sabbath.
The Magical Wire of Manhattan
Interestingly enough, many things constitute work on the Sabbath that might not seem obvious to non-Jewish people.
According to the Talmud, there are 39 things you cannot do on the Sabbath including:
Filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable;
Picking small bones from fish;
Cooking or baking;
Carrying anything, including groceries, books, keys, and even children.
If that last rule seems impossible it’s because it is.
So, modern Jews had to create a law to allow you to carry things inside of your home or in your town on the Sabbath. It was also agreed upon that building a wall around a larger town — or a wire for instance— would transform that area into a home-like area.
And thus the Eruv, the small tiny wire hanging above NY, was born!
The Evolution of the Eruv
Walls aren’t easy things to manage. Just ask Pink Floyd or Berlin.
So the head Rabbis in the Jewish community decided it was time to evolve the Eruv. They decided a symbolic wall, like an 18-mile-long translucent wire, was good enough to turn an area into a private domain.
Currently, the largest and most expensive Eruv in the world is in New York City. It’s been in place since 1999 and is hotly debated in the Jewish community.
Many argue that considering the entire island of Manhattan as a private area is ridiculous. I mean, I pass by dozens of homeless every day—I wouldn’t say we’re living in the same “home.” But the Eruv serves its purpose. It allows for more than 1.1 million people to pass through certain roads in New York City in a single day.
Meanwhile, every Thursday before dawn a Rabbi drives the entire island of Manhattan inspecting the Eruv. The wire has survived Macy Day’s Thanksgiving Parades and even 2012’s hurricane Sandy. But there are times when it breaks.
Most notably, in 2011 a wire broke near the United Nations building, which caused a problem when repair crews couldn’t get past security to fix it. It was eventually resolved, but not before a load of panic set in.
I get it, religion is weird.
It's especially weird when you have to follow rules that don't make a lot of sense. But that's part of what makes being Jewish so special. It's a tight-knit community that has been able to stick together for centuries because of their shared beliefs.
That's better than you can say for us cynical, misanthropic, meaningless, vile, self-destructive God-killing creatures known as “rational” atheists.
And New York isn’t the only metropolis with an Eruv.
You can find them in New Jersey, Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Dallas, and numerous other cities and suburbs across the U.S. In fact, there are more than 200 across North America.
So the next time you see a wire hanging overhead, just know that it's there to give some Jews a break on the Sabbath. And maybe, just maybe, it will give you a break from your mundane, meaningless existence too. LOL just kidding. Nothing can do that.