The Nearly Invisible Wires That Enclose Nearly All Major Cities of The World



Unbeknownst to many, there are translucent fishing lines that wrap around hundreds of cities around the world. Strung high above the heads of pedestrians and roofs of houses, on utility poles and lamp posts, these wires are barely visible and hardly affect the lives of millions that live in these cities. But for the orthodox Jews, these imperceptible wires that run for dozens of miles, mark an important religious boundary that allow the devoted to hold on to their faith.

The wires mark the boundary of a ritualistic enclosure called an eruv, within which observant Jews can perform certain duties that they are not allowed to outside of home, during Sabbath. These duties are often mundane, like carrying house keys, tissues, medicines, or using strollers to push babies around, but essential enough to function in life. Following the rules of Sabbath, hence, not only interferes with life but also prevents Jews from fulfilling their religious duties. For instance, families with small children, who use prams and pushchairs, or the physically disabled, who use wheelchairs, are effectively housebound. They can't even go to the synagogue.


A section of an eruv in Manhattan, New York. Photo credit: New York Post

So Jews hang wires around their neighborhood to create an enclosed space, because according to Jewish law, an enclosed space is considered a private domain. Within this private domain —the eruv— Orthodox Jews can carry objects or push prams or wheelchairs, or otherwise follow the same rules on Sabbath that they would in their homes.

In ancient times, eruvs were closed courtyards containing several Jewish homes and often a synagogue. Sometimes physical boundaries such as walls, hedges, and roads were considered to enclose an area of land. Many communities in the past, and entire cities were walled, making it possible for observers to carry on, on Shabbat, since one is never leaving one's domain.

As communities grew large, it became impossible to contain them within walls. So they started erecting poles and strung wires to enclose an area, because for all intents and purposes, a piece of string is as good as a wall. How? Well, a wall can be a wall even if it has many doorways creating large open spaces, which means that a wall does not have to be solid. So two poles with a string across can be taken as a doorway in the boundary. The entire “wall” is therefore a series of “doorways”.

Eruvs are everywhere, from Melbourne to Manhattan, from Toronto to Tel Aviv. They are regularly checked to ensure their integrity. Organizations who carry these checks and perform repairs have either a telephone number or a website where anyone can check whether the eruv is in working order. The cost of upkeep of an eruv in often born by synagogues in the area. In cities as large as New York, for instance, this can amount to a tidy sum.

There has also been all sorts of controversies centered around the construction of eruvs. Jewish communities have to seek permission from the city municipality or council before erecting a eruv. Sometimes these are refused. Then, even within the observant community, there are some who believe that eruvs are just loopholes that the rabbis devised to get around the prohibition against carrying on Sabbath, and question the legitimacy of these flimsy boundaries.


Map of eruvs around Brooklyn, New York.


Map of the Manhattan eruv.


Map of the eruv in Amsterdam.


A section of an eruv in Manhattan, New York. Photo credit: New York Post


The string of an eruv in Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles. Photo credit: waltarrrrr/Flickr


The string of Los Angles Community Eruv runs over a utility pole. Photo credit: waltarrrrr/Flickr


The string of an eruv visible against the blue sky in Lincoln Square, New York. Photo credit: Billie Grace Ward/Flickr


A man attaching a wire t a light pole to create an eruv in Malden, Massachusetts, United States. Photo credit:


A plastic string of an eruv runs over a neighborhood in Malden, Massachusetts, United States. Photo credit:


The string of an eruv in New York City. Photo credit: Ella/Flickr

Sources: Wikipedia / / BBC /

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  1. Apparently "god" allows loopholes, who knew?

    This is absolutely ridiculous for adults to behave this way.

    Fairy Tales are for children.

    Plus this is a safety hazard.

    1. I agree. How dare we allow people to live a life inconsistent with our secular/corporate values centered on narcissism and consumerism. Is there a way we can marginalize and ostracize these people for being different?

    2. Yes Proteios1. How dare we allow ourselves to chuckle a bit at grown adults engaging in utterly ridiculous behavior. ... We're such narcissistic consumerist bastards. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to zip myself up inside a plastic bag for a couple of minutes because the airplane I'm on is about to fly over a cemetery, and DON'T YOU DARE CRACK A SMILE ABOUT IT!

  2. Wow!
    The Jewish God is fooled by all these workarounds ?

    1. Exactly what I was thinking. Do they think god is a dope?

  3. Religions are so comical with all their made up people in the sky and silly rituals.

  4. because G-d is so easily deceived.

  5. Wow. That, in 2016, is just wacky.

  6. Wait, but technically the wire of power lines are everywhere, ergo, you know the drill.

  7. A sanctified version of "step on a crack...".

  8. I'm pretty sure your god would rather you spend the "tidy sum" needed for this ridiculousness on something that actually improves the human condition.

  9. Just one of the reasons Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of the religion of the Jews. By that I mean these silly ways the law of God is interpreted.

    1. Sure. So long as you notice the religion of the Christians is at least as full of hypocrisies.

  10. Just a game of give and take to keep the faithful giving and the leadership taking.
    Rabbi = we keep having young people leave/not pay for their future and safety in the afterlife, what can we do?
    Chief Rabbi = Have you got some fishing line?
    Jesus - "I will make you fishers of men"
    Apparently Judaism is falling right in line with Christianity :)

  11. At this point , anything that promotes any religion of any type just gets on my nerves.. Thanks for the article itself , illuminating another instance of religious logic, but for petes sake, is it not just laughable what the state of humanity is?

  12. Just another manifestation of Religious Dementia Syndrome.

  13. Ah. So people doing an utterly benign thing that has zero effect on you deserves your disdain? I'm sad for you.

    1. Not disdain, just some eye-rolling and a bit of laughter upon witnessing absurd behavior by grown adults. ... I'll reserve disdain for when similarly ridiculous dogma truly inconveniences others. (e.g. When Ultra-Orthodox men delay everyone on an airplane by standing in the aisle, chanting, and refusing to sit down because the person next to them has a vagina.)

  14. If you take the Old Testament at face value, you can adopt the view that it's the story of a God choosing a middle-east tribe as the recipients of his commandments for humanity and how this tribe always managed to turn their backs on this God by working around or directly disobyeing his commandments. So, this whole idea of working around their interpretation of the sabbath rules by inventing virtual private spaces where they can perform "work" without disobeying god is perfectly inline with this view.

  15. allah commands me to cut these lines ..just not allowed to say what ones i'll be cutting ..or was it budda that told me ..either way ..ive got my scissors ready

  16. Reminds me of Amish computers and powertools:

  17. We may be wacky to you but at least, we also try our best to do good deeds and think of others first.Life is a tangle web of this and that. Who is ready to throw the first stone?

  18. When God finds out he is being tricked, his wrath will be all encompassing.
    There will be no escaping when he finds out you had keys in your pocket.
    There will be no compassion when he finds out you were wheeling your disabled grandma to the hospital for emergency treatment.
    Good luck explaining the fishing line.

  19. Might as well say the Earth is enclosed by the atmosphere and do whatever the hell you want.

  20. When you think about it, the "rule" that the orthodox are getting around by creating these eruv's is a self inflicted rule. The Torah says not to work on the Sabbath and it was the interpretation of "work" by the rabbis that included such non work things as carrying etc...

    They have redefined not doing work or creating things (another no no on the sabbath) to their benefit with things like shabbos goys or shabbos elevators and other electronic work arounds.

    If the original definition of work was solely work as in salaried / profession / paid work then a lot of these somewhat arbitrary customs wouldn't need workarounds.


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