Plans for new Eruv sparks fresh debate

PLANS have been put forward for an Orthodox Jewish Boundary made up of poles and wires to be established around Maida Vale, St John s Wood and parts of Swiss Cottage, the Ham&High can reveal. The controversial boundary, known as an Eruv,

Sanchez Manning

PLANS have been put forward for an Orthodox Jewish Boundary made up of poles and wires to be established around Maida Vale, St John's Wood and parts of Swiss Cottage, the Ham&High can reveal.

The controversial boundary, known as an Eruv, marks out an area within which Orthodox Jews can engage in activities normally deemed as work and banned during the Sabbath - such as pushing a trolley or pram or carrying shopping.

The Ham&High first revealed plans for a zone in north Westminster in September 2006 when a spokesman for the London Beth Din, the Jewish Court, revealed the Eruv ambitions.

Four years on, St John's Wood Synagogue plans to submit an application to create such an enclosure to Westminster Council in March encircling Lisson Grove, St John's Wood, Regent's Park, Maida Vale and a part of Finchley Road by the thin wire strung between tall poles.

The country's first Eruv was established in Golders Green in 2003 and took 13 years of bitter debate before it could come into force.

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Rabbi Ivan Binstock from John's Wood Synagogue, which is leading the bid, said this time the Eruv debate would be different.

"The Golders Green Eruv was a totally different concept and at the time it generated a lot of controversy because it was new," he said. "But since then the concept has been clearly established in planning laws and there have further Eruvs that have gone through very smoothly.

"It's very discreet poles and wires which blend into the local street furniture and are not obstructive.

"Our informal discussions lead us to believe that our route will be uncontroversial, but we are willing to modify our plans if questions are raised."

When first mooted the plans also included an Eruv around Hampstead Village, and while the area has been dropped from the current scheme, United Synagogue Rabbi Binstock said they would be happy to expand their zone if the area wants to be involved.

"If at some point an Eruv were to be established in an area elsewhere like Camden our respective Eruvs could be simplified by making them contiguous," he said.

Hinting that the Hampstead eruv plans are still in existence, he added: "There are a number of communities all over London that have plans in the pipeline because an eruv is recognised as a really established feature of a modern Jewish community."

But introducing the zone is more difficult than a simple planning application.

For most Orthodox Jews, an Eruv means drawing up religious boundaries within which they can carry out everyday tasks normally banned on the Sabbath, such as carrying keys or pushing a pram, and is a welcome proposal.

But for others the idea of creating a religious zone marked out by nylon wires is deeply unpalatable. The campaign to prevent the Eruv in Golders Green led by the specially formed Eruv Boundary Opponents Group touched on arguments of secularism to conservation.

Many, including several Jews, argued the zone was giving religion too much prominence in their area while the practical arguments on the side of the zone varied from increased property prices brought about by introducing an Eruv to the innocuous nature of the street furniture necessary.

Seven years on those proponents of the North West London Eruv say it is their arguments which have won out.

"If I take a resident into Cricklewood and say show me the Eruv they wouldn't know where to look," Child's Hill councillor Jack Cohen said.

"It is a non-issue now. For all the dire warnings we had of rioting on the streets, damage to poles and birds being killed in their thousands - we've had no evidence and no one cares any more - it has been a non-event."

But opponents still warn that as a matter of principle the zones should be opposed.

Former campaigner against the Golders Green Eruv, Elizabeth Lawrence, said: "This is purely a device for observant Jews not to observe their strict rules. It's just a claim for territory. The poles and wires are very distasteful - especially to a certain generation of Jews that escaped from the camps."

If Camden does take on the proposal it seems more argument could follow with conservationists and councillors in the area already knocking the scheme.

Frognal and Fitzjohns councillor, Andrew Mennear, said: "I've probably knocked on more doors than anyone and I've never heard anyone on the doorstep mention this to me as something they thought was required.

"I don't see this as something huge numbers of people want. I'm far from convinced in an Eruv beyond where it already is."

For now those across the borough boundary will be watching and waiting to see what happens in North Westminster.

Already dissension has begun with St John's Wood resident and member of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, Michael Salmon, telling the Ham&High: "I personally don't like the idea at all. I don't want to live in a ghetto."

And St John's Wood councillor Cyril Nemeth said disagreement is already rife among politicians.

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