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405 Freeway construction poses dilemma for observant Jews

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Construction on the 405 Freeway has left the Los Angeles Community Eruv out of operation during the Sabbath that begins at sundown Friday.

In Jewish culture, an eruv is a ritual enclosure surrounding a neighborhood. It can be a fence, a wall, a piece of string -- or a freeway. And it must be unbroken.

It allows observant Jews to perform certain actions on the Sabbath -- carry a tray of food or push a baby stroller, for example -- that Jewish law prohibits in public on that day.

In effect, it creates an entire zone that is considered communal. The Los Angeles Community Eruv is bordered by three freeways, including the 405 Freeway on the west. 

According to the Jewish Journal, construction on the 405 ramps at Wilshire Boulevard will make it impossible to replace about 200 feet of fencing that makes up part of the enclosure.

Howard Witkin, the head organizer of the Los Angeles Community Eruv, told the journal that Friday marked only the second time in three years that this eruv was down due to construction.

Rabbi Meyer H. May said the eruv allows people to mix together communally during the Sabbath. But he added that the break also has its benefits.

“It reinforces that the default is that you can’t carry,” May said.

The Sabbath starting Friday at sundown lasts 25 hours until nightfall Saturday, May said. But Witkin told the Journal that construction could be “problematic” for the next three weeks.

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