Eruv or Neighbors?

The UMD eruv is down this week.

This, after much discussion on moral vs. halachic values.

Every thursday, during the day, a group of students from the Eruv Committee drive around the entire eruv (it’s about 8 miles in circumference) to make sure that each of the posts are there. (For more information about the UMD eruv or eruv in general, click here.) Then, at night, other members of the community randomly check about 5 posts a week, in order to make sure that the posts line up with the wire that connects them all. These posts are 10 tefachim high, about 3 feet, and the wires are the electrical wires high up above the ground. We use a laser to make sure that the wires and posts are alligned, and therefore, we have to check at night.

Last night we were doing the rounds about 10:30 at night. At the last post, there was a major problem. A signifigant portion of the lechi [post] was missing, and therefore, it was nowhere near alligned. We had our kit of duck tape, poles, wooden beams, and nails with us, and went to work trying to fix the eruv.

About 15 minutes into the project, the woman who lived in the house behind this pole came out and asked what we were doing. This is not unusual, as we get this question a lot during our rounds. One of our members explained briefly what it was, but this didn’t satisfy the woman. She didn’t care what we were doing, she just (understandably) wanted us gone because we were a group of students standing outside her house in the middle of the night with scary construction equipment, and we were keeping her kids up.

We told her that we’d try to be quieter, and that we should be finished in a few minutes. We whispered, but 15 minutes later, she came out again. We asked if we were being too loud, and she said, “No, that’s not it. My son’s bedroom is that window up there, and he is nervous that you are here at all. He won’t go to sleep until you all are gone. You see, we are Muslim, and the last time we had people outside our house like this was when a group of people were trying to break into our house soon after Sept. 11th. Please, for my children’s sake, do this some other time.”

We hurriedly tried to fix the lechi, and left it in a VERY haphazard state. It was kosher, but it was extremely temporary. It was also pretty scary looking, a pole sticking out from the telephone post wrapped all around with duck tape. Because of the alignment thing, it had to stick out about 8 inches, which didn’t add to the effect.

We left, and it was kosher. No problem. However, we felt horrible about keeping that woman and her children up. We decided that the friendly, communally-responsible thing to do would be to bring the lady and her family a box of chocolates and write her a letter of apology. However, one of the senior members of the eruv committee brought up the point that if we go back there, we’d very likely find that the temporary lechi that we had put up was down. We wouldn’t be able to fix the eruv if it was broken, since that has to be done at night. We were now in a moral quandry. We could leave the area as is, assume kosher status, and risk making a chillul hashem to the neighbors. Or, we could go back to the woman, make ammends, and then declare the eruv down if we noticed it.

To me, the issue was clear. Our community would just have to go one week without an eruv. Sure, some people would carry their keys any way, but wouldn’t it be better that they are mechalel shabbos beshogeg (unintentionally) than for us to create bad feelings in the community?

Surprisingly, about half the committee didn’t feel that way. Their reasoning was that if we declare it down, 200 people would be breaking shabbos. They wouldn’t get the message in time, or they would ignore it, etc.

I just don’t understand this. It seems to be another symptom of the Jewish elitism problem- “All that matters is our needs”-and such other statements. Really, you’d ignore the fears of a person that already has experianced religous bigotry and racism just so you can carry your keys? That just doesn’t seem right to me.


Dead Man Walking?

Way back in the day I used to be adamantly against the death penalty. It’s just too uncertain, it dosen’t deter crime any more than life without parole does, it doesn’t protect society anymore than life without parole does, and it certainly dosen’t do anything to help rehabilitate the offenders.

I still sort of feel that way.

However, I’ve started working with Criminal Justice research organizations, and I’ve realized there is a really big incentive for the death penalty. This, of course, is the financial incentive. It costs a heck of a lot less to kill someone than it does to build prisions for them, provide food and clothing for them, and to pay gaurds to watch them.

Now, if that were the only factor, it would still seem to be pretty clear cut. Taxpayers should pay the price for a better society. (This is the liberal in me fighting to see some daylight). Still, there is one more factor that needs to be added in to the equation.

This is the war on drugs. There are those amongst us that advocate in legalizing certain non-life threatening drugs, such as marijuana, to alleviate this war. On the other side, there are those that oppose this, saying it’s the same as a mid-war immediate pullout. Both sides, however, acknowledge that we are fighting an expensive battle which we seem to be losing.

Through my work with sentencing policy, I’ve noticed something interesting. My state sets guidelines for various crimes, depending on the severity of the offense and the history of the offender. Judges don’t have to listen to these guidelines, but they have to provide a reason if they deviate from them.

The problem is, all too often, judges will issue rulings like “10 years in state prison, suspended”. This means, basically, the 10 years goes on the offenders permanent record, and into the statistical information, but the offender actually doesn’t serve any time.

One time, I saw a judge issue a ruling (I think it was for 3 years), with the caveat “beginning when space opens up at jailhouse X”. Lack of space in prisons is a huge problem, and judges work with it by suspending the sentences of their less violent offenders, usually those convicted of drug possession or distribution. I have not yet come across any case where someone was convicted of possession that actually served ANY time. It’s ridiculous. Originally, I blamed the judges, saying they weren’t being hard enough on drug crimes. It’s only been recently that I started to think maybe it’s not just them. Maybe they are just doing the best possible job they can do when prisons are literally filled to capacity.

Ideally, yes, more prisons should be built to solve the space problem. Would it cost tax money? Most definitely yes. Short of that, however, may leave the need to keep criminals out of prison in a different way-a systematic genocide of the most hardened criminals that don’t really stand a chance of getting released any way. But I just can’t advocate for that.