In 1959 a Jewish community in New York entered into a 50-year eruv lease with New York City. This lease was renewed recently – not without any challenges, because the lease does not apply to part of Manhattan. The reason for this exception is that Manhattan is quite densely populated, and most of that community is not Jewish. When the original eruv area was negotiated, a rabbi involved in the negotiations insisted that the area in which he lives be excluded for this reason. The area is still excluded after his death, in memory of his wishes.
The concept is also not new in the UK. The first eruv in the UK was constructed in 203, covering an area of 6.5 square miles from Hendon to Mill Hill in London.
This solution was required because a rule that imposed restrictions became outdated. Rather than question the rule, the religious leaders found a way to soften the restrictions. Anything to keep the rule in place …
However, this does raise questions about other religious rules – some more innocuous than others.
To start with the most controversial – Sharia law in countries that are not predominantly Muslim. So-called “backstreet Sharia courts” where Muslim law is applied in often cruel ways can be found in many places. To balance that in the UK, there is the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal which is part of a legitimate arbitration structure under British law. These Sharia laws are based on old religious texts – just like the texts that enforce eruvs.
There is also Beth Din – the Jewish court based on Jewish religious principles. As with Sharia law decisions, all Beth Din decisions are still subject to the British law. For example, a couple can get divorced using Sharia law or by means of a Beth Din decision, but they still have to follow the legal process to obtain a divorce through the court system.
Some views are that these alternative law structures add to order in society rather than threaten the existing order, while other views are that they undermine the law of the land – the legal structures applied by the courts.
My question would be: why are alternative legal structured required? Why do religious bodies insist that their version is superior? This leaves no space for highlighting universal law which is represented in all religions. For example, do onto others what you want to have done onto yourself. Say what you do and do what you say. These are just examples of laws that should be stated in the simple possible words, and then applied in the simplest possible way. If religious law then goes against these universal laws, the religious laws should be questioned. Our universal Creator not only created all these laws, but also created all of us and gave us intelligence so that we can improve on these creations rather than do contortionist gymnastics to keep archaic laws from thousands of years ago in place at all costs, using measures that range from the ridiculous to the sublime.
There are already indications that some of these laws are being questioned and rejected or changed on a large scale.
Ask around and you will confirm even within the confines of your community how many people never go to church and still have regular conversations with God – whether in prayer or in meditation.
People no longer believe that you have to go to a specific building during a specific hour on a specific day to have someone – Christian, Muslim, Jewish or from any other doctrine – intervene on your behalf in talking to your Maker. People simply pray or meditate because they find peace in these practices.
Some religions even introduce new laws to help them fit into a new world. For example, there did not use to be any equivalent to Christmas and giving gifts in the Hindu faith, until 1985. Hindu leaders then introduced the 5-day festival named Pancha Ganapti. Now Hindu children get gifts five days in a row, at the same time when their Christian friends get expensive gifts to celebrate an occasion with pagan roots.
I find it fascinating to watch this dance of people enforcing the redundant laws of a God that must be groaning in frustration, and people adding new laws and new restrictions to keep an equally frustrated God happy. But then I am presumptuous enough to assume that God is frustrated by all of this. We know nothing about God and we simply blunder on while on this earth.