Not a joke : an Eruv on the Kilimanjaro
Imagine three American Orthodox Jews climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (no… this is not the beginning of a joke).
Shabbat presented our greatest halachic challenges. Firstly, we needed to build an eruv so that we would be able to carry in the small area around our tents. At first glance, our campsite appeared to be surrounded by a natural eruv –a combination of natural wall formations, embankments and Mawenzi Peak. However, we could not be certain that all these borders qualified as a halachic partition. Instead, we positioned our three tents to form a semi-circle and set up a tzurat hapesach, or doorframe, using a fishing line and poles. Thus, we created a small, enclosed “courtyard,” enabling us to carry between the tents and to daven, eat and learn outside. We tied clothing onto the fishing line so it would be visible at night to the porters and made sure that it didn’t sag more than three tefachim, which would disqualify it as an eruv.
What’s an eruv ? An eruv is a “mechanism that transforms an enclosed shared living area (e.g. a courtyard) into a common one”, and within this new common area, one can be an observant Jew and carry small objects during shabbat.
Halachic mountaineering ? It combines two very different aspects of contemporary life. On the one hand, mountaineering can be considered a way toward “self-accomplishment”. The ideal mountaineer has to go beyond herself (beyond her own strength, her own will, etc.) to reach the summit… Reaching the highest point is not a goal in itself : its purpose is to reveal the mountaineer’s real self.
On the other hand, the contemporary observance of Halacha is an identity support. The Jewish law is used consciously and reflexively to permanently sustain a religious personal identity in everyday life. The Eruv is then paramount : it materializes a symbolic space where one can be jewish and enjoy the practicalities of modern life. [For other eruvim implementation, see here, or there…]
Note : This short and unfinished note on the combination of individual self accomplishment and social identity management was inspired by Wayne H. Brekhus’ study of gay suburbanites, Peacocks, Chamelons, Centaurs (U. of Chicago Press, 2003).