How to Build an Eruv While Camping

Let me start by saying, that building an eruv is a fairly complex halachic endeavour. The Talmudic tractate ‘Eruvin’ is considered to be one of the most difficult ones to study. Thus said, building an eruv can be complicated or simple depending on the situation.

Imagine building an eruv in a city versus for a bungalow colony. These will be two very different structures, however, the halachot of eruvin would still apply equally for both.

I am no expert in the laws of eruvin and would not endeavour to set up an eruv around a city. However, I have grown up with a father who is a rabbi and always made an eruv to connect our summer home with those of other orthodox Jews in the area.

I attended Jewish summer camps for a number of summers where there was always an eruv setup, although younger campers never took part in in it, which is a shame as it would have been a good learning experience. I only got really involved when I joined a troop of Shomer Shabbat Boy Scouts at the age of twelve and we were often setting up eruvin. It would be hard for me to remember how many we put up over the years, be it around our campsite or an outdoor synagogue. The eruv could perhaps be something we planned to leave up for a month or maybe just for the weekend.

My most interesting eruv building was with Derech Hateva in Israel. I, along with another madrich, led a group of teenagers on a one-month trip along the Israel Trail. Part of the program and educational experience was to teach the boys how to build an eruv.

Anyway: I’m going to share some ideas here, but please note that if you are serious about camping on Shabbat and building an eruv, perhaps find a local rabbi in your community who could study some of the laws with you. It’s important to note that not all rabbis are knowledgeable in the laws of eruv. The halachot of building an eruv are rarely taught in any rabbinical seminaries as part of the standard rabbinical course.

The Laws of an Eruv

My intention here is not to go into the laws of eruv as to what is a Rishus Harbim, Reshus Hayachid, a Karmalis etc. You should find somewhere else to study about this. What I want here is to look at a practical approach to building an eruv when camping.

Though one note about eruv that is important to understand: It is permissible to carry in a closed structure, but say a wall was missing, you could create an archway which would make the structure closed.  What an eruv creates is generally a series of ‘Tzurat Hapesach,’ this being many archways.  There is no limit to how many archways there can be. If you can use real walls of a house, or a fence, etc., that’s fine, but even if there are no real walls you can keep making archways.

The easiest way to construct an archway is by using fishing string that connects from one lechi (pole) to the next.

Materials needed

  • ‘Lechis’ (poles): I’d go for poles around 4 feet long because you may want to drive them a bit into the ground and you still want them to be higher than ten tefachim which is the minimum. If you plan to leave the eruv up for longer than a weekend, get 1×1 slats of wood, which will hold up better. If space and weight is an issue, then thin pieces of bamboo will do. If you are camping in an open field area you could get by with four poles by constructing a square around your camp site. When camped in a wooded area it gets trickier because you will need to scoot around trees. For one to two families camping together, I’d take ten poles.
  • Nails: Drive a nail into the top of each pole. Make sure to have additional nails with you as some may fall out. The fishing line most pass directly above the lechi and may not be wrapped around the top of the pole.
  • Fishing string: This is to connect one pole to another. Fishing string is good because it stays taut, which is important. If the eruv line sags too much and moves around in the wind (which could be the case when using nylon rope or twine) the eruv will not be kosher.
  • Cord: Cut a few dozen 3-foot-long pieces. Cord should be about the weight of a hiking boot lace. You will need these to connect the poles to rocks, trees, cars, etc.
  • An Eruv Bag: this is what you keep all the eruv supplies in. It will make it easy for you to set up and take down an eruv quickly. It’s important to be organized as I’ve seen it happen often arriving at  a camp site Friday afternoon, and there’s not much time to set up the tents, cook the food, etc. the last thing you want is to spend half an hour looking for the spare nails.

Using natural terrain

  • Is there any natural terrain you could use? A cliff wall, very thick bushes, trees, or brush that is impassable.  The walls of a lean to, a fence, a building. (Note: when using an existing structure make sure no part of the structure protrudes over the top of the eruv pole.)
  • The fishing line must connect to a pole connected to the existing structure. Meaning you can’t tie the line directly to a fence or to the side of a cliff.

Guidelines in setting up the poles

  • The line should run unobstructed from one pole to the next. It must not be deflected by a tree branch.
  • Height should not vary from the top of one pole to the next unless it runs parallel with the terrain such as up or down a hill.
  • Poles should be standing upright. A slight tilt may be okay, but certainly not anything majorly crooked.
  • If the ground is firm you may be able to drive the pole directly into it. Another way to secure it is to prop it between some rocks. A further way is to tie the poles to trees using the cord, though make sure the fishing line does not touch the tree at any point.

Connecting the string

  • The line must go directly over the top of the pole. It may not be tied around it. Thus the nail in the middle to wrap the line around.
  • The line should not sag or move in the wind.

Please G-d in time I will try and get some photos and maybe a video made the next time I’m setting up an eruv around a campsite.

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10 Responses to “How to Build an Eruv While Camping”

  1. I Recieved this from a Cub Scout Master:

    Rabbi,

    Thank you for your Eruv post. That’s the closest to the “quick and dirty” Eruv guide I’m looking for for my Cub Scout Pack.

    We are going to set one up as our border for Cuboree. The park is fenced in, so the Eruv is to be cool and Jewish in our border, it doesn’t actually have to be Kosher, but I figure it should be.

    Here is my plan:
    4′ Poles with bottoms made for pounding, add a eyehole in the top, thread the cord through that. It’ll be tied taught at the ends, we’re part of BSA afterall.

    My question has been the gateway. Scout Campsites are supposed to have a gateway. Can I leave a gap of a few feet without the cord and still be an Eruv, or should the cord go over the gateway?

    If I go over, my plan is to tie taught at the end of the last pole, then go up and “rest” on the top of the Gateway Tripod, string across from gateway to gateway, then resume the poles on the other side.

    Where ever the ropes connect, we’ll tie a square knot of course.

    Thanks Rabbi.

    Since the entire campsite is rented to the Pack, and tents are pitched inside it, I presume no Bracha is made because I’m not enjoining a courtyard, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Dear Cub Scout Master,
    Sounds exciting and educational that you will make an eruv with the cubs. As I am not on location I can not see exactly what is going on. If the place is fenced in very well than the eruv may not be necessary but still a nice project to practice some rope tying skills.
    I would try and make the eruv as kosher as possible so that the cubs learn how to make it kosher even if it is not needed at the moment.
    You mention threading the cord through an eyehole on the pole, better if you can drive a nail into the top of the pole and wrap the cord around it.
    As for the gateway: an opening of a small amount is okay but chance are if a person can comfortably walk through the opening it will be considered to wide. The entire concept of what the eruv is doing, is not building a fence, it is creating a series of multiple gateways. There is actually no wall or fence, only many gateways or archways.
    If you do make a gateways out of poles or something, there needs to be something going over the top to make it a kosher eruv. If you are making a tripod gateway, you could lash a lechi (eruv pole) on either side and not have the eruv cord go over the tripod.
    From what it sounds like no bracha would be made.

    • Further discussion with the cub pack leader:

      “The plan was to get the screw in eyelet on the top so we can run a cord. I understand the preference for fishing line and nails, but I’m dealing with 6-11 year olds, no way I’m putting a nearly invisible strong line at their neck levels. :)

      The rope will run above the poles.”

      My response:

      Screw in eyelet is fine. I thought you were making a hole in the wood. and cord is fine too. The reason fishing string is used is because it remains very taught. As long as the cord does not sag much and move in the wind, it is fine.

  2. Dear Rabbi:

    We will be coming to the U.S. and probably doing some camping that will require an eruv which we have never had to construct before. I am very grateful for your tutorial. You mention the possibility of using bamboo for the eruv poles. You also noted the need to drive a nail into the top of the pole and wrap the fishing line around that. I can’t picture how to do that with bamboo. Can you clarify? Also, I don’t know if there is a workaround, but do you know of best practices having an eruv at a height of four feet with children?
    Thanks and shabbat shalom
    Samuel

    • Rabbi Ben says:

      Sounds exciting and thank you.
      The important thing is for the line to go over the top of the poll so it is considered an archway. if it is wrapped around the top than it is not going along the top.
      Bamboo grows in sections. You need to cut it right at the beginning of a new section where there is space to drive a nail in. Alternatively you can get this circular wooden polls at a hardware shop.
      Sorry have not yet tried an eruv at a low height with kids around. I guess they need to be educated. It is possible to tie some bright orange tape to make the line more visible so they don’t walk into it.
      Good luck.

  3. richard stempel, P.E. says:

    what is the maximum distance between lechi’s that the string can be missing and still have a kosher eruv? I learned this 40 years ago and forgot. Is it 10 amos (cubits)?

  4. can the poles be tied to a tree with a height above 7 feet to avoid walking into it? Do the poles have to be in the ground?
    thanks

    • Rabbi Ben says:

      Above 7 feet is fine. The poles do not need to be in the ground but it is good if they are touching the ground or very close to it.

  5. Hi, we are attempting to build an eruv for family camping over a shabbat in Israel. We will be on the Western shore of the Kinneret. Do we need an eiruv? If yes, do the poles have to be tied to bushes, low walls etc, even if they stand independently?

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