In a win for religious freedom, Orthodox Jews in the leafy northern Sydney suburb of St Ives have won approval to retain an eruv they constructed without council permission in 2015.

An eruv is a wire cable attached to power poles which extends the private dwelling to an area encompassing a few blocks or more, giving Orthodox Jews freedom to participate in community activities on the Sabbath.

“We must not claim religious freedom but only do specific pleading for Christians.” – Michael Kellahan

According to Jewish tradition, on the Shabbat (Sabbath, or rest day), Jews must refrain from work of any kind, and must instead engage in restful activities to honour the day.

39 separate categories of work are forbidden on the Shabbat, derived from lists in the book of Exodus. While this list includes activities such as winnowing, threshing, flaying, slaughtering and shearing wool – not commonplace activities in and around St Ives – it also includes everyday tasks like baking, tying and untying, writing or erasing two or more letters, and carrying anything more than six feet (almost two metres), or carrying anything from inside a private dwelling to the outside.

Some of the tasks that Jews refrain from on the Shabbat

Some of the tasks that Jews refrain from on the Shabbat chabad.org

Several Christians spoke up in defence of the eruv, including St Ives resident Anita Stucken, who said, “There is no place for exclusion, discrimination or anti-Semitism.

“Let us be real – these [Jewish] people are our neighbours, our friends – let us not discriminate based on faith,” said Stucken.

Michael Kellahan, from Christian religious freedom organisation Freedom for Faith, also got involved in petitioning the council to approve the eruv, and says, “we got involved because we’re committed to religious freedom, and not just of Christians.

“We have very different understandings of the Torah (Old Testament Law) and what it means to please God, but we got involved because we want to love our neighbours.

“We must not claim religious freedom but only do specific pleading for Christians. The more that people of different faiths are able to work together, the better it is for everyone. We want to demonstrate how to live in pluralistic secular Australia.”

“…we didn’t do it to evangelise the Jewish community, we did it to love our neighbour.” – Michael Kellahan

Now that the eruv has been approved by Ku-Ring-Gai Council, Orthodox Jews who live within the eruv will no longer be housebound on the Sabbath.

“[Orthodox Jews] are actually going to be able to mix with their neighbours,” says Kellahan. “And as we get to know people we can talk about what our beliefs are and share them with each other.

“But,” Kellahan says, “we didn’t do it to evangelise the Jewish community, we did it to love our neighbour.

“Hopefully this demonstrates what it means to love your neighbour.”

A similar eruv has been constructed in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, and stretches from Vaucluse to Tamarama and Bellevue Hill.

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