HISTORY OF ERUVIM IN TORONTO
The history of eruvim in Toronto actually dates back to 1922 when Harav Yehudah Leib Graubart Zt’l was appointed to be Rov of Toronto. The Maharil Graubart as he was called, then the Rov in Stashov, Poland, was at a gathering in London when news arrived that he was wanted by the anti-Semitic Polish government on trumped up charges and that he would be imprisoned upon his return to Poland. Instead of returning home, the Maharil Graubart accepted an invitation by the Toronto community to become their Rov and traveled directly to take up his new position in Toronto.
Upon his arrival, the Rov immediately began to work hard for Yiddishkeit in Toronto and with the help of the legendary Reb Itche Meir Korolnek z’l made a great many tikunim in the Jewish community. One of his major accomplishments was the creation of an eruv which surrounded the areas where the Jewish community lived in those times.
The boundaries of Rav Graubart’s eruv ran along Lake Ontario to the south and the Don River to the east. These sections generally relied on slopes beneath the water surface as Harav Graubart satisfied himself that these slopes were sufficient for the eruv. The northern boundary ran along Bloor Street and used tzuros hapesach for mechitzos with telephone and hydro wires. The western boundary ran generally along the Humber River, but as Rav Graubart was concerned about the proper depths of slopes beneath the Humber River, most of these stretches relied on tzuros hapesach using telephone or hydro wires as well. Each of the bridges across the Don and Humber Rivers were wired appropriately to create a tzuras hapesach .
The Maharil Graubart was Rov in Toronto for 15 years and was succeeded by Harav Yakov Kamenetzky zt’l who maintained and regularly checked the eruv. Gradually, the Jewish community grew and began moving north. Nevertheless, Harav Kamenetzky and his successor Harav Dovid Ochs zt’l refused to expand the boundaries of the eruv because of technical difficulties.
In 1951, Harav Avrohom Price zt’l expanded the eruv to the Humber on the west and about 6 kilometers north to Wilson. Harav Price wrote a long discourse in the Torah journal “Hapardes” to explain the halachic basis for his eruv. Harav Price expanded his eruv twice more in his lifetime, once to the northern boundary of Metropolitan Toronto and then again, to Highway 7 in Thomhill.
In establishing his eruv, Harav Price used the high tension hydro wires along the northern boundary. These wires generally ran on the sides of the hydro towers or on crossbars. In order to make use of these wires, he relied on certain heterim so as not to invalidate these wires because of the issue of “tzuros hapesach mm hatzad”.
Rav Price also relied on a position that people traveling in cars on Highway 401 deemed to be in their own reshus and accordingly automobile travel on Highway 401 did not render it a reshus harabim and thus did not invalidate the eruv.
Approximately 10 years ago, a group of individuals in Toronto met with Harav Moshe Mordechai Lowy Shlita in an effort to explore methods to establish an eruv which halachically would not need to depend on these positions.
A committee was formed comprised of Danny and Manny Diena and Danny Gordon. Rabbi Lowy recommended that Harav Shloime Miller Shlita, Rosh Kollel of Kollel Avreichim of Toronto be consulted. Harav Miller reviewed carefully the various issues relating to the eruv and sent the Diena brothers to Harav Yosef Sholem Eliashuv Shlita in Eretz Yisroel to seek his advice on establishing the eruv in Toronto.
Besides the technical difficulties in building an eruv, the committee was confronted with Harav Moshe Feinstein’s well-known resistance to establishing eruvim within large metropolitan areas. Harav Moshe zt’1 is considered today to be the “posek” of North America and accordingly his position on building metropolitan eruvim resulted in many large urban areas not having the use of an eruv.
Harav Eliashuv gave his consent to this task on the basis that Toronto had a prior history of having an eruv dating back to 1922 which predates Harav Moshe’s rabbonus in America. Harav Eliashuv also felt that the fact that many people in Toronto were carrying anyway in reliance of Rav Price’s eruv justified the tikunim which were sought to be achieved with the new eruv.
Harav Eliashuv added one condition: the eruv had to be made up mostly of actual fences on at least three of its sides in accordance with the poskim mentioned above, and not be primarily based on mechitzos of tzuros hapesach. This would validate the eruv even according to those who would qualify Toronto otherwise as a reshus harabim.
Within these parameters, the committee pondered the technical possibility of creating an eruv with these requirements. After a careful study, it appeared that a large part of the city was visibly surrounded by railway tracks along a perimeter of approximately 40 kilometers and that most of the Jewish population resided within this area.
The committee was struck with the idea that the railway lines within urban areas would ordinarily be protected with fences. After walking through great portions of the perimeter, the committee learned that large areas were indeed surrounded by proper fences. However, there were still large areas which lacked proper fencing and furthermore, many gaps remained which would require dedicated mechitzos with halachically proper tzuros hapesach.
The task seemed daunting. It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete the entire eruv, not to mention the practical difficulties in getting the railway companies to cooperate and obtaining the municipal licenses and approvals required for this undertaking.
With the encouragement of Rav Miller, the committee studied ways to overcome these hurdles. One participant, who happened to be a lawyer by profession, came across a regulation which required railways to provide fencing wherever railway lines cross populated areas. It was thus possible to actually compel Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP), the two railway companies, to construct these fences. The initial meeting with the railway companies were not promising. Railway officials could not understand the concept of an eruv and were not sympathetic to the plight of the Jewish community or their legal obligation to construct the fences.
Fortunately, the activities of the eruv committee caught the attention of Philip Beinhacker, a principal of IBI, a well-know architectural and engineering firm in Toronto with close connections to the railways. Philip Beinhacker was instrumental in winning the railway company’s co-operation in this endeavor.
In the summer of 1991, CN appointed a Jew by the name of Joe Achtman as the head of their construction division, to liaison with the eruv committee in constructing the required fencing. Although Joe Achtman was not personally observant, he vividly remembered his orthodox grandparents and enthusiastically assisted in the construction of the eruv. By 1992, most of the modifications required in the CN railway lines making up over two thirds of the perimeter, were completed.
By then, CP also consented to modify its lines which primarily ran along the southern edge of the eruv boundary. In total, the railway companies spent in excess of $300,000 of their own funds to construct the fences. Joe Achtma was personally very helpful in assisting the eruv committee in bridging the gaps not within the jurisdiction of the railways.
As the eruv neared completion, the eruv committee spent countless hours walking along the perimeter of the eruv together with Harav Miller, Rav Akiva Steinmetz (of the Kolel Avreichim, who was appointed to deal with halachic issues relating to the eruv) and other rabbonim in town to ensure that the eruv met each of the stringent halachic requirements established for the eruv. Municipal resolutions were passed by the City of Toronto and the City of Vaughan to authorize the renting of the reshus required for the eruv chazeiros.
In the middle of the summer of 1993, while walking along one of the CN rail lines with members of the Eruv Committee, Joe Achtman told one of the committee members that his grandfather appeared to him in a dream the night before and pleaded with him to help the Jewish community. Indeed Joe Acktman showed his devotion well beyond the call of duty in all matters required of him.
It took several more years to complete the other sections of the eruv and obtain all of the municipal approvals required to make the eruv actually function. When the eruv was finally completed on Eruv Channukah 5756, the eruv committee felt it was incumbent upon them to notify all of those who were so helpful and contributed to the construction of the eruv. Their first stop was to the home of Joe Achtman to personally tell him of the good news and to thank him for his efforts. The committee was astounded to hear that just a short time after Joe completed his very important part of this task, he died suddenly from a heart attack at the early age of 50.
The section is reprinted from an article written by Rabbi Elazar Brunner published in Hamodeah on 3 Adar, 5756.