Vienna's Jewish community is nearing completion of plans to create an eruv – a symbolic enclosure – in parts of the city to ease life on Shabbat, a senior official said Tuesday.
An eruv, a Hebrew word, is created by connecting objects both natural and manmade to form an unbroken boundary line. Inside that area, Orthodox Jews can perform tasks that are otherwise banned outside the home on Shabbat, such as carrying objects or pushing strollers. The eruv symbolically extends the boundaries of home.
"It's meaningful for Orthodox Jews because it allows them to do things that would otherwise be forbidden on the Sabbath," Raimund Fastenbauer, the community's secretary general, said in a telephone interview.
"It's especially important for mothers with young children and older, sickly people in wheelchairs," he said.
The Jewish Shabbat runs from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.
The Austrian capital, once home to a very vibrant Jewish community, had such a virtual enclosure in two of its districts until 1938, the year Hitler's Germany annexed the country, Fastenbauer said.
Before World War II, about 200,000 Jews lived in Vienna; today the city's Jewish community counts 7,000 members, though the total number of Jews is likely higher.
An estimated 65,000 Austrian Jews perished in the Holocaust and most of the others fled during the war or left later for other European countries, the United States or Israel.
Fastenbauer said Vienna Mayor Michael Haeupl has shown goodwill toward the idea. Haeupl's spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Fastenbauer declined to estimate how much the project would cost but said the community was hoping to pay for it with donations.
The enclosure would extend for about 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) and encompass 10 districts in the capital. The banks of the Danube River would serve as a natural boundary line. In addition, at least 40 "unobtrusive" masts would be put up around town to designate the area.
Plans are expected to be completed within the next two months, Fastenbauer said.
Major US cities such as New York, Washington and Los Angeles have eruvim. In Europe, the symbolic enclosures can be found in London, the Belgian city of Antwerp and Strasbourg, France.