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Jan 7, 2015 12:19 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Court Upholds Eruv Ruling; Boundary To Stay In Place In Westhampton Beach

Jan 14, 2015 2:10 PM

A federal appeals court this week upheld a lower court’s decision allowing the recent establishment of an invisible religious boundary encircling Westhampton Beach Village.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York City ruled Tuesday that because of the covert nature of the boundary—which is marked by translucent PVC strips called “lechis” that are five-eights of an inch in diameter, between 10 and 15 feet in length, and attached to 27 utility poles throughout the village—no “reasonable observer” would consider it an endorsement of Judaism by the village or any other governing body. The boundary, called an eruv, was installed last year.

Justices Dennis Jacobs, Reena Raggi and Debra Ann Livingston all examined the case based on an appeal by the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach, also known as the Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, or JPOE, claiming that the boundary is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. JPOE filed its appeal shortly after the June 16 ruling by the Justice Kathleen Tomlinson in U.S. District Court that gave the East End Eruv Association the green light to install the boundary.

Attorney Jonathan Sinnreich of Central Islip, who is representing the JPOE, said he’s not sure if he will file another appeal in response to this week’s decision.

“I have not spoken with my clients yet, I just saw the decision a little bit ago,” Mr. Sinnreich said when reached on Tuesday afternoon. “I have no comment and the decision speaks for itself.”

Proponents of the eruv say the boundary will allow Orthodox Jews, namely those who utilize the Hampton Synagogue on Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach, to do things that would otherwise be forbidden on the Sabbath or high holidays, such as carrying keys and pushing strollers. Opponents fear the area encapsulated by such a boundary would become an Orthodox Jewish enclave.

The Court of Appeals found that the lechis had no overtly religious features that would make them stand out to casual passersby. It is unclear where exactly the lechis have been placed throughout the village and, according to the court, nothing about the markers makes them stand out from the various other materials already tacked onto utility poles. The East End Eruv Association has repeatedly refused to say where the lechis are located.

Robert Sugarman, one of the lawyers from the Manhattan-based firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP that is representing the East End Eruv Association pro bono, did not return multiple calls seeking comment this week.

JPOE had argued that the lechis would not go unnoticed and would serve as a “message and reminder to the community at large, that the secular public spaces of the Village have been transformed for religious use and identity.”

Of the three parties involved in the establishment of the eruv—the East End Eruv Association, the Long Island Power Authority, or LIPA, and Verizon—the court found that only LIPA qualified as an arm of the government. Furthermore, the court ruled that LIPA was not acting in a non-neutral manner by allowing the East End Eruv Association to post the lechis on their poles.

The village also is appealing Justice Tomlinson’s decision although that case has not been ruled upon. Mayor Maria Moore did not answer multiple requests seeking comment on Tuesday’s decision.

First proposed by the Hampton Synagogue in 2008, the eruv has been a point of contention not only in Westhampton Beach, but also in the neighboring hamlet of Quiogue and Quogue Village. The East End Eruv Association still plans to expand the eruv into those areas, and litigation involving both villages, as well as Southampton Town, is ongoing.

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