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Aug 18, 2008 1:50 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Tenafly eruv battle resonates in Westhampton Beach

Aug 18, 2008 1:50 PM

Since February, when the Hampton Synagogue first asked Westhampton Beach Village for a proclamation permitting an invisible religious boundary to be established in the municipality, both opponents and supporters of the eruv have referenced a federal court case that permitted the construction of a similar boundary in the Borough of Tenafly, New Jersey.

And for just as long, proponents and opponents of the Westhampton Beach eruv have quoted the court case in making their arguments both for and against the establishment of the religious boundary.

Officials at the synagogue, located on Sunset Avenue, said the boundary is needed to allow Orthodox Jews to push and carry objects, such as baby carriages and wheelchairs, on the Sabbath so they can attend temple. They say the court ruling clears the way for the village to act, and even makes establishment of an eruv a First Amendment right. But opponents interpret the Tenafly ruling differently, saying it in no way makes an eruv a religious right.

The battle over the religious boundary in Tenafly—which is close to other boroughs, like Englewood and Teaneck, that also have eruvs—began in 1999, when a local synagogue first proposed the eruv. The battle did not end until 2006, when local government officials finally signed off on the proposal and had to pay more than $300,000 in attorney fees to the group fighting for the religious boundary.

Borough officials were forced to pick up the attorney fees accumulated by the Tenafly Eruv Association as part of the court settlement, according to Robert Sugarman, a Manhattan-based attorney who represented the group in the case.

Jeff Fox, the rabbi at Kesher: The Community Synagogue of Tenafly and Englewood, explained that the Tenafly eruv, which is delineated by lechis, or black plastic pipes—similar to what is being proposed in Westhampton Beach Village—was established by the Tenafly Eruv Association after securing permission from Bergen County, and not local borough officials. The reason: Borough of Tenafly officials were dragging their feet on the application, so the association bypassed their authority on the matter, going to county officials.

Chaim Book, the main catalyst behind the creation of the Tenafly eruv, could not be reached for comment.

But several articles in The Bergen Record, some of which quote Mr. Book, explain that the Tenafly Eruv Association, after being stymied by Borough of Tenafly officials, secured a proclamation from former Bergen County Executive William “Pat” Schuber in order to create the religious boundary. Shortly thereafter, borough officials filed an injunction against the association after it installed the black plastic pipes on utility poles in Tenafly, demarcating about an estimated 20-square-mile area, Rabbi Fox explained.

A series of lawsuits and countersuits followed that first injunction until, finally, the case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit—the highest federal court in New Jersey in 2002. Rabbi Fox noted that borough officials then filed an appeal against the 3rd Circuit Court decision, which permitted the eruv, but the next court that could entertain the issue—the U.S. Supreme Court—refused to hear the case, leaving the appeals court ruling as the final word.

Impact of Ruling

Today, this federal-level case stands as one of the most referenced by those entrenched in the controversy over the eruv in Westhampton Beach. The case, which was decided in 2002 but not settled on the local level until 2006, permitted the eruv to stay in place on account of the borough’s “selective enforcement” of an ordinance involving the posting of signs on utility poles within the borough.

Mr. Sugarman explained that it took four years to reach a settlement due to a series of negotiations between the association and the borough, as well as the borough’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. Borough officials were forced to return to the negotiation table after the court denied its request.

Since between 50 to 60 percent of the Tenafly eruv had been established already by 2001, the ruling went on to say that the religious boundary would “cause neither the borough nor its residents any serious injury.” The case goes on to state that “the [eruv association’s] free exercise of religion will be impaired” if the eruv were to be taken down.

“The balance tips easily in the plaintiffs’ favor,” the ruling continues.

Many opponents of the eruv in Westhampton Beach claim that the Tenafly case holds no weight in the village, while supporters of the eruv say the court decision proves that, if the Hampton Synagogue ever has to file a lawsuit, it would win based on the precedent of the Tenafly case.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue, has declined to answer questions about whether or not he would pursue legal action if the Westhampton Beach Village Board denies his request for an eruv, once it is refiled this fall. The measure was temporarily withdrawn by the synagogue earlier this summer after vocal opponents of the religious boundary urged the village to deny the request.

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I just wanted to point out that the "Smith v Community Board" case, is binding authority for Suffolk County.(Tenafly is certainly pursuasive, but Smith is binding)
In that case, the City's leasing ITS light poles, and permitting stringing lines on those City owned poles (amongst other things), did not improperly entangle government in religion under both the federal and state constituitions.
By Morris Tuchman (5), Westhampton Beach on Aug 29, 08 10:27 AM
ok there is one significant difference here 1. there has been no eruv erected 2. the eruv is proposed to be erected on utility poles 3 town guidelines prohibit ANY placement of any material by any party on these poles except by verizon or lipa TATS THE DIFFERENCE HERE we dont want the community to be divided or have a feel of division but regardless of any feeling it illegal to erect anything on these poles PERIOD Bring it to resident voter Vote and it will decide for all whats what ...more
By pgg6259 (5), westhampton bch on Oct 13, 08 10:05 AM