Judge rules that town need not allow ritual boundary for Jews

Posted: Friday, August 17, 2001

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- A Bergen County town can remove a ritual enclosure erected by Orthodox Jews because parts of the boundary were erected on public property, a federal judge has ruled.

The Tenafly Borough Council was properly concerned that public property ''not be permanently allocated to a religious purpose,'' U.S. District Judge William Bassler said in his Aug. 9 decision.

''This is not meant to be vindictive. This is not meant to be anti-Orthodox,'' Tenafly lawyer Bruce Rosen said.

The council voted 5-0 in December against the enclosure, called an eruv. Rosen noted that two council members and Mayor Ann Moscovitz are Jewish, but not Orthodox.

An eruv -- comprised of wires, poles, and other fixtures -- creates a symbolic ''fence'' extending the domain of Orthodox homes, and thereby allowing people to do things normally forbidden on the Sabbath such as push baby strollers in the street while walking to synagogue.

The Tenafly Eruv Association began to erect the structure last year. In September, borough officials ordered construction halted when they discovered a strand of wire hanging above the borough's nature center.

Eruv association lawyer Robert Sugarman would not comment on the ruling, other than to say he planned an appeal.

Charles Goldstein, director of the New Jersey office of the Anti-Defamation League, said eruvs have been built in several communities nationwide.

''Courts have overwhelmingly ruled that an eruv is a religious accommodation, not a religious symbol that could potentially interfere with separation of church and state,'' Goldstein said.

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