The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, welcomed a decision this week by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York upholding the constitutionality of the recently constructed eruv around Westhampton Beach on Long Island.
The Court ruled that the Long Island Power Authority did not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by allowing lechis, or plastic strips that designate an eruv, to be placed on the town’s utility poles. The Court further held that a state entity assisting to construct an eruv is an accommodation to religious freedom condoned and protected by the U.S. Constitution.
An eruv is a religious demarcation of area that allows Orthodox Jews to freely exercise their religious liberty to observe the Sabbath. According to Jewish Law, an Orthodox Jew may not convey moveable items from private property to public property (and vice versa) on the Sabbath without a symbolic demarcation of the area allowing him/her to do so. Such a demarcation can be accomplished by utilizing existing utility poles and wires, with minimal additions unrecognizable to the casual observer. The demarcation, or “eruv,” allows parents of young children to be able to push strollers or the elderly or disabled to use wheelchairs and attend synagogue on the Sabbath and participate in communal prayers.
Certain community members of Westhampton Beach have fought the establishment of the eruv since 2008, voicing fears that the town would become “overrun” by Orthodox Jews, according to reports.
Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, stated, “The Orthodox Jewish community is deeply gratified that the federal appeals court recognized that an eruv is a religious accommodation that helps observant Jews practice their religion and does not, in any way, violate others’ rights. The case brought by the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach was simply a case of religious bigotry against Orthodox Jews. By ruling in favor of the eruv, the Court has upheld religious liberty for all Americans.”