OU Hails Federal Appeals Court Ruling Against New Jersey

Posted on October 24, 2002 In Press Releases

Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – hailed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit defending religious liberty and rejecting religious bigotry as ruled against a decision by the elected officials of Tenafly, New Jersey to discourage Orthodox Jews from moving into that affluent New York City suburb.

The legal dispute arises from Tenafly’s determination to prevent Orthodox Jews who have recently moved to the town from erecting an “eruv,” 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 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,” would allow 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. Despite having erected the “eruv” with the consent of Bergen County, the Town of Tenafly denied the Jews permission to use its right-of-way for the “eruv” and ordered it taken down. The denial appears to have been motivated by a desire to dissuade Orthodox Jews from moving into Tenafly in larger numbers.

A federal trial judge upheld the town’s actions, that ruling has now been reversed. In its ruling, the appeals court stated that – in denying permission to erect the eruv on the town’s utility poles while other items could be erected on those same poles for non-religious reasons -Tenafly was “selectively” applying this ordinance in a manner that “violates the neutrality [toward religion] principle” required by the Constitution because it “singles out the [Orthodox Jews’] religiously motivated conduct for discriminatory treatment.” The appeals court ordered the district court to enter an injunction barring the town from denying the eruv.

The Union had filed a “friend of the court” brief with the appeals court, authored by the Union’s legal affairs director Nathan Diament and joined by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, Hadassah, and Rabbinical Council of America, and can be found at — https://advocacy.ou.org:443/

Nathan Diament stated that “the Orthodox Jewish community is deeply gratified that the federal appeals court recognized Tenafly’s actions for what they were – religious bigotry. No elected officials should be able to use local ordinances to exclude people from a town because of their religion. The Tenafly eruv will stay up; religious bigotry has been defeated and America is the better for it.”