Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – joined by a coalition of Jewish religious and community organizations, filed a “friend of the court” brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in the case reviewing efforts by the elected officials of Tenafly, New Jersey to dissuade Orthodox Jews from moving into that 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 liberties in a manner consistent with Orthodox Jewish Sabbath laws.
According to those laws, 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 the county, the Town of Tenafly has 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. The Jews sued to block this in federal court and lost; that decision is now on appeal.
The “friend of the court” brief, authored by the Union’s Institute for Public 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, contends that Tenafly’s denial of permission to erect the “eruv” is a denial of the Jews’ right to Free Exercise of religion as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, because it facilitates the ability to attend synagogue. Also, the brief contends that a government’s accommodation of religion, such as allowing the “eruv,” is not an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
Nathan Diament issued the following statement in connection with filing the brief:
Today, a united coalition of diverse Jewish organizations have stood together to assert that the use of government power to exclude members of religious community from a particular town is nothing short of unacceptable. That is what Tenafly is trying to do by seeking to remove the “eruv,” an essential element for Orthodox Jews’ ability to freely exercise their religion as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”