The Battle To Put Up An Eruv Continues

A judge in Islip decided not to issue a requested summary judgment—to decide a case in the plaintiff’s favor without the necessity of going into detail—in a case involving the Villages of Westhampton Beach and Quogue.

Some say it was a victory for the villages, and technically it was. The case will go on. Others say it was a sort of tie. The judge did deny the request brought by the Orthodox Jewish religious group wanting to erect an eruv in the community. On the other hand, the judge admonished both villages for not currently having ordinances that clearly state a position regarding eruvs. He urged the communities to create such ordinances. But who knew about eruvs?

For those of you don’t know, here’s a brief description of an eruv. In Orthodox law, Jews are told that no work should be done on the Sabbath, which is from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. It’s a day of rest. But how do you define “work?” Rabbis in ancient time, interpreting the law, decided that doing common household chores around the house, although requiring effort, were exempt from the definition. Soon they were studying the definition of “house.” And from this they concluded it was the four walls within which you felt safe, or, in later years, a series of poles upon which a wire could be strung to suggest walls that could surround an entire property. The rabbis called such arrangements “eruvs.” [expand]

In one later ruling, widely accepted, an entire section of a town or even a town itself could be considered exempt if an eruv could be strung defining it. The rabbis said it would satisfy them. But where a community was shared with others, you’d need permission to put up an eruv—such permission tacitly acknowledging the safety that the eruv would bring.

As it happens, in many communities, there are telephone poles. Hundreds, even thousands of special wires on poles surround some communities in America today where orthodox Jews live. It’s not an uncommon thing. One eruv surrounds the White House. The Feds were happy to oblige. What harm could it do?

Well, as it happens, in a certain way, enough so that we are now embroiled, going on almost four years, about a proposed eruv in Westhampton Beach and Quogue. And now it has come to lawsuits.

Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach submitted an application for an eruv for that community in 2008 to the Westhampton Beach Village Board. Outside the home, Orthodox law says you cannot even push a baby carriage on the Sabbath. Members of the congregation who live far away need an eruv to get an exemption to take their families to services on that day. They need an eruv.

After much contentious debate in the community, which many considered anti-Semitic, the synagogue withdrew its application. Maybe there was some antiSemitic sentiment on the part of a few, but there was a much larger issue. In other communities on Long Island, such as in Woodmere and Lawrence, which for generations have been largely populated with Jews that do not adhere to Orthodox standards, the erection of an eruv became an invitation to Orthodox Jews to move into those towns in droves. Those communities practically close down on the Sabbath today. Social pressures were then aimed at those not following Orthodox law. This happened to one of my relatives and his family. Uncomfortable at being scorned, they sold their home, as others had before them, and moved away. These towns and others comprising the “Five Towns,” as they are known, are largely Orthodox today.

In 2010, the application for the eruv was renewed by a group called the East End Eruv Association, and the boundaries for the eruv were increased to include the adjacent community of Quogue. When both communities again said no, a lawsuit was filed against the villages asking, among other things, that the court order the ruling summarily thrown out. Now that has been denied, so the case goes on. And there is still no eruv.

Something needs to be said about the judge’s admonishment about the codes not addressing the issue of eruvs. The codebooks of the villages are hundreds of pages long. But they don’t include everything.

The other day, I drove down Main Street in Westhampton Beach and saw a pair of worn sneakers, their laces tied together, hanging from a telephone wire over the road, clearly having been triumphantly thrown up there by some kids, probably late at night.

This may not be a comparable example—it doesn’t involve freedom or religion (I think)—but there’s no law specifically written against sneakers up there either.

Please don’t eat the daisies.

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