New Jersey town ends long eruv fight

Local Jews finally allowed to hang strips; "preferential treatment" claim ended.

building eruv 88 (photo credit: )
building eruv 88
(photo credit: )
The Tenafly Jewish community has won a six-year battle with local officials over the right to place symbolic plastic strips on utility poles to create an enclosure that would allow them to perform certain restricted activities on the Sabbath. By a 5-0 vote, the Borough Council of Tenafly agreed Tuesday to allow the strips to be used to create an enclosure known as an eruv. Local officials also agreed to pay $325,000 to cover court costs incurred by the group which sued over the ban. The courts had already rejected the council's efforts to ban the strips. An eruv is a symbolic district within which Jews can perform tasks otherwise forbidden on the Sabbath such as pushing baby strollers. By having the eruv extended to the utility polls, the domain of the home is extended, thereby allowing more activities on the Sabbath. According to the doctrine observed by some Jewish communities, objects cannot be moved from the home to the outside world on the Sabbath. The plastic strips, called lechis, are attached to utility poles, forming a boundary. In 2000, a portion of the eruv was found at the Tenafly Nature Center, prompting the Borough to ban the strips. Local officials said that allowing the markings could be construed as the government giving preferential treatment to certain religious groups, since it is illegal in Tenafly to put posters or other objects on utility poles. The Tenafly Eruv Association, which had obtained permission to place the strips from two utility companies and the county, sued over the ban. A federal judge ruled in 2001 that the Borough had the right to ban the lechis, but the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, saying the Borough had selectively enforced the ban on utility pole attachments. The US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that ruling. "We didn't agree with the claim that it was any type of violation of the separation between church and state," Etzion Neuer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the New York Times in an article published Wednesday. "We hope that this will be the last chapter in this painful and divisive fight." The strips have been erected in other New Jersey communities, including Englewood, Fair Lawn, Fort Lee, Teaneck and Paramus. Tenafly's encompassed about one-third of the Borough and linked with one in neighboring Englewood. "This was a dark period in Tenafly history," Councilman Joseph Salvatore told The Record of Bergen County. "If I had one wish, it would be that the Orthodox community was welcomed with open arms."