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Eruv Injunction Denied; Religious Boundary Won't Go Up Anytime Soon

Judge Leonard D. Wexler said the East End Eruv Association's request "is not ripe."

A judge has ruled that the East End Eruv Association cannot string a temporary religious boundary, known as an eruv, along telephone poles in the Western part of Southampton and along the borders of Westhampton Beach and Quogue Villages.

The long-awaited injuction decision, which is part of a filed by the association in January, was rendered by Judge Leonard D. Wexler of the United States District Court in Central Islip last Thursday and says that the EEEA's request to install a thin wire, known as "lechis," to signify a religious boundry "is not ripe" because the organization failed to apply for permits to install the lechis via the municipalities involved.

"Under the circumstances," the ruling reads, "it appears that the Sign Ordinance is at least arguably applicable to the lechis, such that whether the Sign Ordinance applies to the attachment of lechis to utility poles in Southampton should be an issue for Southampton to decide in the first instance."

The EEEA, which is claiming in its civil suit that the municipalities infringed on its members' religious rights, had hoped the judge would approve a temporary injunction so Orthodox Jews could push strollers and engage in tasks otherwise not allowed on the Sabbath while the civil matter was decided. However, the plaintiffs did not show that "irreperable harm" would result should relief not be granted, according to the ruling.

Hank Sheinkopf, spokesman for EEEA, said the decision carries both good and bad news.

"There is plenty of good news in the decision and the battle of religious freedom will continue.  It's not a bad day, just another day," he said, noting that EEEA's lawyers are exploring options.

An attorney for EEEA, Robert Sugarman, said he has not yet discussed the decision with the EEEA, but in general, he was disappointed and called the decision "erroneous."

He did say, however, that he plans to discuss legal options with EEEA, including an appeal and a suggestion by the judge to redraw the eruv border for Quogue and Westhampton Beach and present it to the municipalities for discussion, as well as applying separately to the Town of Southampton for a permit for an eruv under the town's sign ordinance, prior to furthering the civil action. 

Since the proposed eruv border follows through all three municipalities, a denial for construction in one municipality means a denial in all three, due to the "interdependence" of the route, Judge Wexler stated.

In his decision, the judge also noted that it does not appear that Westhampton Beach nor the Village of Quogue have an applicable sign ordinance to apply under for an Eruv and that the Eruv's proposed boundaries are "unclear."

, head of the First Amendment Alliance in Westhampton Beach, said he believes the judge's decision "is a fine one."

"It is a correct decision on the facts that were presented to the court.  We have no allusions that the fight is over. This was only a first step."

The next step is the civil action, which is sitting in court. The case brought forth by the EEEA in January states that the Town of Southampton and Villages of Westhampton Beach and Quogue have violated their civil rights by not allowing them to erect an eruv.

In addition, the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon Wireless joined together to filing that asks the courts for clarification.

The entities got caught in the middle of the eruv battle when, in November 2010, they granted EEEA use of their utility poles for an eruv, but were stopped by the municipalities, which said the poles sit in the towns' right of way.

The community has been sharply divided over the creation of an eruv ever since a proposal was first put on the table by Rabbi Marc Schneir of the Hampton Synagogue in 2008.

Although that first application was withdrawn after a firestorm of controversy, the issue ignited again last year when word of application by the East End Eruv Association for a new eruv, with even more expansive boundaries encompassing not only Westhampton Beach but parts of the Village of Quogue and Southampton.

Members of Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, led by founder Arnold Sheiffer, met to discuss strategies meant to thwart plans for an eruv, which they believe would significantly lessen property values and destroy the bucolic quality of life in the area forever.

The issue was even brought into the national spotlight when it was spoofed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

The mayors of Westhampton Beach and Quogue, who have maintained that the Eruv Association must submit applications to the villages for an eruv, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

A copy of the decision is attached to this article.

Alan Rodriguez November 10, 2011 at 12:59 PM
While not Jewish myself, I support people in the free exercise of their religious beliefs as defined in the Bill of Rights. Although it seems to me the idea of an ERUV is to adapt religious requirements or "bend the rules" regarding Sabath observance, It should be left to the individuals to decide for themselves whether or not the ERUV is "kosher". It also seems like a tremendous waste of taxpayer money and government resources the way the issue has been fought over in the courts. I mean seriously, they're arguing over a barely visible wire being strung along with a group of larger, more obvious existing wires. Aren't there more pressing issues for local government to use taxpayer funds for?
RachelB1 November 11, 2011 at 05:19 AM
Alan, I am Jewish and I am very saddened by what is going on. It is not as simple as you make the issue out to be. Those who opppose the eruv are depicted as bigots and self-hating Jews and their sentiments are dismissed as anti-Semitic prejudice. However take a look at Williamsburg and Borough Park, the "Frum" Jews in those communities demand that public bike routes be rerouted and put up signs telling women how to dress in order to protect the character of their community. However, to them, it seems that non-Jews or non-Orthodox Jews want to protect the nature of their communities, then its rank Anti-Semitism. Sorry but that is not true. There is a concept of Dinah Malchut Dinah, which obligates Jews to respect the civil law of the community they live in. Jews are supposed to seek peace and pursue peace. Those who oppose the eruv have the right to express their voices and defend their rights the same way that the eruv supporter do. Those barely visible wires will quickly become quite visible in more ways than one. I am just tired of Jews yelling Anti-Semitism when they dont get their way.
turnip April 12, 2012 at 01:18 PM
RachlB1, to say that installation of an eruv will cause inevitably a place like Williamsburg or Borough is simply untrue. Simply look at the list of places that already have an eruv http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_eruvin and tell me how many are like that. Baltimore? Beverly Hills? Jersey City? Miami Beach? Please. No one is crying "anti-semitism". They are crying "anti-Orthodox" "Protect the nature of their comunities": Where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah, restrictive housing covenants. cf. Shelly vs. Kraemer

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