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United States

New Jersey town sued after ‘anti-Semitic’ ban on Orthodox Jewish boundary

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 February, 2018, 12:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 February, 2018, 2:41am

A New Jersey town accused of anti-Semitism after it tried to stop Orthodox Jews from nearby New York constructing a religious boundary in the area has approved a settlement with the group.

Mahwah Township had attempted to block the construction of an eruv, an area that allows observant Jews to perform tasks such as carrying bags on the Sabbath, when such actions are prohibited.

It had also tried to restrict use of the parks to the town’s residents, after complaints from locals that they were being overcrowded by out-of-towners – including large numbers of the Orthodox Jewish community.

That had led to claim that the town’s council was being anti-Semitic – a claim they denied – and a lawsuit by the state’s attorney general that was settled in a 5-2 vote on Tuesday.

According to the Jewish faith, an eruv must be a contained space – though not necessarily a walled one. 

Once properly constructed it allows people to perform tasks such as pushing child carriers and lifting bags – which are otherwise forbidden outside the home on the Sabbath.

The Bergen Rockland Eruv Association received licences from the utility company Orange&Rockland to install white plastic pipes on pylons that would constitute the boundaries according to the group’s lawyers.

But locals’ complaints about overcrowding at Mahwah parks and their use by Orthodox Jewish families coming from towns across the nearby New York border led to ordinance banning the construction.

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Many Mahwah residents voiced concerns that the expanded eruv meant an influx of Orthodox Jews along with overcrowding and a stressed school system. 

The eruv ban and a the ordinance restricting parks and playgrounds to local residents were reversed in December after Mahwah was sued by the state attorney general.

Council President Robert Hermansen, who has denied the measures were motivated by anti-Semitism, said that the settlement was the best option for the township.

“This is a good town with good people, and we’re making this decision for good people,” he said.

Council members Janet Ariemma and James Wysocki voted against the settlement. Some residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting called on the council members to fight against the eruv all the way to the US Supreme Court if needed.

“I know the judge and the New Jersey attorney general are trying to force you to resolve this matter immediately. Do not bow to their attempts to coerce action,” said resident Ralph Fusco. 

“You have an army of people ready to support you.”