On Friday, July 21, township officials in Mahwah, New Jersey ordered the removal of the eruv built by the South Monsey Eruv Fund, a not-for-profit corporation, because, officials said, it violated township zoning regulations.
The eruv, built with white PVC pipes on utility poles, violates the prohibition of constructing signs on trees, rocks or utility poles in the township, wrote Town Engineer Michael Kelly in a letter to the Orthodox community. The letter listed August 4 as the deadline for the removal.
An eruv is a ritual boundary that members of Orthodox Jewish communities rely on to carry objects outside the perimeters of their homes on the Sabbath and holidays.
A 1,200-signature petition created by residents of Mahwah was the impetus for the decision to remove the eruv. While the South Monsey Eruv Fund constructed the eruv with permission from the Orange & Rockland (O&R) Utility Company, the petition calls for Rockland Electric to rid the Township of all eruvs.
“We must demand the removal of these eruvs in order to prevent further illegal incursions into our community,” reads the petition.
Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, head of the Monsey eruv, opposes the notion that the eruv will facilitate an influx of Jewish residents. “It’s a service for the Jewish community living there,” he told NorthJersey.com. “It’s not that the area will be taken over.”
The online petition has drawn many comments tinged with anti-Semitic undertones.
“I don’t want my town to be gross and infested with these nasty people. I don’t live in Monsey,” states one comment.
“They are clearly trying to annex land like they’ve been doing in Occupied Palestine,” reads another. “Look up the satanic verses of the Talmud and tell me what you see.”
Council President Robert Hermansen said the comments on the petition were not reflective of the town of Mahwah.
“You can’t condemn an entire town because a few things people said,” he explained. “We have a very good community, with every race, creed and religion that you can think of.”
Hermansen stands behind the removal of the eruv as a preservation of the town’s regulations.
“This is not about religion,” he said. “It is about code and code enforcement in our town.”
With 20 houses of worship within its boundaries, Mahwah mayor Bill Laforet praises his community for its open-minded nature.
“We are a diverse, open community,” Laforet said. “We have a history of that.”
A similar situation occurred in 2000, when the New Jersey borough of Tenafly ordered the removal of the eruv in the community under a town ordinance that prohibited any unauthorized placement of advertisements or signs in public places. The Tenafly Eruv Association won its six-year legal battle against Tenafly on the grounds that the prohibition of the virtually invisible eruv was a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges will represent the South Monsey Eruv Fund against the Township of Mahwah on a pro bono basis.
“We are neighbors and can get along,” said Laforet. “I know somehow our communities will work together.”