The East End Eruv Association filed a federal lawsuit against the Township of Southampton and the Southampton Zoning Board of Appeals after the Board’s denial of its application to construct an eruv, which would consist of a PVC strip tied to the tops of 15 Southampton telephone poles (click here for photos showing the construction of an eruv). For those not familiar with an eruv, it is an enclosure used by Jewish communities to permit Jews to carry certain objects, such as books, food, water, house keys, personal identification, prayer shawls, and reading glasses, outside their homes on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur. It also permits observant Jews to push objects outside their homes, such as wheelchairs (click here to learn more about eruvin). According to the Association’s complaint, the “establishment of an eruv in a community is a ‘mitzvah’ (a commandment) under Jewish law because it fosters observance of the Jewish Sabbath, and also promotes goodwill and citizenship by allowing such Jews to socialize outside of their homes on the Jewish Sabbath without impediment, including communal meals, celebrations, and in public parks.” Complaint, p. 2. Without an eruv, observant Jews cannot carry or push objects outside their homes during the Sabbath and Yom Kippur.
The Zoning Board denied the Association’s request for a variance, finding that the proposed eruv would “alter the essential character of the neighborhood.” Id. at 5. The Zoning Board found that the variance request was “motivated by the personal desire of the applicant’s members to be freed from the proscriptions of religious law by securing a variance . . . .” Id. The Complaint claims that “the ZBA’s positions were motivated by discriminatory intent, and animus against observant Jews was a significant factor in the positions taken by the ZBA.” Id. at 52.
The Association alleges violations of, among other things, the U.S. Constitution’s free exercise of religion and RLUIPA. It seeks (1) that the Town be enjoined from preventing it from constructing and maintaining an eruv; (2) a declaration that the Zoning Board’s decision is arbitrary and capricious; (3) an order that the Zoning Board issue any necessary approvals and permits to the Association to construct the eruv; and (4) attorneys fees and costs.
We will keep close watch of this case. For now, you may access the Association’s complaint here.