Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Judge Urges Eruv Suit Settlement

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Judge Urges Eruv Suit Settlement

Article excerpt

NEWARK — Sharply criticizing the borough's reasons for blocking an eruv, a federal court judge on Tuesday urged Upper Saddle River to settle litigation over the controversial Jewish boundary.

Judge John Michael Vazquez directed attorneys for the borough and the group that filed the litigation, the Bergen Rockland Eruv Association, to return on Feb. 7 in hopes that "reasonable minds prevail" toward a resolution.

"I do think this case would be ripe for some kind of mediation or settlement conference," Vazquez said. "The parties would be better served if they sat down and tried to resolve their differences."

The eruv association, based in Monsey, N.Y., and five Orthodox Jewish residents of Rockland County filed suit when the borough ordered the eruv construction to be halted over the summer and demanded its removal. The borough has argued that the eruv, marked by white PVC pipes along utility poles, violates local ordinances and was constructed without consent.

After Tuesday's hearing, Bruce Rosen — an attorney representing Upper Saddle River — said the mayor and Borough Council will meet in private Monday to decide whether they will enter settlement talks.

"We'll review what we heard today and what the prospects are," Rosen said.

The possibility of a resolution came as welcome news to Yehudah Buchweitz, an attorney for the eruv association, who said the borough had dismissed the idea of a settlement until Tuesday.

"I'm optimistic after hearing that they're going to discuss this," Buchweitz said.

Tuesday's hearing saw Vazquez take aim at several arguments cited by the town as justification for the eruv's removal. He criticized the ordinance that the eruv allegedly violates, and questioned the circumstances of its adoption and whether it has been consistently enforced, as borough officials claim.

Upper Saddle River officials have said the eruv violates a borough ordinance that prohibits "any device or other matter" on public utility poles.

Vazquez singled out the word "matter," a term that — while broad — apparently does not apply to the strips, nails and staples found on several utility poles, he said.

"It really raises the question of whether the town is enforcing that as 'all matter,' as the ordinance provides, or just 'some matter,' " Vazquez said.

He also questioned the borough's position that it had enforced the ordinance "vigorously and consistently." Attorneys for the eruv association identified several violations the town was not aware of until they were presented, from lost-pet signs to mailboxes hanging on utility poles, Vazquez said.

An eruv is a symbolic perimeter within which Orthodox Jews can perform tasks they otherwise couldn't on the Sabbath, such as pushing strollers and carrying keys.

The eruv association has argued that it obtained valid licenses through Orange & Rockland Utilities, which owns the utility poles, to build the eruv, and started the project in June with consent from the borough's Police Department. …

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