MONTREAL, June 25 (JTA) — A Canadian judge has ruled that residents of a Montreal suburb have a religious right to put up a type of fencing that allows Orthodox Jews to carry objects within a boundary during the Sabbath.
A large number of Orthodox Jews, including many Chasidim, live in the suburb of Outrement and had asked their City Council for permission to build the eruv, which is generally a thin wire erected high above the ground.
The Outremont City Council — led by Mayor Jerome Unterberg, who is Jewish — rejected the request, saying an eruv would disrupt the city’s efforts to remain secular. It was the municipality, in fact, that brought the matter before the courts.
Orthodox Jews won a temporary court injunction last spring that permitted them to hang eruvs just prior to Passover.
Last week, Quebec Superior Court Justice Allan Hilton ruled that Outrement, where about one-quarter of the 24,000 residents are Jewish, must allow the eruv.
“Outremont will continue to be a community of communities that cannot ignore the needs of thousands of its residents,” said Allan Adel, Quebec regional chairman of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.
B’nai Brith Canada also stepped into the fray, asking the council to show good faith and stressing that “residents in cities like Westmount, Montreal or Cote Saint-Luc are not even remotely aware of the eruv, which is virtually imperceptible to the naked eye.”
In his ruling, Hilton noted that other municipalities in Canada and elsewhere do not prevent the installation of eruvs. Furthermore, the judge said, the Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms guarantees that religion can be practiced openly.
By permitting the erection of eruvs, Hilton said, Outremont was not being asked to associate itself with Judaism, just as it does not associate itself with Christianity when Christmas decorations are displayed at city hall.
Stephen Scheinberg, national chairman of the League for Human Rights, said the argument that government should not become involved in religious issues does not apply in this case.
“The eruv raises no such state-religion issue,” Scheinberg said. “In the United States, with its constitutional obligation to maintain church-state separation, dozens of cities have established eruvs without controversy. There are no legitimate grounds for Outremont to oppose it.”
There is no indication yet whether Outremont will appeal the judgment. The ruling has reportedly upset some non-Jews residing there, including Claude Bouchard, who was quoted in a local newspaper as saying, “This decision gives power to a cult and will create a ghetto.”
Unterberg said he deplores such racist comments.