(JTA) — An Orthodox Jewish group filed a federal lawsuit against a New Jersey town for ordering it to remove an eruv, or religious boundary, from utility poles there.
The Bergen Rockland Eruv Association and two residents of Rockland County filed the suit Friday against Mahwah, saying the town on the New York state border is violating their constitutional and civil rights.
Mahwah had told the South Monsey Eruv Fund to remove the white plastic piping from utility poles that it uses for the symbolically enclosed area by Aug. 4. An eruv allows observant Jews to carry objects and push strollers outside of their homes on the Sabbath.
The Orthodox community told The Associated Press last month that it had been given permission to hang the piping by the local utility company. But town officials said the piping is banned because it is considered signage.
Town officials told AP that the town will start issuing summonses by next week if the piping, called a lechi for the purpose of the eruv, is not removed.
“The object, motivation and effect of the actions of the township is to suppress the religious practices of the plaintiffs and certain other Jews who reside in Airmont and other parts of Rockland County (in New York),” the lawsuit states, according to AP. “The eruv presents no aesthetic, safety, traffic, fiscal or other concern to Mahwah.”
Mayor Bill Laforet has called on the Mahwah Township Council to hold off on issuing summonses and instead negotiate with the eruv group. He said a legal fight over the eruv could be costly for the city, AP reported.
More than 1,200 people signed an online petition calling for the eruv to be taken down. Many of the dozens of comments accompanying the petition, titled “Protect the Quality of our Community in Mahwah,” refer to “these people” and express concerns about falling property values. Most of them are anonymous.
“I don’t want these rude, nasty, dirty people who think they can do what they want in our nice town,” one of the comments reads.
The petition has been taken down.