JACKSON – Strong words, loud voices and a few apologies were part of the backdrop of a Sept. 12 Jackson Township Council meeting which drew more than 100 people.
The large turnout, most of whom were part of the Orthodox Jewish community living in the township, came out to object to an ordinance introduced on Aug. 22.
The measure amends the ordinance entitled “Streets and Sidewalks,” so as to read “No person shall encumber or obstruct any street or public place with any article or thing whatsoever.” The ordinance also states that “in light of the recent spate of enforcement which prohibits obstruction of the right of way throughout the township, the Township Council believes it is necessary to avoid confusion and any possibility of uneven treatment of articles in the township right-of-way.”
Mayor Mike Reina further explained after the meeting that the action taken by the Council was to change the wording from “Committee to Council” to reflect the change in government and removed the language of an appeal.
The residents argued about how this would prevent a variance that would allow for the creation of an “eruv” which can be made of string and tubing and is used in regard to the Orthodox Jewish observance of the Shabbat, the Saturday holy day.
During the Shabbat, no member of that faith is permitted to work. There are 39 categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat and the traditional interpretations of Jewish law forbid moving an object from one domain to another, no matter its weight or purpose.
According to Jewish law the prohibitions of moving an object encompass three actions, including moving an object from an enclosed area such as a private home, public building or fenced-in area to a major thoroughfare, moving an object from a major thoroughfare to an enclosed area, or moving an object a short distance within a major thoroughfare.
To prevent confusion over exactly what constitutes a major thoroughfare, rabbis expanded the ban to any area that was not fenced or walled in. The eruv’s placement would allow for residents of the orthodox community in that vicinity to carry objects forbidden to be carried during the Sabbat.
Constructing the eruv, however, would require placement of string and plastic tubing in public space within the township, which is not allowed under the ordinance.
David Sofer, who lives in the Brewers Bridge section of the township, was among many residents of that community who came out for the meeting, but unlike most in the audience, he was opposed to efforts to create the eruv at the current time.
Sofer said that many of those present at the meeting had only moved to Jackson within the last two years and that within Jewish law, residents must abide by the law of the land which in this case is the township’s regulations.
“What the other side wants is to use telephone poles in the community. As Jews, we are guests and we must be courteous. I really don’t feel we should stir the ire of the population. If the eruv is put up within their own property, no one would ever know or care,” Sofer said in an interview prior to speaking during the public comment period.
Resident Chava Lowy spoke against the ordinance and explained the need for young parents to have the eruv in place to allow for carrying items such as inhalers that would serve to benefit their children.
She added, “By Jewish tradition we can’t carry our keys, children’s items and this (eruv) is not a loophole of law but how it allows us to carry certain things that are important.” Lowy said that 22 towns ranging from Cherry Hill to Fair Lawn permit areas to be used which allow for placement of the eruv. “I call for you to recognize your 2,000 Orthodox Jewish constituents in your community.”
Resident David Prupas said, “It is sad that it has had to come to this that we had to come here as a group to be heard and explain as Orthodox Jews the necessities to be used.” Trupas noted that Princeton and Yale also have allowed for eruvs to be placed within their campuses.
Joseph Sullivan said, “I don’t consider myself an overly religious person but the point is there is a separation of church and state and this involves a public right of way. If they wish to do this on their own property that is fine but putting it on a right away on public property infringes on other religions. It is not appropriate and not in the betterment of the community.”
One resident suggested the possibility of legal action were the ordinance passed, saying, “I don’t want to be saddled with a tax bill based on a lawsuit.”
Jeff Riker, who frequently speaks at council meetings, remarked that to allow for placement of the eruv might “open up Pandora’s box. The public domain is for the public. We fought wars over this and it is a done deal.”
Councilman Scott Martin said prior to the public comment period of the ordinance in question that “as Americans we come together in times of crisis such as 9/11. Those times don’t seem to last as long. Be it an act of terrorism or tragedy by nature those times seem to last for five minutes and then we forget what binds us together is more important than what separates us. We get so caught up in our own agenda that we forget to listen to ourselves. We see it on the federal and state level with Democrats and Republicans not working together which is what governing is really about.”
Martin added that he’d like to see “Jackson lead the way to listen and respect each other and show Trenton and Washington how it should be done.”
Reached after the meeting, Reina said he disagreed with statements made by residents that the ordinance was very rarely used. “The ordinance dates back to 1964, approximately 50 plus years on the books. Over the years code enforcement would issue an NOV (notice of violation).”
Reina said that in the last year “there has been a cry to increase code enforcement from our residents, new and old as well as direction from the Council itself. That being said, complaints were coming in for items in the right of way with examples such as hockey and soccer nets, basketball hoops, skateboard ramps, furniture, tires, brush and grass not being cut. The majority of the NOV’s did go out in July as the result of June’s complaints.”
The mayor said while his office does not write laws “as we are in this form of government the Administrative branch, Council is the legislative branch and they are the ones who adopt new or amend existing ordinances (laws).” Reina added that his office has not requested any changes to any of those laws. “However, we are legally obligated to make sure that laws currently on the books are enforced equally and fairly.
“My main goal and objective is to maintain everyone’s safety and quality of life first. So, there is absolutely no truth in saying that we are requesting that the ordinances already on the books be changed or amended to suit ones needs and not the other. For anyone to say that we did undermines the integrity of my office and that will be defended to the end,” Reina said.