Complaint: Eruv crosses constitutional line

The original request for an eruv in the

The original request for an eruv in the Hamptons, made by The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, divided the community and led to the creation of Jews Against the Eruv, a group that argued an eruv could change the character of their village. (October 13, 2010) (Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

A Jewish group opposing the creation of an eruv in Southampton Town has filed a complaint in U.S. District Court, seeking a judgment declaring that the use of LIPA utility poles as part of such a religious boundary is unconstitutional.

The group Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach -- formed to oppose the eruv -- filed the legal action on July 30. It is expected to be added to existing lawsuits over the eruv proposal, which was first made in 2008.

No trial date has been set.

An eruv is typically an informal border established by Orthodox Jews to mark a shared public space in which they can do things that would otherwise be prohibited on the Sabbath -- from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday -- such as carry an object from one house to another.

An eruv is mainly a symbolic boundary. The area it covers must be defined, but the border can be anything from an existing fence to the ocean to plastic markers called lechis hung from utility poles, with the wires going from pole to pole, defining the edge of the eruv.

There is no legal implication in crossing the border of an eruv, although the East End Eruv Association, which is seeking to build one from Westhampton Beach to Quogue, would have to sign a contract with the Long Island Power Authority to put markers on its poles.

There are several eruvs on Long Island. One eruv in Manhattan runs from river to river, and one in Washington, D.C., takes in the White House.

Should the ruling be granted, it would mean existing eruvs on Long Island that use LIPA poles as markers would have to be taken down. LIPA officials declined last week to comment on the lawsuit.

Jonathan Sinnreich, the Central Islip attorney representing the eruv's opponents, said LIPA is being sued because it is a state-created agency. "It's a complicated question," he said. "It's a state authority, and therefore subject to the limitations of the First Amendment establishment clause."

The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from making any law dealing with the establishment of religion, or of blocking the free exercise of religion.

The eruv drew public interest in 2008, when then-Gov. David A. Paterson, in his first official trip to Long Island, noted the opposition and said building it was a civil rights issue. It also drew wide attention in March 2011, when it was the subject of a skit on "The Daily Show."

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